Rick Warren has begun the search for his successor

Rick Warren with his wife Kay.(Photo: Saddleback Pics)

Rick Warren has started the search for a new pastor to take the helm of his California megachurch.

The "Purpose Driven Life" author has led Saddleback, in Lake Forest, for over 40 years. He said in a sermon over the weekend that he was looking for a "next-generation" pastor to replace him, and that his plan was to transition into a background role. 

Warren, 67, grew the church from a modest Bible study in his home attended by just a few families in 1980, to the 19-campus megachurch of today.

According to Lifeway Research, weekly attendance at the church stood at over 23,000 last year. 

Over the weekend, Warren informed the congregation of his plans to step back and find the next person to take over leadership of the church. 

"This next week, we are going to begin the official search for my successor. That's a big deal, the official search for my successor," he said.

But he promised, "This isn't the end. It's not even the beginning of the end. It's the beginning of the beginning, but we're going to start looking for the next-generation pastor who will replace me and lead our family into the future."

He said he and his wife Kay "knew this day would eventually arrive" and that they had been "waiting on God's perfect timing" to begin the process of finding Saddleback's next lead pastor.

Explaining how he came to the decision to start the search, Warren said he and Kay had made the commitment many years ago to lead the church for 40 years. When the church celebrated that milestone in January 2020, they both prayed and felt that God was urging them to stay on a little longer.

With the US starting to emerge from the pandemic, he said they both felt God saying that "now is the time" to let someone else take over.

His goal is to make the "smooth transition into a less visible role as founding pastor."

"Now, this is such a significant decision because I'm the only lead pastor our church family has ever had," he said. 

He added that the search was an act of faith.

"You don't have to see the ultimate step to take the first step. You just take the first step in faith," he said.