Andy Stanley - Life, Love, and Legacy - Part 1
Hi, everybody. Welcome back. If this is your first time joining us, you could not have picked a better time. Today. I begin a two-part interview with one of my favorite people on the planet, my dad. As you may know, my dad is a pastor but you may not know that he just stepped down from his role as Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta, where he served, are you ready for this? For 50 years and then a few weeks ago, he celebrated his 88th birthday and he decided it was probably time to step down. A decision he clearly did not rush into.
So today and next week, we're going to visit with him at his studio at In Touch Ministries the broadcast organization that he founded in 1977. But before we jump into the interview, I wanna give you a little bit of context as it relates to our families so that some of these stories we talk about will make a little bit more sense. I have a sister named Becky who's three years younger than me. Both of us have three kids. So my dad is the proud grandparent of six grandchildren; two granddaughters and four grandsons. After I graduated from graduate school, I actually worked for him for 10 years and then I left there to launch North Point Community Church and it was a rocky transition, to say the least. But my dad and I were both committed to maintaining our relationship in spite of our differences and we had many differences.
Then several years later, I wrote a book entitled, "Deep and Wide", which is essentially the blueprint for how we do ministry through the local church. And in chapter two of "Deep and Wide", I actually tell the story in detail of how and why I left my dad's employment and why it was such a difficult season for both of us. And anyone who's read the story or knows our story, knows how easy it would've been for our relationship to have deteriorated and for us to have gone our separate ways and never reconciled. But fortunately and honestly much to his credit, that was not the case. And just kind of a fun fact, before I published the story, of course, I wanted him to read it and sign off on it.
So I went over to his house and I sat down with him at his breakfast table. And I actually read out loud that particular chapter of the book, the chapter that entailed our story just to get his reaction. And honestly, it was so emotional just reliving some of those difficult moments. We both cried and we were both so grateful that those difficult times did not signal the end of our relationship. In fact I'll never forget, we were having chips and salsa at a at a Tex-Mex restaurant during this difficult season. And it was so difficult, honestly, we would meet together because we knew we should and we would just sit there. It was hard for us to even talk. And on one of those occasions, he said, "Andy", he said, "we have both been around long enough to know what happens to fathers and sons who go through something like this. And I don't want that to happen to us". And neither did I and it didn't.
So here we are 25 years later, reminiscing about 88 years of a life well lived. So here's part one of my two-part conversation with my dad, Dr. Charles Stanley. So I would like to begin our conversation talking about parenting. But before I talk about what a good dad you are and have been my whole life, I think it's important for people to know a little bit about your background because you grew up without your father. So can you catch people up on just your growing up years? And then I wanna talk a little bit about what a great dad you were and how in the world did you ever figure that out? So you were born in Dry Fork, Virginia?
— Dry Fork, Virginia. My father died when I was nine months of age, so my mother had to go to work. And so then I got shifted around from one person to the other keeping me while she worked and that went on for a number of years. And then, of course, starting to school I was very shy. And I think how did I ever get through grammar school?
— Yeah, because in some cases I remember these stories as a kid, you know when I thought I had it hard you would talk about getting yourself up in the morning, fixing your own breakfast because your mom had already gone to work at the mill.
— Well, it was difficult. But you know my mom taught me how to fry an egg or scramble an egg and toast. And then, of course, after a while I learned that well enough, so I could just fix me maybe some other things. But she taught me to be able to do whatever I needed to do and to trust God that He would help me. And that's the thing that I kept hearing her, just trust the Lord. Just do what you know is right and trust the Lord. So she drilled that into my head and that I could do whatever I needed to do if I would trust him.
— Wow, so one of the mysteries to me that as a kid growing up, I didn't appreciate, but now that I'm a dad, I've appreciated so much because so much of what I've done as a father, I learned from you. But you didn't have a father to learn from. So you know how in the world did you figure this out? Because I'm gonna tell some stories in a few minutes about the kinds of things you did. But I mean when I was born, when Becky was born, you didn't have a role model. How did you figure this out?
