1. How did you learn that you would be appointed one of the first female pastors for Saddleback Church?

It was a very typical Monday morning on November 2, 2020.  COVID had its impact on our Saddleback staff because we were not able to all be together in the offices.  Wednesday Zoom meetings took the place of our regular in person staff meetings.  The upside of these zoom staff meetings was that Pastor Rick was able to lead them almost every week!  Spending this much time with him was a blessing, even if through a screen.  But on this day, a “short” staff meeting was called by Pastor Rick at 1 p.m.  That usually meant there was a new development, and I was hoping it meant we were going to hear the news that we were able to get back to church and the office!  Out of the blue, I received a call, and it was from Pastor Rick.  Honestly, my heart skipped a beat because I thought he was going to ask me to speak at the staff meeting!  He explained that he and the elders had been discussing for many months the possibility to ordain women as Pastors at Saddleback Church.  He told me that the elders unanimously voted to appoint me one of the first three women pastors at Saddleback Church!  And that it would be announced in the staff meeting that afternoon!  He affirmed my leadership and my calling to ministry, and it was a conversation I will not forget. 

Pastor Cynthia Petty
Pastor Cynthia Petty

2. What does this new position mean to you?

God so clearly led me to Saddleback Church back in 1999.  I love my ministry to children and students, and I have never doubted God’s calling on my life to do ministry at Saddleback.  That calling and leading by God in my life has always sustained me, even in the most difficult of ministry days. Becoming a Pastor was never something I pursued.  I had always been involved in churches where women could lead, under the authority of a male pastor.  So, this change in philosophy for “women in ministry” was revolutionary.  I was honored and felt extremely humbled.  And the thing I believe meant the most to me was how this would be groundbreaking for all the younger women ministers on staff who really did have the desire or dream to be a pastor one day!

3. You came to California from Texas to join Saddleback Church over 20 years ago. What led you here?

In 1988, I began volunteering in a large church in Texas called Lake Pointe Church. Soon after, it led me to become a Children’s Director overseeing the elementary ministry. I loved the kids and the families who I had the privilege to minister to each weekend at church services and through special events. Through the years following I attended and spoke at many Children’s Ministry Conferences, and in 1994 I became acquainted to a young, enthusiastic children’s pastor from Saddleback Church in CA named Craig! I was drawn to his leadership style, but also to his philosophy of ministering to children based on implementing a Purpose Driven ministry. I loved the paradigm of moving kids from knowing Jesus, to growing in Jesus, to serving Jesus and then going out to share Jesus with others! It was an intentional and spiritually healthy way to help disciple kids in their relationship with Jesus. 

In March of 1998, Craig mentioned how great it would be if we could work together someday. I told him thanks, but I loved my ministry in Texas! And at the time, I had 3 kids in college at Texas A & M and a senior in high school ready to go the next year! Also, my husband, who was the major breadwinner and the spiritual leader of our family, was a thriving insurance agent and loved his work. Every month Craig would call me and by May, he was asking me to pray about moving out to CA. I laughed it off to my husband, but to my surprise, my husband said, “well, maybe we should pray about it!” So, from May – September (the busiest months in children’s ministry!) Craig continued to call, and we continued to pray. My husband talked to him and explained that we would pray, but that he would not be going to CA without a job, that this move had to be something God was leading him to do, as well. By that time, I decided I needed to put a date on the calendar and if by that date, God had not made it clear we should move, then we would stop praying about it! The date was October 5th.  I circled that date on my calendar with a sharpie.  My 4th child was at college. My husband and I were empty nesters. Praying about leaving, when I was still leading at another church, I loved was difficult. In fact, in the midst of that past year, I had helped to design a brand-new children’s building for Lake Pointe.  It was an exciting time for our church, and we would break ground in November!

