Andy Stanley Opens Up About the Tense Relationship He Once Had with His Father, Charles Stanley, Over His Mother's Divorce and Starting His Own Ministry

Andy Stanley walked into his pastor's office, filled with dread.

The minister sat in a massive chair behind an enormous desk. He spread his arms across the desk as if he were bracing for battle. His secretary scurried out of the office when she saw Andy coming.

The pastor had baptized Andy when he was 6, and groomed him to be his successor. But a private trauma had gone public. And Andy felt compelled to speak.

The minister stared in silence as Andy gave him the news. The "unspoken dream" both men shared was over.

After Andy finished, the pastor looked at him as tears welled up.

"Andy," he said, "you have joined my enemies, and I'm your father."

'I understand drive-by shootings'
He won't wear a suit or a tie in the pulpit. There's no special parking space reserved for him at his church. Everyone calls him "Andy."

As a teenager, Andy decided he was going to be a rock star after seeing Elton John perform live. Today he has found fame, and infamy, on another stage.

Andy Stanley is the founder of North Point Ministries, one of the largest Christian organizations in the nation. A lanky man with close-cropped hair and an "aw-shucks" demeanor, he is alone as he steps out of his office to greet a visitor to his ministry's sprawling office complex in suburban Atlanta.

At least 33,000 people attend one of Andy's seven churches each Sunday. Fans watch him on television or flock to his leadership seminars; pastors study his DVDs for preaching tips; his ministries' website gets at least a million downloads per month.

"I tell my staff everything has a season," he says, leaning back in an office chair while wearing a flannel shirt, faded jeans and tan hiking boots. "One day we're not going to be the coolest church. Nothing is forever. As soon as somebody thinks forever, that's when they close their hand," he says, slowly clenching his fist. "Now they have to control, maintain and protect it. ... Things get weird."

At 54, Andy knows something about weirdness. He was swept up in a struggle against another famous televangelist -- his father, the Rev. Charles Stanley, a Southern Baptist megachurch pastor and founder of In Touch Ministries, a global evangelistic organization. The experience enraged Andy so much it scared him:

"I understand drive-by shootings," he told his wife one day. "I was so angry at my dad. I was trying to do the right thing."

The experience wounded his father as well.

"I felt like this was a huge battle, and if Andy had been in a huge battle ... you'd have to crawl over me to get to him," Charles Stanley, now 80, says." I would have stood by him, no matter what. I didn't feel like he did that."

There's no father-son preaching duo quite like the Stanleys. Imagine if Steve Jobs had a son, who created a company that rivaled Apple in size and innovation -- and they barely spoke to one another.

That was the Stanleys. Neither man has ever fully explained the events that tore them apart 19 years ago -- until now.

'I was the heir apparent'
Charles Stanley remembers the first time he heard his son preach.

"I was tickled pink," he says. "I instantly knew that God could use him."

Charles knows something about preaching. Millions of people around the globe grew up with the sound of his sermons ringing in their ears.

He has preached from the pulpit of First Baptist Church Atlanta for 40 years. Tall and lean, he delivers homespun sermons in a rich baritone while holding his black leather Bible aloft for emphasis. He's written at least 40 books.

In Touch Ministries sits like a Greek temple on the crest of a hill overlooking the Atlanta skyline. A large American flag stands near its entrance, beside a row of gushing fountains. A mammoth portrait of a smiling Charles Stanley hangs just inside and bears the inscription: "Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him."

It's an impressive sight, but it's not the type of life Andy envisioned for himself growing up. His father never raised him to be a pastor.

"My dad was great. He didn't pressure me. I never heard that talk, 'You're the pastor's son and you need to be an example.' "

What Andy remembers most about growing up with his father is not his fame, but his resolve. He tells this story in "Deep and Wide," his new book about his father and the evolution of his own ministry:

When he was in the eighth grade, his father waged a bruising battle to become senior pastor of First Baptist. The battle inflamed tensions so much that his family received nasty, anonymous letters and deacons warned his father that he would never pastor again.

One night, during a tense church meeting, a man cursed aloud and slugged Charles in the jaw. Andy says his father didn't flinch, nor did he retaliate. He kept fighting and eventually became senior pastor of First Baptist.

"I saw my dad turn the other cheek," Andy later wrote about that night, "but he never turned tail and ran."

His dad was his first hero.

But another church incident taught him a different lesson.

Andy was raised as a Southern Baptist, a conservative denomination that teaches the Bible is infallible and that women shouldn't preach. His father was twice elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

"We were Southern Baptists and everyone else was wrong," Andy says. "I grew up believing that we were the true Christians."

One Sunday, a gay pride group planned to march past his father's church. Leaders of the congregation, warned in advance, dismissed church early to avoid contact with the group. But organizers of the march changed the schedule. Andy watched as First Baptist members filed out of the church and gawked at gay and lesbian marchers streaming by. Then he noticed a Methodist church across the street whose members held out cups of water for marchers and signs that said, "Everybody welcome! Come worship with us!"

"We're the church that sings 'Just as I Am' after the sermon, and here we are shunning this group of people because of a lifestyle we disagreed with," he says now.

The pull of the pulpit, though, was stronger than any reservations he had about church. Andy enrolled in college to become a journalist. But he abandoned those plans after a youth minister's position opened up at his father's church.

Those who heard Andy's first sermons say his talent was evident from the start. He had a knack for saying things that stuck in a listener's mind. He was funny, insightful, took on hard questions, and he nudged people to look at familiar biblical passages in a new way.

Charles started televising his son's sermons on In Touch's broadcasts, and picked him to preach in his place when he was traveling. And when First Baptist opened its first satellite church on Easter Sunday 1992, he appointed Andy as its pastor.

Within three weeks, Andy's congregation was turning people away at the door because they had no more room.

Within two months, Andy's satellite church swelled to 2,000 members.

Andy says his father was delighted. He started joking that the Stanleys would become a preaching dynasty. And both men began to share an "unspoken dream": that Andy would take the helm after his father's retirement. In Touch was no longer just a ministry; it was Andy's inheritance.

"I was the heir apparent," Andy says. "I know that he desired it."

Something, however, would drive father and son apart.

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John Blake
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