— Well, my mom taught me several things. She just drilled them in my head. To obey the Lord, to read the scripture every day even though I didn't understand it, to read the scripture every day and to do what I knew was the right thing to do. So she didn't take the Bible and say, well memorize this verse or that verse. And the only time I remember her giving me a verse to remember is before I preached my first sermon, but I just saw her reading the Bible. I watched, I listened to her pray and I watched how she related to people. So I had a great respect for my mom being a Godly woman.
— So then when you became a dad, how did you figure out the dad part? I mean, you'd seen your mom be a good mom, but you were such a great dad how did you figure that out?
— Well, I treated y'all the way I wanted to be treated. I think that says it all to me because not having a father and thinking what I would've liked for my father to have done. So when I think of all the places we went and I never worried about spending money on you all, just have a good time. In other words, it just came natural for me because I knew that's what a good dad would do.
— Well, I wanna talk about a few things that you've taught me. I'm not even sure I've shared some of these with you, but one of the most important things you taught me was how to make good decisions. And the way he taught me how to make good decisions was my dad refused to make decisions for me. In fact, there were so many incidents and this began really young. I would say, "Dad, what do you think I should do in this situation"? And he would say, "Well what would you do if I wasn't here to tell you"? And I would say, "But you are here to tell me and I need you to tell me". But that habit or that tendency you had and again, I don't know where you figured that out, forced me to do two things. It forced me to learn how to make good decisions early on. And then the second thing was you did such a great job allowing Becky and I to face the consequences of our decisions. You never bailed us out. And I guess, because growing up there wasn't anybody to bail you out. When you made a bad decision, you had to face the consequences yourself, right?
— Right, and I realized all of that would drive you to God. And I wanted you to point yourself to Him. What would God have me to do when my dad's not here? What would God have me to do? Because my father died when I was nine months of age, and I thought you know God can take me off the scene but I wanna be sure whenever He did, you knew what to do.
— Well early on, maybe too early, you just consistently said, what would you do or how would you handle that or how would you fix that if I wasn't here? I remember my first traffic ticket. I'd like to say it was my one and only traffic ticket, but I remember my first traffic ticket. I had not had my driver's license very long. I got pulled over leaving school. I got home and, of course, I was scared to death. Like any teenager, oh no, what's my dad gonna do? Is he gonna take away the car? Is gonna take away my license? And you probably don't even remember this. So I came in and, you know, apologetically, dad I got pulled over by the police. He gave me a traffic ticket and you didn't get mad. You said, "Well, you'll have to handle that". And I'm like, "Well, what do I do"? And you said, "Well, just turn the ticket over. It has all the instructions in the back". And then you just left the room. And suddenly, instead of punishing me, you basically, said if you're responsible enough to have a driver's license, you're responsible enough to figure out what to do with a traffic ticket. And you didn't punish me, you let the law punish me. And then again, you just put all the decision making right back in my lap. I don't even know if you remember that.
— Well, see you kept loving me, instead of the policemen.
— Well see, this is another really important principle because instead of inserting yourself into the equation you took my position or you took my side to say you know what, Andy, I think you're smart enough to figure this out. I think you'll figure out how to pay for the traffic ticket. It's right there on the back of the ticket, you know, good luck. And again, here I am all these years later, I can remember where we were standing in our house in Tucker. So early on just putting the decision-making pressure, the appropriate pressure, on us was extraordinary. And I do think it was an overflow of the fact that you knew, you remembered growing up, hey, you had to learn those things early. And then one other thing, and you just alluded to it, you did a great job intentionally reminding my sister and I, Becky and I that, ultimately, we weren't accountable to you anyway. That, ultimately, we were accountable to God.
— That's right.
— And the way you taught us that, again, we would ask you a question or not advice, but a decision we had to make and you would say have you prayed about it? Have you prayed about it? And that was so frustrating because I'm like I don't need to pray about it. I just need you to help me make the decision. But you consistently said, ask God and you know whatever you feel like the Lord wants you to do. Do you remember one particular occasion when you told me to pray about it and God told me the opposite of what God had told you? You know what incident I'm talking about?
