The Mystic Baptist
The Mystic Baptist
Charles Stanley was rated the third most influential Protestant pastor in America, behind Billy Graham and Charles Swindoll, in a 2010 survey by LifeWay Research. That's ahead of Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, and Joel Osteen, among many other prominent pastors. Given that theologically Stanley is a fundamentalist and dispensationalist—theological approaches that are considered passé today—that's an anomaly. Though he's been at the center of controversy (as president of the Southern Baptist Convention while fundamentalists and moderates contended for control; as a pastor who has experienced divorce in a morally conservative denomination), his gracious spirit has tended to win over even his enemies.
Stanley doesn't wear his formal theology on his sleeve, and instead spends the bulk of his ministry teaching people how the Bible deals with the practical concerns of their lives—family, work, pain, addictions, spirituality, and so forth. He does this as pastor of First Baptist in Atlanta (16,000 members) and through In Touch Ministries, which broadcasts his messages in more than 50 languages worldwide, over 500 radio stations, 300 television stations, and several satellite networks.
Mark Galli, CT's senior managing editor, spoke with the 80-year-old Stanley about his latest book (he's written more than 30), The Ultimate Conversation: Talking with God Through Prayer (Howard), which he considers his most important.
Early on in the book you talk about how one's relationship with one's parents can shape one's prayer life, both for good and for ill. How did that work out in your life?
My father died when I was nine months old. So it was just my mother and myself. As far back as I can remember, my mother would have me down by the bed at night with her, praying. I can still hear her voice calling my name to God and telling him that she wanted me to follow him in whatever he called me to do.
My mother did that when I was a kid and when I was in high school. And even when I'd come home from college, and come in late at night, my mother would come to the bedroom, and she'd kneel down by the bed, saying, "We're going to get on our knees and reverence God and talk to him."
She and I lived alone for a long time, watching God provide for us just week to week, food and clothes. When it came time for me to go to college and I had no money, I watched God provide a full scholarship for me. I look back and realize that was the key to my life, what it is to learn to talk to God and to listen to him and to be obedient to him and watch him work.
Talk about the absence of your father. For some people that would make it difficult to pray to God as Father.
You're exactly right. That was very difficult. When people would ask me about my dad, I'd say, "My father died when I was nine months of age. So I never knew him." Period. There was no emotion. That was the end of it until later on in my life.
I'd been a pastor for quite a number of years, and something was going on that I couldn't figure out. There was an emptiness I couldn't define. It forced me to get on my face and cry out to God, "Lord, what are you trying to say to me? Because whatever it is, I'm not getting the message."
I called four friends and told them that I was trying to find the will of God about something. I didn't know what it was, didn't know how to go about it. Would they be willing to meet with me and just talk with me? So we made an appointment to meet.