Well, that date circled on my calendar arrived and I decided to call Craig and let him know we were no longer praying about moving to CA. The call went to voicemail and I left a very jumbled message trying to explain why we would not pray about this any longer. Later he called and left a message telling me “the most bizarre thing happened” and to please call him back. I decided not to return his call, but when I got home that evening, he called me on my home phone! And what he told me completely changed the trajectory of our lives, and my ministry! This is what Craig shared:  He was at a Pastor’s Conference at Saddleback Church that day.  He was talking to several pastors about how he wished he could hire this children’s director from TX but her husband is in the church insurance business and loves his work. Bill had told him previously there was only one man in the state of CA who could hire him to do what he did in TX, but that he would be willing to work for any insurance company if it was God’s plan for us. One of the conference attenders, who was also a church trustee, overheard the conversation. This man was also in the insurance business, but his business was very specialized. He asked Craig what company my husband worked for. Craig told him the name of the company, he added, “and there is only one man in the state of CA who could hire him to do what he does in Texas, and he wished he knew his who that person was.”  The man then said, “Do you know who I am, Craig?  I AM that man!”  

On that very night, on the day I had circled on the calendar, my husband was offered a job working for the same company! And we knew that this was God’s very clear way of showing us his plan for us to move to CA!

4. Why do you think you were called to step up during this particular time in history?

When I was a little girl, I heard the good news of Jesus and accepted Him and his gift of eternal salvation at the age of 7 and was baptized.  I grew up in an environment where Jesus and the church were a huge part of our lives.  The very children’s church program where I made this decision to follow Jesus, was the same children’s church where I began teaching other children the Good News of Jesus.  Then leading our children’s VBS summer programs in High School.  During that time, I was asked to write an essay on what I wanted to do when I “grew up.”  I knew I wanted to be involved in working full time for the church, but at that time (In the 1960’s) nothing was really available for women unless they were a church secretary, teaching in a Christian school or being a Pastor’s wife.  But what if I didn’t marry a pastor?!  I was so confused because I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to serving God and the church.  Writing that essay was one of the most defining moments in my life because I didn’t really feel like any option was what God wanted me to do.  I decided to opt for writing my essay about being a teacher who would teach missionary children abroad.

Then after graduation from Bible College, I went to work for a church in Tulsa, OK where I was…the church secretary!   I was engaged to be married (to a guy I met at Bible College) and was waiting for my fiancĂ© to return from the Vietnam war.  Once we were married in 1972, he went to finish Bible College and then became a Youth Pastor.  As a Youth Pastor’s wife, my role was very much to support my husband in the ministry.  And, as part of our role at the church, I taught grades 1-3 in the church’s Christian school.  This brought me great joy; however, I still knew God had more for me, personally.  I began learning more about my spiritual gifts and how God had shaped me for ministry.  When I realized that I scored the highest in Leadership when I took my first Spiritual Gifts test, I realized why I felt God had more for me – but where?  And how?

After our fourth child was born in 1980, my husband left the Youth Ministry to work for an insurance company that only sold insurance to churches.  This was when God began revealing His plan for me.  “The church” began to see the need for positions of leadership in the Children’s Ministry as directors of ministry.  I began my first leadership role then and I have been involved in the Children’s Ministry ever since!  As God began to increase my influence, my leadership role continued to expand where I became a leader of leaders who were volunteers teaching children.  My title changed from Coordinator to Director to Minister.  My title didn’t matter to me, because I SO enjoyed my role and how God was allowing me to exercise my spiritual gift of leadership.

In the past decade, the role of women in the church has evolved.  Much study in Scripture about women in ministry has become clearer and women have also realized, as I did, that they have gifts that can be used in the church alongside our male counterparts.  As I mentioned previously, my desire to have the title of Pastor was never anything I pursued.  However, as I see young women in the church begin to learn more about their own giftedness, their desire to lead and be used to the fullest extent has been greatly enhanced by opening these new opportunities as Pastor.  

This is a new day for women in ministry and I am honored and blessed to help carry the mantle of being a Pastor and have the title as NextGen Ministries Pastor at Saddleback Church!