— It was the only one?
— No, there were actually several, but I was 16 and my favorite recording artist was coming to town. It was a concert. Back then there weren't many concerts. You did not particularly love my choice of music at the time.
— Oh, that's right.
— Yep, you remember that part. And so this band was coming to Atlanta and the concert was on Sunday night. You remember this?
— Yes, I do.
— And we had Sunday night church and on Sunday night we went to church. And so I'm saying, "Dad, I wanna go to a concert". You didn't really want me to go to the concert anyway, but now I'm gonna go on Sunday night, people will find out the preacher's kids went to the concert instead of going to church. And you said, "Well, why don't you pray about it"? Do you remember that?
— I do.
— And I remember mom was like, no, no-no-no. Don't let him pray about it. We just need to tell him not to go and you were so consistent. It was, nope, if you think that's okay, you pray about it. So I did, 16 years old and I didn't hear a voice, so I figured it was okay. Remember that? And you took a little bit of pressure at church, you know how can you let your son, he's being a bad example? And so I went to that concert. And do you remember what you and mom prayed while I was at the concert? You told me later that you prayed that we would have a miserable time.
— Yes, we did, that's right. Yes, we did.
— You remember that? You prayed that we'd have a miserable time and we'd never wanna go back. And God didn't answer that prayer either. I grew up wanting to be a rock star. So anyway, but the point being, even though when you put that much responsibility in a child's hands you are wise enough to leave it there. You didn't take it back. You didn't say, well, God didn't answer your prayer the way I wanted Him to, I'm gonna withdraw that. So those lessons were so instrumental. And it's just always curious to me growing up without a father that intuitively you figured some of those things out.
— Well, I would usually say, "Lord, now in this given situation, what's the wisest thing to do"? And I knew that if I made all the decisions and gave you all the answers, you'd never have to do it yourself. And at some point, and remember this growing up, I had nobody to ask. There was my mom, but a lot of situations she wouldn't have had the answer for. So I figured if I trusted God to gave you wisdom, then I believe that you would listen to Him and do what He said do. And look at you now, you're not a rock star. You're much more important than a rock star.
— Well, look at me now, but there was, it wasn't a straight line. In fact, I've heard you say before publicly that, these are my words, not yours. So you can correct me. Something like I never went to bed worrying about you and Becky or what you and Becky were up to. You just placed us in the hands of our capable heavenly Father and.
— Well, I knew that I had taught you the right thing to do in every situation that I knew about and that I would trust God to either make you successful at that or make you so miserable you wouldn't wanna do it again and it worked.
— It did, ultimately, work. And I've tried to do the same thing with my three kids. So I appreciate that. The other thing that you taught me that became, again, you appreciate it when you're young but you really appreciate it when you're older, you never prioritized work over family.
— Now that is challenging for any one, but it seems to be especially challenging for pastors. So many pastors love the church and serve the church. And we've seen this happen, right, with pastors, especially men who just for whatever reason, neglect their kids. And I never felt like I was competing with work or, specifically, I never felt like I was competing with the church. Again, do you remember your thought process in all of that? Because we took long vacations. In fact, one time, I can't even imagine this, we had an 18 foot travel trailer? 18 foot travel trailer. We went out West for five weeks. Okay, I love my children. I can't imagine a five week vacation pulling an 18 foot travel travel trailer but that's the way you prioritized us. So what was your thinking in all of that?
— Well, first of all, I wanted to go and second...
— That might've had something to do with it.
— Yeah, it did. And secondly, I wanted to share what I love, the outdoors and the woods and the forest and the glaciers and everything, I wanted to share that with you all. And so, as far as the church was concerned it was more important to me for us to be together, regardless of what people thought. And so I enjoyed it and what I tried to do is to give you all the experiences that I wish I'd had if I'd of had a father and to go to all the places we went. And if you think of all the things that we did and the one thing I loved about the travel trailer was we were all together.
