Atlanta-area megachurch pastor Andy Stanley has come under fire for remarks he made about small churches in a recent sermon.
Stanley—whose North Point Ministries includes six campuses and over 30,000 attendees a week—referred to parents who attend churches too small to have robust student ministries as “stinking selfish” in a February 28 message titled “Saved By The Church.” Stanley addressed a hypothetical parent who refused to attend a larger church for the sake of student ministry options for their kids. The sermon circulated online, especially as small church leaders raised concerns about his approach.
When I hear adults say, “Well I don’t like a big church, I like about 200, I want to be able to know everybody,” I say, “You are so stinking 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 [or] anybody else’s kids” … If you don’t go to a church large enough where you can have enough middle schoolers and high schoolers to separate them so they can have small groups and grow up the local church, you are a selfish adult. Get over it. Find yourself a big old church where your kids can connect with a bunch of people and grow up and love the local church. Instead… you drag your kids to a church they hate, and then they grow up and hate the local church. They go to college, and you pray that there will be a church in the college town that they connect with. Guess what? All those churches are big.
Faced with the online outcry, Stanley apologized on Twitter, saying “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 why did the pastor of one of the country’s biggest megachurches preach this message, only to say he too was offended by the implications? Ruth Malhotra, a writer and publicist from Atlanta who follows Stanley’s ministry, followed up on the controversial remarks.
First of all, what were you thinking? Were your words taken out of context?
This is an example of what I meant being overshadowed, undermined, and contradicted by what I actually said. Honestly, hearing what I said within the broader context of my entire message doesn’t help. As much as I wish folks would listen to the entire message, it really doesn’t diminish the absurdity of what I said.
So, you don’t believe what you said?
I really don’t. I can see how those on the listening end of that clip or on the reading end of this interview might have a difficult time believing me. I don’t blame people for assuming that “what Andy really thinks about small churches” slipped out in a moment of unguarded ranting. However people who know me, read me, listen to me, and have worked with me know that nothing could be further from the truth. I hope at the end of the day, my 20-plus years of actions will speak louder than these 5-plus minutes of words I so deeply regret.
You posted an apology on Twitter, but many people still want a more detailed explanation of what you were trying to say in the first place.
The Twitter response rightfully pointed out the absurdity and contradictory nature of my comments. A couple of the comments in that clip contradict my life’s work. In fact, what’s most heartbreaking to me about this situation is not what was said about me. I caused confusion and I deserved the fallout. What is most disturbing to me is that pastors, church planters, children’s directors, and student pastors took what I said as a criticism of what they do. That kept me up at night. Literally. I read numerous responses, and the reaction from pastors and church leaders was devastating. I’m not looking for sympathy here. It was devastating because my words undermined the importance, significance, and sacrifice of thousands of church planters and ministry leaders.