I Love the Church, Big & Small: A Three-Word Plea to Andy Stanley

Ever since I moved to Georgia, people have consistently asked me what I think of Andy Stanley.  I had read a few of his books and listened to a few sermons and leadership talks in seminary, but quite honestly, I didn’t know much about him.  Even after moving closer to Atlanta, I've only minimally observed him and Northpoint from a distance.  I've learned a bit more about the history between Andy and his father. I've realized even more his celebrity status and just how large his following is.  I've also understood more clearly why people in “my circles” don't really like his preaching - there really is almost a complete absence of any substantive biblical interaction. 

Photo Credit: Hyosub Shin

And now I know he doesn't like small churches, and thinks you're selfish if you take your family to one.

It’s that last characteristic that has gotten him in trouble most recently.  In a sermon from just a couple of weeks ago at Northpoint Community Church, Andy said the following: 

“When I hear adults say, ‘I don’t like a big church. I like about 200. I wanna be able to know everybody.’ I say you are so stinkin’ selfish. You care nothing about the next generation. All you care about is you and your five friends. You don’t care about your kids, anybody else’s kids. If you don’t go to a church large enough, where you can have enough middle-schoolers and high-schoolers so they can have small groups and grow up the local church, you are a selfish adult. Get over it. Find yourself a big ol’ church where your kids can connect with a bunch of people, and grow up and love the local church. Instead, what you do…you drag your kids to a church they hate, and then they grow up and hate the local church, and then they go off to college, and you pray there’ll be a church in their college town that they connect with, and guess what: all those churches are big, the kind of church you don’t like. Don’t attend a church that teaches your children to hate church.”

You can see the clip below.

The backlash was immediate and ferocious.  Bloggers and tweeters of every affiliation assailed Andy, some more harsh than others.  The internet was filled with open letters to Andy and his church.  Some had some excellent points, such as those by Jonathan Aigner at Patheos or Dave Miller at SBC Voices.    

To Andy's credit, and prayerfully by God's grace, he apologized for his comments and tweeted the following: "The negative reaction to the clip from last weekend's message is entirely justified. Heck, even I was offended by what I said! I apologize."

So here is what we do when Andy Stanley (or anybody) apologizes...we forgive...plain and simple.

That said, however, I felt I must respond, primarily to affirm my love for the church both big and small.  I am currently being mentored by Bryant Wright of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, a massive church.  It has been such a blessing to me and my ministry.  Throughout my ministry, I've been impacted by some of the largest churches in America, and have been personally helped by many of these mega-church pastors.  But there have been a lot of small and medium size churches along the way as well.  

It is the small church I want to affirm more than any other.  I especially want to publicly acknowledge my love for the people of New Heights Baptist Church (now Antioch Church) in Louisville, Kentucky, who I had the privilege of shepherding for 8 years.  Small churches, and their pastors, often have it very rough and we should support and help them, not tear them down.  They are a part of fulfilling the Great Commission too, probably a much bigger part since there is such a vast number more of them.  

But yes I do have some words for Andy, even though I know he'll never read them, and will never even know who I am.  I also want these words to be prayerfully considered by anyone who listens to Andy, or for that matter, any preacher!

Andy, I only have three words for you.  In my flesh I wanted to say a lot more.  Yes, you offended me and my ministry of 8 years.  Yes, you offended thousands of people in less than three minutes.  Yes, you ignored all of church history.  Yes, once again, you propped up yourself, your church, and your style above every other.  

However, those aren't the three words I want to leave for you and your congregants and fans.  No, the thing that troubled me the most, and really the only thing that ever troubles me about pastors like you, is that your comments had absolutely no biblical warrant at all.  You didn't even reference Scripture until your message was almost over.  You ignored the Word!

So here are the three words.  I know you've heard them before.  I'm sure you've read them countless times.  These three words are not original to me.  They were uttered first by the greatest missionary and theologian who ever lived, to another young pastor who needed Spirit-inspired guidance and direction.  Are you ready for them?  Here they are:  "Preach the Word!" (2 Timothy 4:2)

That's it.  It's that simple.  It's biblical and it's an imperative for every man of God called to be a shepherd of His flocks.  

I often think how much more God could do with men as gifted as you if you just took the Scriptures each week and opened them up book by book, verse by verse, taking your people back to what the Spirit has inspired and what the biblical authors intended.  

Don't marginalize the Word.  Don't diminish the Word.  Don't ignore the Word.  

The Word alone is the "sword of the Spirit" for your people (Ephesians 6:17).  The Word alone is living and active and penetrates the soul (Hebrews 4:12).  The Word alone brings faith (Romans 10:17). The Word alone is inspired and profitable (2 Timothy 3:16).  The Word alone sanctifies (John 17:17).

Oh, that's my desire for men like you, men who have such an enormous platform.  Preachers who are celebrities.  Preachers who sell thousands of books.  Preachers who have a such a massive global reach.  Preachers who will touch more people in one sermon than I'll touch in a lifetime.  

Just "Preach the Word" brother!!