Saddleback Community

A Personal Observation

By Richard Stomps

The Stomps Blog

Saddleback Community

Since so much has been said in the past few years about the seeker movement, I thought that I would take advantage of being here in SoCal and visit Saddleback Community for one of their Saturday evening services. They have 6 identical services (2 on Saturday and 4 on Sunday) and about 25,000 people attend over the course of the weekend ... I got back on the road, followed the directions from the church, and after making a few wrong turns, arrived at the Saddleback campus. I navigated about a mile through the cones and found a decent parking spot (since the 4:30 service had already let out). I had a good bit of time to find a seat in the main auditorium (which I estimate seats about 3,500-4,500 people) ...

This is the main auditorium. The picture was taken from the 3rd floor near the "cafe." The ministry tables and bookstore are to the right of the picture.

This is the walkway from the main parking area to the main auditorium. There are tents for various types of "worship formats" to the right and the area for the children's ministries are to the left.

Overflow Tents -- These are the separate tents that you can choose your brand of music before they pipe in the service through a video feed. These also serve as overflow tents for the main auditorium.

Children's Building -- This is the children's ministry building. It's at least 2 stories with an area for just about any activity (including flowing fountains, play areas, and outdoor amphitheatre). It is impressive and I don't think that I would ever get my son to come home if he ever went there to play.

Aquarium in Childen's building -- This is the aquarium in the children's building. Notice the small shark in the corner of the tank. People were wading through and looking at the fish and taking pictures. This was on par with any zoo I've been to.

Inside Main Auditorium -- This is the look from inside the main auditorium. I'm about halfway back from this shot. The stage was a little smaller than I expected. Notice the stadium type screen at the front center. There are also 2 screens on each side and they are about 2 stories high.

A Closer Look at the Stage -- This is just a closer look at the stage - there were all kinds of instruments there.

A Closeup of the Video Screen -- This was one of the 3 announcements that were rotating through before the service. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

At this point, Steve Arterbern was filling in for Rick Warren. He spoke about how we need to embrace our past so that we can grieve properly and be healed emotionally, spiritually, and (sometimes) physically. The whole "message" was filled with integrated psychology - in fact, he said at one point that the things that have happened in your past may not have been planned by God, but He can use them. Obviously there are serious theological faults, but in addition the whole message/service was centered around man and how to meet his needs from man's perspective.

Special Guest -- They announced that John Tesh was there and that he would be performing a couple of songs. They did - it was interesting. He called Saddleback his favorite ministry other than his home church and said that the ministry had greatly impacted his life. After giving his testimony about how the Tsunami affected him and his family, Tesh and the singers performed their 2nd number along with a picture presentation of what they were involved in while in Asia.


I went doubting much of what I had heard about the seeker movement. I had read Warren's Purpose Driven Church and, to be quite honest, thought that there was much that was in there that could be used and this controversy was being overstated. I was wrong about this being overstated- I believe that it is a dangerous theology that has bearing on men's relationship (eternal, in some cases) with God.

The controversy is understated at best - I was shocked with what I heard preached. The message that was given is completely man centered and the theology that was shared lacked any view of the sufficiency of scripture for all of the needs of men. Men need to be confronted with their sinfulness and that there is nothing good that dwells within them. Men need to understand their need of a Savior. Men need to know that the reason for the problem that is in their lives exists to point them to Christ. Men need to realize that Scripture is not only sufficient, it is superior and necessary for any lasting change to take place in their lives. This was not the message that was preached. The message that was preached was that men need to embrace their past, mourn their losses, and that God, even though He was not in control of what happened, could use the loss to make sense of their lives. What these 25,000 people were being fed is in direct opposition to scripture.

My heart was grieved with the thought that there are probably many in that area who don't know Christ and are not being given an accurate presentation of Who Christ is, what their need is, and how they can know Christ and live a biblical life. I also wondered what churches are there in the area that have a biblical view of man, sin, Christ, and how to live.

The other point that I've learned is that it is hard to separate the methods from the motivation. This is still something that I'm still processing, but I think that it is important to understand that the seeker movement's motivations are completely different from what scripture teaches. Therefore, we should be extremely cautious about adopting the methods of the seeker movement, lest we fall into the same trap.

Well, I've made this incredibly long and will probably be editing it over the next couple of days. Praise God for His sufficient, inerrant Word that is able to show men their biblical needs.