— We were very close together. It was just 18...
— But remember this, when we went to Naples, we had the whole beach. That's before they got built up. Police would drive up and down the beach about once a day. We had that whole beach to ourselves, travel trailer. We'd cook outside. We had a fantastic time. I loved every minute of it and I figured y'all would never forget it. And we happened to be there at the season that the sand dollars came in and we were picking up very small ones and large ones. And those are times in my life that I enjoyed them, just as much as you all did. And at that point, I didn't care what people thought. Well, you should have done this and you should've done that. You know what? You only have one life. These kids are only gonna be yours at this age. We're gonna live it up in order to enjoy one another and you have not forgotten it.
— No, and again, those kinds of things left an impression in terms of priorities and values. And obviously, it wasn't a dig at church or something to undermine our faith. It just showed the priority that you gave. Your priorities were where they needed to be.
— Well, I wanted you all to feel like you had me, not me and the church. You had me for 30 days or whatever it might be.
— Five weeks.
— And I just wanted it to be unforgettable times, so that one of these days you can look back as you are and say, "What a awesome time we had". Not, for example, if they would call me from church sometimes I would call them back, sometimes I wouldn't. Now, we didn't have cell phones then. So I could say, well, you call me.
— Yeah, there was no way to get, really.
— No way.
— When we would camp we, again, sometimes we went to trailer parks, you know? But a lot of time, we would literally back then, we would just find a spot in the woods or on the beach and we were completely unplugged.
— That's right.
— One other incident, and you alluded to this principle, when Louie Giglio and I, Louie Giglio many of you know him. We grew up together. He grew up at my dad's church. In fact, his family was at First Baptist Atlanta before we got there. And so Louie and I became close friends through middle school and high school. And we used to skip church quite frequently. We'd go to Sunday school because that's where the girls were. And then instead of going to church, we would walk down the street and there was a big restaurant, The Varsity, if you've ever been to Atlanta. And my dad was on live television on Channel Five, I believe. And so we would literally stand up on a chair, change the channel, to find the sermon and then we would just talk and eat hot dogs and listen to just enough of the sermon so that I could get in the car after church and say, you know, Dad the story about the dog or the thing I, so he would think I had been in church. Very deceitful. So on one occasion, I know you remember this, somebody went to your, we call them secretaries back then, to your administrative assistant and said she had seen me and Louie heading down to The Varsity to skip church. Do you remember this incident?
— Yes, I do.
— So here's how it happened. So I'm in the back seat. There's just the two of us. We're driving home after church. And so I can't see his face, I'm sitting right behind him. I remember this. And you said, "Andy, someone saw you and Louie leaving the church property and it looked like you were headed toward The Varsity instead of coming to church". So of course I'm thinking, oh no. You know it's like the traffic ticket thing, oh no, I'm in big trouble. and you paused and here's what you said, you said, and I told her you raise your kids you let me raise mine. That's all you said. And we drove home in silence. Again, I didn't get into trouble You didn't punish me You didn't expect more of me than other parents expected of their kids. But again, here I am all these years later, because it said to me that I was a priority and that you, again, you didn't feel like your reputation as a pastor hinged on my behavior or on Becky's behavior. And that's a good thing, because there were some rough years for some of us anyway. So again, just so grateful for the way that you were a father even though you didn't have a father to learn from. And that is a guiding principle for all the single parents out there who wonder, because you turned out great by the way. So, for all the single parents, it's challenging. And when Sandra and I talk to parents the first thing we say is even though we're gonna talk about parenting from the standpoint of a two-parent home, neither my father nor Sandra's father grew up with their biological father in the home and yet they turned out to be fabulous fathers. So, in that way you're such a great example for even more people than maybe you might've imagined. Now, I wanna change the subject, if that's okay. You grew up poor, I think that's a fair statement but you have always been generous. I mean some of the earliest lessons you taught us had to do with money. So how in the world does someone who is raised with very, very, very little, in fact, some of my favorite stories that you told me growing up about growing up were just how little you had. How you, Christmas stories, I mean birthday stories where you know it was kind of heartbreaking, honestly and yet, your whole life you've been generous. How did you learn to be generous having grown up with so little? Because so many people, they go the opposite direction.
