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Intersection of Life and Faith

Charles Stanley on Preaching and Christian Living

  • Cheryl Johnston Spiritual Life Editor
  • 2001 8 Aug
Charles Stanley on Preaching and Christian Living
Cheryl, have you been saved? I knew I was in the presence of a true evangelist when Dr. Charles Stanley, renowned Baptist preacher, speaker and author, began our interview with a few pointed questions for me. In July, I sat down with Dr. Stanley in Atlanta to talk about his latest book, Charles Stanley’s Handbook for Christian Living, and his ministry as the senior pastor of First Baptist Church Atlanta.

Cheryl: Did you know from early on that you wanted to be a preacher?

Dr. Stanley: I would say [I knew] when I was 12 years of age. By the time I was 14 I knew that was what I was going to do, preach the gospel. I never thought about doing anything else in my life. And I had no shocking experiences or something; it began to grow in my heart and I knew by then that that’s what I was going to do.

Cheryl: How about writing? You’ve written so many books; was being an author also an aspiration for you, or did that come out of preaching?

Dr. Stanley: That came out of preaching and just looking for another way to share the gospel with people.

Cheryl: Why did you write this Handbook for Christian Living?

Dr. Stanley: Because we kept getting lots and lots of questions from people: “What about this?” “This is going on in my life,” “That’s going on in my life,” and I thought, well somewhere along the way, we need to compile something that would help people to be able to have a reference. They’d say, “Well, where would I find this and so in the Bible,” and “Where could I find out about this,” and you know, [ask] about 80 or some subjects. So I thought it needs to be in a very simple, easily read form, so that every subject is defined, has a definition and, to support what I’m saying, [and include] an application. And I think that you can pick up any chapter in there, whether it’s on temptation or whatever it might be, and it will guide you to a solution or to an answer specifically — not just say, “Well, here’s some ideas.” — but here’s what the Bible says, here’s how you ought to respond.

Cheryl: So, are you comfortable with contemporary Christians looking to you for answers, rather than their local pastors or works of theologians from previous generations?

Dr. Stanley: Well, they’re going to do that anyway because we’re on 400 and some television stations. We’re on almost all the top markets, and radio everyday all over the country, about 950-some radio stations. So, you’ve got all those people out there listening, they got questions. They think, “You know, if I listen long enough, I think he probably has the answers.” So they’re going to ask. I count it a great joy and a privilege to be able to answer those questions.

Cheryl: As a senior pastor of such a large church — 15,000 people — what’s your greatest challenge of pastoring a church that size?

Dr. Stanley: Well, let me say that I have a wonderful staff, who takes so much of the responsibility off of me, that I guess the challenge I have — the biggest challenge I have — is knowing who these people are. There are so many that come and go — almost 50 percent of the people in Atlanta move every five years. That was a statistic I heard about two weeks ago. So people are coming all the time; sometimes we have 400 people joining the church on a given Sunday. And people leave because they get transferred. So the big challenge is knowing who the people are; “Who’s this I’m preaching to?” I know I’m preaching to the world out there, all over the place, but as far as the faces I’m seeing; “To whom am I speaking?”

Cheryl: How do you go about addressing that challenge?

Dr. Stanley: Well, each Sunday, for example, I greet guests. Usually about 100 or 150 or so every Sunday. And I listen to what they have to say, and then talk to some members, of course. And after a while, you get all the questions. I mean, people have so many hurts, and so many pains, and so many problems, and so many heartaches, and after a while, you know, you know what’s coming.

Cheryl: We’re all human, and I guess we go through the same things. What is the greatest blessing in running a church this size?

Dr. Stanley: To me, because I’m an encourager at heart, it’s to see people’s lives change. In other words, to preach the gospel and see all these people coming down the aisle and saying, “Yeah, I’m getting it! I’m turning my life over to Christ, I’m getting this thing straightened out in my life, I’m laying this down, I’m answering God’s call.” In other words, every Sunday I hear that and I see that, and plus, I stand and wait for guests after both services, they say about 100 and some. They’ve all got a story to tell, how they’ve been blessed, how their life’s changed; family put back together, kids come back home, one of them saved, or a husband and wife saved, or just all kinds of … I’m very encouraged, and I’m an encourager by heart, and I get very encouraged by what I hear.

Cheryl: This church has grown in size over the time that you’ve been the pastor of it, right? Now, other churches are striving to constantly grow and be bigger and bigger. Is that what churches should strive to do?

Dr. Stanley: I’m not striving for us to be bigger and bigger. My whole issue is, I want to teach the truth. And I want you to be so motivated to want to know the Lord that you can become what God wants you to be, do what He wants you to do in life, and achieve what He wants you to achieve. Now, whether you come to that church or not, I know that you’re only going to be there for a season of time, then you’re probably going to have to go somewhere else. So my goal is not to build a big church, never been my goal. My goal is to get the truth to you so you understand it and you have the truth to respond to in your life and lay out principles by which you can live. And if you get the principles by which to live, then I’ve succeeded in what I’m doing. Whether the church ever gets big or not — that’s not the issue. Because the congregation — you know, there are millions and millions of people out there who listen and watch — (and so I could never build anything that big,) so I just know that if you’re sitting out there, I want you to know the truth.

Cheryl: What area of Christian living do you most enjoy teaching and writing about?

Dr. Stanley: I would say I really enjoy helping people who are hurting, helping people who are hungry for the truth, who are going through difficulty and trial in their life. I want to lay out the principles by which they can respond to those difficulties and hurts and grow as a result of them, not give up and quit and backslide on the job.

Cheryl: What area do you find the most difficult to teach about?

Dr. Stanley: The most difficult. Hmmm. I don’t know that I think any of them are difficult. I love doing every aspect. I’ll tell you what I do least, though, is issues. In other words, modern day issues. Like, I don’t preach on abortion this Sunday and war the next Sunday, women the next Sunday. I stick with the Word of God. When those things apply, I apply them, and as they come up in the Scripture I preach them, but I’m not an issue-oriented person. A person who is issue-oriented has got to find some new issue all the time. Well, I don’t have to worry about that, because the Bible is full of truth, and I don’t have to do that.

Cheryl: In writing any book, usually an author takes away more than the people who read the book. What would you say you’ve taken away from writing this?

Dr. Stanley: What happens is, for example with a book like this, what you take away is a deeper conviction that what you believe is absolutely the truth. Because you’ve studied and studied and studied in those different areas, and it just drives it deeper in your own heart.

Cheryl: Are you working on another book?

Dr. Stanley: Yes. In fact, I’m just about finished [working] on Walking Wisely. And I’m talking about wisdom in our friendships, how to handle friendships wisely, how to build wise friendships, how to handle conflict, how to handle temptation wisely. In other words, just practical things that you and I have to do every day.