Last September Charles Stanley turned 80, and just this weekend I came across Andy Stanley’s tribute to his father on the recent In Touch broadcast. The broadcast combined with recent articles on CNN’s website and Christianity Today served to bring to the surface three ways that Dr. Stanley’s ministry has been a blessing to me. While I was a consistent In Touch listener and viewer in the late 1980s during the period between college and seminary, my attention to his sermons has been more sparse since the early 90s, though never off the radar. I’ve checked in now and then to watch Dr. Stanley on TV, and I’m very thankful for the catalyst provided by the recent broadcast and articles.
First, Dr. Stanley was pivotal in helping me learn to forgive those who had wronged me. Though I knew Christians were supposed to forgive those that sin against us, I had a tremendous bitterness against those who had victimized me throughout my 5th-9th grade years. While Dr. Stanley wasn’t the only one who helped me move beyond the corrosive effects of chronic bitterness, I vividly remember a series I heard on the radio where he walked through the path of forgiving others by forgiving each person by name and then freeing them from owing me anything. To my great surprise I found not only tremendous liberation from bitterness but also the emergence of a spirit of compassion toward those who hurt me. This was a great step toward healing deep wounds.
Second, the one time I met Dr. Stanley in person happened while I was in a bit of a crisis regarding my choice in seminary. This happened about a year before I was going to begin the pursuit of my Master of Divinity degree. I was in South Carolina visiting friends and my alma mater and encountered someone who strongly suggested that my choice of school was flawed because it was losing its biblical and theological bearings (looking back, it was a ludicrous suggestion, but I was impressionable and did not know enough of the facts). Though this seemed strange to me, I was very confused and unsure about whether I was making the right choice in institution. I received some assurance from a trusted pastor before heading back home, but was still a bit uncertain. I stopped in Atlanta on my way home and attended First Baptist Atlanta just before leaving to head back to my home in Memphis. Dr. Stanley was greeting people after the service and I wanted to meet him so I got in line. When I got to him I told him about my calling to full-time Christian service, I’ll never forget how his grip on my hand intensified as an expression of his excitement about God’s call on my life. I then told him where I was planning to attend seminary and asked “does that seem ok?”, and he simply said “It’s a good school.” That was all I needed hear. End of crisis. Why? Because for me, Dr. Stanley was someone I knew would give me words I could trust. I drove home that day secure in my choice for theological education.
Third, I discovered about 7-8 years ago that Dr. Stanley had an influence on my style of preaching. Of course there are several influences (conscious and unconscious) on the way I preach, but I recall one Sunday after preaching when it occurred to me that my way of posing rhetorical questions during the sermon had a cadence and inflection that was a lot like Dr. Stanley. It was a pleasant surprise for me, because I remember wishing I could preach like him in my early days as a preacher, and it was definitely not like Dr. Stanley at all. Perhaps one of the funny things about it is that this Stanley-like aspect of my preaching was something that emerged several years after I became a far more intermittent viewer and listener of In Touch. While no one has ever told me that my preaching sounds like Dr. Stanley (and there is a lot about my preaching and speaking that is now my own voice), I am pleasantly surprised and very thankful for the place of Dr. Stanley in my formation as a preacher and speaker.
There are other ways I have been blessed by Dr. Stanley’s ministry, but these three stand out the most. Thanks, Dr. Stanley.