By Norm Miller
ORLANDO (BP)–Charles Stanley — long-time pastor of First Church in Atlanta — and his son, Andy Stanley — pastor of the Atlanta-area North Point Community Church — appeared together on the platform of the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference June 14.
Charles Stanley was honored on the 25th anniversary of his election to a second, one-year term as SBC president; Andy Stanley, who was introduced by his father, delivered a sermon titled “Some things I’ve been thinking about recently regarding local church leadership.”
In a video montage that included several Southern Baptist leaders and pastors, Charles Stanley reflected on the 1985 Southern Baptist convention in Dallas, saying, “It was a very tumultuous time. In fact, it was just warfare. A time of great strife, disagreement, hardship in everybody’s life.”
Reluctant to allow his name for nomination as president in 1984, Stanley recalled that he had prayed, fasted and enumerated the reasons he couldn’t do it — and cited the others who’d do a better job. But after encountering God in a way “that scared me to death,” Stanley relented.
“When there’s so much at stake, you don’t count the cost,” Stanley told the Pastors’ Conference audience regarding the Conservative Resurgence. “You just decide you’re going to obey God and leave all the consequences to Him. And one thing is for certain: you cannot fail obeying God; there’s no way.”
Stanley told the crowd he believes America “is in the most critical condition it has ever been, even including the Second World War.”
“We’re at the fork of the road,” he said. “And if there’s one group of people in America that can make a difference that’s lasting, it is God’s men, who stand in the pulpit, week after week.”
Shifting his attention to his son, Charles noted that the three campuses of North Point Community Church where Andy Stanley is pastor have a combined membership of 20,000 people, and that the church has started 20 congregations in other parts of the United States.
“As I look back through the years, and what’s happening in life today,” Charles said, “I could not be more grateful than to say: I want to ask you to welcome my son, Andy Stanley.”
Andy called it “a real treat” to be with his father at the Pastors’ Conference before turning to the subject of church leadership. Andy recalled when, in the early 1990s, the Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A restaurant was facing stiff competition from the upstart Boston Market restaurant. Chick-fil-A leaders were trying to figure out how Chick-fil-A could get bigger, faster. Company founder Truett Cathy pounded on the table and said, “I am sick and tired of listening to you talk about how we can get bigger. If we get better, our customers will demand we get bigger.”
Applying Cathy’s prescription to church growth, Stanley said that getting better, and ultimately bigger, requires evaluation and clarification. “I think the local church should be the best-run organization in your town,” he said, because the church is “the vehicle through which the Gospel is fed to and communicated to the whole world.”
Stanley cited the Intel Corporation, whose ever-escalating battle with Japanese companies in manufacturing computer chips ultimately caused the company to diversify and stop making the component. Intel leaders realized they needed to abandon their emotional attachment to what they’d always done and if they didn’t, they’d soon be out of the computer chip business.
Stanley lamented that “we fall in love with the way we do ministry.”
“Are you going to continue to be in love with a model of ministry, and simply flirt with the Great Commission,” he asked. “Or are you willing to fall in love with the Great Commission and abandon a model of ministry that you know in your heart is not making a difference in your city?”
Too many churches are making it difficult for unchurched and unsaved people to attend church, Stanley said. “We’ve created church for church people,” he said. “And that reflects a desire more focused on keeping people in the church that reaching those outside of it.”
For North Point, Stanley said that if any program or project isn’t about “bringing people to faith … we don’t do it. … We want an organization that reflects the Great Commission.”
“Identify and remove unnecessary obstacles,” Stanley advised the pastors. Being careful not to discount the Gospel, he said it is offensive, but that neither the parking lot nor the children’s ministry should be offensive. “It’s OK to offend people with the Gospel, but, good grief, let’s don’t offend them with something else.”
Andy expressed his gratitude for his Christian heritage that “happened in Sunday School rooms with little tiny wooden chairs and little tiny wooden tables in Southern Baptist churches.”
“You are the last, best hope for a group of churches in this country. I hope you know that,” he said. “You’ve got to get this right.”
Norm Miller is a freelance writer based in Richmond, Va.