Following Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren's statement announcing Echo Church Pastor Andy Wood be his successor, Echo Church’s former staff questioned Wood’s leadership on social media. However, a third-party search firm was quick to clear Wood as confirmed by Saddleback church elders.

A former staff member at Echo Church's Fremont campus named Lance Hough accused Wood of requiring members unwavering loyalty which led him to leave the church last year citing the church's unhealthy culture, Religion News Service (RNS) reported.

Hough remained a part of the leadership team at Crossroads Church in Freemont when Echo merged with it. The two churches reconciled themselves under a single vision and new leadership, as described in the "marriage merger" on Echo's website. However, Hough claimed the intended collaboration turned into a takeover.

He claimed that Echo Church eliminated everything that made Crossroads Church special as they began to work together, saying Wood sided with Echo Church's staff and disagreed with his criticisms. According to Hough, Wood was a likable and pleasant leader who disregarded any criticism of the church's way of doing things out of hand.

The former staff was concerned that Wood would take advantage of the goodwill shown by Saddleback and Warren to push his own ministry style, which Hough believes was naturally unhealthy.

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Vanderbloemen Search Group Cleared Wood From Allegations

In a statement provided to the Saddleback congregation which was also provided to RNS, Wood informed the church's elders during his interview process about the charges made by the former worker and offered to show them footage of his meetings with the former staff. The church asked the Vanderbloemen Search Group to do a follow-up assessment after conducting the initial background investigation on Wood.

The church said they received the preliminary report from Vanderbloemen, acquitting Wood from all the allegations. Echo gave the firm all videos, emails, and text records, as well as interviews, as part of its examination of Wood's behavior. They also conducted one interview with him. They attempted to contact the former staff member but have not received a response yet as of this writing.

The church leaders said they were compelled to send them letters instead of letting them hear information in the news or on social media. They also asked the congregation to pray for truth and God's wisdom.

Meanwhile, Wood told RNS that any present or former Echo Church employees who want to share their experiences with Vanderbloemen are welcome to do so as part of the probe. He said, "We want to do everything we can to help the truth about these allegations come to light."

In a video announcement, Warren referenced Wood's church-planting expertise, saying he had previously founded a church in a very tough environment and could run a complex megachurch like Saddleback, which has around a dozen campuses.

The church priorly announced a transition plan for Wood and his wife - an interview with the Warrens during Saddleback's June 19 services. Wood and his wife, Stacie, a teaching pastor at Echo Church, will leave the church at the end of June. Then on Sept. 12, the couple would start in similar roles at Saddleback.

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