— I think I'd have to give my mother credit for that. For example, every once in a while back in those days, some little boy, a couple of little kids would come up and knock on the door and ask, "Do y'all have any bread"? My mom always gave them something and sometimes I'd look and I'd say, "We're not gonna have any left, I don't think". She said, "No, we're gonna give them this". My mom taught me to be generous, to be kind and I knew she made $9.10 cents a week for 40 hours in the cotton mill.
— And she was always generous. She didn't give much, but there was something about her, she had to give something. And so I think I saw that in her. So when it came time to talk about tithing income, I never had a problem with that. And I have been blessed and blessed and blessed and blessed and blessed. And I would have to say watching her give a little bit of what we didn't have much of, said something to me deep down inside because I noticed that afterwards we always seemed to have enough.
— And again, this was her faith in action in terms of just trusting God to provide for the two of you.
— Yeah, so what's the connection between your generosity in the local church? Because that's always been a passion for you.
— Right. So I just realized that pretty early, I couldn't outgive God. No matter how much I gave, what the motivation was, I couldn't outgive him. He always blessed me over and over and over again. So I wanted to help other people. And I wanted to be sure when I stood up and preached to other people about giving, that I knew in my heart, I gave it the best God wanted me to give however much it was. So, it's not been hard for me to give. Giving is just part of being who I am and I think about how God's blessed me. He said, "Give and it shall be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together". I believe that. And I can look back after all these years and realize he's blessed me far more than I deserve.
— That phrase that you just said, I grew up hearing my whole life. You can't outgive God. You can't outgive God. You can't outgive God. I remember I'm not gonna go into detail, because it's so personal, but I remember an incident. I was a freshman in college when there was an incident and you, basically, had a choice and this happened two or three times to where you could give what you felt God had impressed on your heart to give, but it was gonna be an actual sacrificial gift. And this is one of the great things about you, as well, you would talk about this with the family. You would say this, "I feel like God wants us to do this for this organization". Or, you know, something that's going on at church. "And if we give this much money here's what we're gonna have to do as a family". And we would pray about those things. And I can remember as a college freshmen thinking that's a lot of money and you know what's that, again, you led through your generosity. And again, you can't outgive God. You can't outgive God and so you taught me to tithe. And like you, giving the first dime of every dollar I've ever made my whole life has been easy. And it has been easy for me to stand up in front of our church and to teach percentage giving, because you taught me that as a child. And because, again, it was a habit we formed so early, like you say, you never miss the money that you give and you never regret what you've done with the money that you give.
— Growing up, you would lay down with us at night and we would always want you to tell us stories about growing up. And so I would like to ask you to share two specific stories and then I'm gonna share a story. So let me think, the first story I want you to talk about, So let me think, the first story I want you to talk about, this kind of relates to money, this kind of relates to money, talk a little bit about your paper route. Because people kid about, oh, in the old days, you know I had to walk so many miles in the snow, uphill both ways. But you literally, that was a literal story for you. So your mom is having to work. She's making about $10 a week. So you had to go to work early. So I think the story of how you developed your paper route is fascinating. And we don't really have a paper boys anymore like we used to, but that was a, so talk a little bit about that, because that's part of what transitioned you to the next season of your life.
— Well, we had two newspapers. One of them was just on Monday morning, since we didn't have a regular paper on Monday morning and one of them was on Thursday. And so I kept praying for God to show me something to do. And so I...
— To make some money?
— To make some money, yeah. So I found out I could possibly get a paper route. I only made about $4 or something like that, but that was for two days a week. And it was a long route and I had a lot of papers, but I said, "Okay, God, this is what I'll do". And then I kept that for a year. And I watched this fella who had the large paper route morning and evening every day, except Sunday afternoon and Monday morning.
