Studying the life of Charles Stanley provides a multitude of opportunities for seminary students to debate how they might handle similar situations.
From how the powerhouse pulpiteer overcame his humble beginnings to determining where lines are drawn when a pastor’s marriage is in trouble and a contentious relationship with his pastor son plays out publicly to balancing global fame with leading a local congregation — Stanley’s life has it all. Read more about his experiences through the years from Christianity Today here and read comments from Southern Baptist leaders in a Baptist Press article here. A Baptist News Global analysis piece provides detailed information from Stanley’s time as Southern Baptist Convention president here.
The influential pastor, author, president of In Touch Ministries and former SBC president, died Tuesday morning (April 18). He was 90.
Called to ministry at 14
“Known to audiences around the world through his wide-reaching TV and radio broadcasts, Stanley modeled his 65 years of ministry after the apostle Paul’s message in Acts 20:24: ‘Life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus — the work of telling others the good news about God’s mighty kindness and love,’” said In Touch Ministries in a statement.
Born Sept. 25, 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, in Dry Fork, Virginia, Stanley was raised by a single mother after his father died when Stanley was only 9 months old. After receiving a call to ministry at the age of 14, Stanley earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Richmond in Richmond, Virginia, and a bachelor of divinity at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He later went on to earn a master and doctor of theology from Luther Rice Seminary in Atlanta.
Before joining the staff of First Baptist Church Atlanta, Stanley served as pastor of Fruitland Baptist Church near Hendersonville, North Carolina (1957–1959); FBC Fairborn, Ohio (1959–1962); FBC Miami, Florida (1962–1968); and FBC Bartow, Florida (1968). Stanley become associate pastor of FBC Atlanta on Oct. 1, 1969, and assumed his longtime role as senior pastor on Oct. 1, 1971.
The following year, he launched into broadcast ministry with a 30-minute program, The Chapel Hour, on Atlanta-area TV stations WXIA and WANX (now WGCL).
The Chapel Hour — renamed In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley — went nationwide in 1978 after the Christian Broadcasting Network contacted Stanley, looking for a Bible-teaching program for its new satellite distribution network. The broadcast grew from 16,000 local viewers to a nationwide audience in just one week. This led to the expansion and incorporation of Stanley’s ministry as a separate non-profit entity called In Touch Ministries in 1982 and the In Touch radio broadcast entered syndication.
During the 1980s, the In Touch program penetrated nearly every major market in the U.S., reaching more than 1 million households.
At the time of his death, Stanley’s messages were heard in more than 127 languages around the world via radio, shortwave, the Messenger Lab project, or TV broadcasts. Stanley was the country’s longest-serving pastor with a continuous weekly broadcast program.
“Believing, as he often said, that people are to ‘obey God and leave all the consequences to Him,’ Stanley focused his preaching on practical, Christ-centered, biblically based principles for everyday life,” In Touch Ministries said.
“Many of his messages incorporated the 30 Life Principles that guided his life and helped him grow in his knowledge, service and love of God,” they noted. “Other messages tackled such topics as parenting, finances, personal crises, emotions and relationships, prayer and the character of God. Not having sought out the public spotlight, Stanley was a pastor who happened to be on TV, focused on teaching others how to seek and obey God through adversity and personal hardships.”
Honors and leadership
Notable organizations and publishers honored Stanley throughout his long ministry. Stanley served two terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1985 and 1986.
In 1988, he was inducted into the National Religious Broadcasters Hall of Fame for the consistent excellence of his broadcast, and leadership in the realm of Christian TV and radio.
Religious Heritage of America named him Clergyman of the Year in 1989, an award that recognizes pastors who strive to make Judeo-Christian principles part of America’s daily life. In 1993, the NRB honored In Touch with the Television Producer of the Year award, and in 1999, with the Radio Program of the Year award.
Most recently, Stanley was recognized for selling more than 10 million copies of his more than 70 books, the latest of which was published in 2023.
Stanley was also known for his love of photography. Stanley’s images from his personal travels fill the walls of In Touch Ministries’ Atlanta headquarters.
In September 2020, Stanley transitioned to the role of pastor emeritus of FBC Atlanta after serving 50 years as senior pastor.
Stanley is survived by his son Andy Stanley, founding and senior pastor of North Point Ministries; daughter Becky Stanley Broderson; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. His former wife, Anna Johnson Stanley, preceded him in death.
A memorial site can be found at charlesstanley.com.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was edited for style, brevity and length and the majority of it was originally published by In Touch Ministries. The lead sentences were added by The Baptist Paper staff.