— And you were walking, right?
— Yeah, I'm walking. And it just so happened that all the streets I had were all downhill, but it was okay. So I saw this fellow who had the paper route and made about $20 a week, 16 to 20, something.
— A week?
— A week. And so I said, "Well, if you ever give up your paper route, I'd like to have it". So he said, "Well, what are you willing to give me for it"? And that was not proper. You didn't...
— You didn't sell paper routes, right?
— So he said, "Well, I'll sell it to you for $125". So I figured out that $125, I'd make that back fore too long. But my stepfather went to the bank with me and I borrowed $125. The only time I ever borrowed the money. And so I bought the route. I started delivering newspapers. I had one long street.
— I remember you driving me down this street when we would go visit my grandmother and you say it was downhill. There was nothing flat in Danville, Virginia. Everything was a hill, but anyway.
— Anyways, and so first thing I did is make sure I tithed how much money I made. And so I took papers for about, well till I went to college. And I saw how God had prospered me and helped me and I could buy some of my own clothes for a change and I had a little extra money. So then, of course, I came to the whole situation of how am I gonna go to college, I'm making $16 a week. That wouldn't get you in college. But I watched God always provide in ways that I couldn't figure out. In other words, I could never have figured out how to go to college, making that kind of money.
— And this was the second story I wanted you to tell about how you got to college. Because the point of this is your confidence in God and your faith in God was not passive. And this is one of the things you taught me. You don't sit back and ask God to do something and then just wait. Your work ethic has always been extraordinary, at the same time, carving out the right amount of time for family. Somehow you figured all that out on your own. So you have always modeled you work as hard as you can possibly work and then you trust God to honor your hard work. And so once again, this is what happened with the paper route. And then that leads us to this next story is you're trying to figure out how in the world you're gonna go to college, so.
— Right, because I'm making $16 to $20 hours a week and I think, God, I can't even get to Richmond, Virginia, let alone go to college. And so one night my friend and I were standing on the street corner just talking and the pastor of the Baptist church came by. And I'd only been a member that church probably a year and he didn't know me very well. And so when he was coming down the street, my friend Julian said, "Mr. Hammond come over here just a moment". And so he tells him what I was doing and I wanted to go school and the Lord had called me to preach and I didn't have any money, could you help me? And he didn't know me. I'd been going to the church, but not very long at that particular church. So he said, "Well come by to see me". So I went by to see him and we talked for probably an hour or so. To make a long story short, I got a four year scholarship to the University of Richmond with no explanation. In other words...
— Well, he made a few calls and got you into college.
— On that scholarship. But again, there it is, again, you do what you know to do. God brings the right person along and when I hear you tell that story, I've heard it so many times. Little did he know. Little did he know that he was the connector between this kid who has a paper route, who'd just finished high school, who didn't have any money. He was the connector between that unknown kid snd if I can just brag a bit, Dr. Charles F. Stanley who's preached the gospel all over the world. And at some points years ago you were through shortwave radio, radio and television, you were in every single major city in the world, every single day of the week.
And when I think about what hung in the balance, potentially, of his decision to look at this kid and, apparently, there was some sort of internal prompting. I mean, how many kids in Danville, Virginia needed a scholarship to college? A lot, right? And yet, for some reason he took the time to give you the time and then after that conversation leveraged his connections to give you that opportunity and what an extraordinary role he played in your life. And he had no idea. And I have seen you do that for so many people through the years.
Again, you can't do everything for everybody, but as I say, do for one what you wish you could do for everyone. And he did for one, what I'm sure he wished he could do for everyone. And you have done that, as well. And it always makes me stop and think when somebody asks for something specific or something I don't really have the time or the resources to do, I think we have no idea who God brings into our lives. But to be sensitive to that still, small voice and to do for one what, of course, we can't do for everyone. Pretty amazing story