UPDATE 03/05/2016: I want to publicly thank Andy Stanley for editing the sermon to remove the remarks he made about small churches. It is still my prayer that he will be willing to make a more public statement to let pastors of small churches know that he loves and supports them. But this is a wonderful thing Andy did and shows his true humility. I have found Andy to be more than willing to interact with those who disagree with him. I am so thankful for that.
UPDATE 03/08/2016: Andy Stanley has expanded on his comments and initial apology here: Andy Stanley Explains His ‘Stinking Selfish’ Parents Comment.
Although I’ve never written an open letter to anyone, I am compelled to do so in light of your comments in your February 28th sermon (specifically this portion), the public outrage it caused, and your eventual tweeted apology. I’m choosing to write this publicly for several reasons:
- I have found you to be a humble man who is willing to interact with those who have just criticisms – you have done so with me in the past;
- Your comments came to light in a very public arena;
- It is perfectly justified to address someone publicly about their public comments;
- Many small churches and their pastors were injured by your comments in a very public way.
I hope you will both understand and appreciate why I chose to address you in this type of forum.
First, I began my ministry with great respect for you and your Ecclesiology. You graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary a few years before me, and when I came out of seminary I wanted to be just like you and wanted to model my ministry after you. I traveled annually to your conferences, took my church members to learn how to model the children’s ministry after yours, read every book you wrote, adopted the “foyer, living room, kitchen table” model, listened to your sermons religiously, and even copied your sermon series at times. I know you would be appalled for any pastor to do all that – as you should be. I am now ashamed that I did those things, because I had come to idolize bigness in my heart and none of that was your fault. Thankfully, I repented.
I tell you this because you need to be reminded of the level of influence you have, which is what makes your comments dangerous when they’re so unbiblical. I have clearly moved away from your philosophy of ministry and that would be a discussion for another day, but I also tell you because I want you to know the level of respect I have had for you. Ultimately, I tell you this because, even though you weren’t responsible for my idolatry of the mega church, you may now share responsibility for many others who heard your sermon on February 28, 2016.
Second, I am writing you because although I still commend you for taking responsibility yesterday for your words, what you said in your sermon needs greater correction than a 140-character apologetic tweet. This was not a passing comment that you made. It was a well thought out, passionate, three-minute argument. In addition, that argument was in the context of a sermon that was celebrating the mega empire of churches that NorthPoint has built. This is evidenced in the opening video before the sermon along with comments later made by you in that sermon. In the middle of your three-minute argument, you even stop to say that this is something you are passionate about. Those things put together seem to point to a deeply embedded commitment of the heart. Therefore, the more I thought about your apology, the more I wondered why you were surprised enough to be offended by your own words. Why weren’t you offended when you were thinking out this passionate argument in preparation for the sermon?
Andy, I don’t believe this is a small thing.
Scripture tells us that out of the mouth the heart speaks (Matt. 15:18). So, I must encourage you to examine why your heart overflowed in the way it did on that February morning before thousands of those who sit under your teaching, and now heard by millions of people around the world. I believe you are sincerely bothered by what you said and you know this is no small issue; otherwise you wouldn’t have so quickly and publicly admitted this. But what you said was more than a mistake – as some have described it. It was sinful. As I have heard you preach, “a mistake is when you make a math error.” I say this because what you said was a gross distortion of Christ’s church that he loved and gave his life for. You had no biblical ground for your words, evidenced by the fact that you had no Scripture to support them.
What you did was make a very public, although indirect, attack on pastors of small churches who labor as hard as you do to bring their tiny flocks the Word of God each week. You invalidated their ministries with your words, and in essence encouraged those in their churches to abandon those ministries for the “big ole church.” Brother, this is arrogant, and not behavior becoming of an elder. The problem isn’t that you criticized a preacher for his heretical theology, and encouraged someone to leave a church like that; at least you would have had a biblical basis for that. To the contrary, I’ve heard you publicly praise pastors of mega churches who teach horrible theology. I can only conclude that you aren’t one who chooses to never criticize anyone, but that your criticisms are reserved for those who don’t fit the model of your church. There are many godly churches who believe that what is better reflected in Scripture is young people growing up knowing that there is wisdom to be found in worship and fellowship with older saints rather than relegated to different parts of the building for their own individualized programming.
I know the knife cuts both ways, because it is equally sinful for a pastor of a small church to bash all mega churches from the pulpit, simply because of its size. Also, someone who won’t go to a church because it is big is equally wrong. Perhaps that’s what you initially meant to communicate and where the passion came from – hearing people criticize your ministry simply because it is big – but in your continued passion you went well beyond that. The answer isn’t to bash the other pastor simply because his church is small.
To clarify, I’m not disturbed because I felt you attacked me. My church is larger than the vast majority of other churches. And I too wrestle with people who leave their church to come to our church simply because we have a children’s ministry. Its kind of like telling a friend he should be dissatisfied with his wife because yours is more beautiful. So we address these things with anyone who comes to our church and tell them the most important thing about a church is what it believes and teaches. We have even encouraged people to not join our church and go back and serve where God has put them. We should love Christ’s church no matter what the size if it is faithful to the Word of God. For the vast amount of years in church history, God’s kingdom has been built upon and thrived with many small churches and many large churches pastored by faithful men. A church can be biblical without any of the bells and whistles of a mega church. In some cases, even more so.
In light of these things, I am asking you to repent before God for this unbiblical attitude toward Christ’s church and then make a public declaration of your repentance.
I know that many will perceive that you already have done that with your tweet, cry out that I need to forgive, and move along. My intent is not to beat you up, to show more outrage, or to be unforgiving. I am convinced that you need to hear from a fellow pastor who’s deeply disturbed by what you said and even more disturbed about the many pastors and churches that your words have effected. I believe genuine repentance bears its obvious fruit. Perhaps you are already thinking through these things and my intent isn’t to pour salt into your wounds. But the gravity of your words and the damage you have caused to the kingdom of God can’t be overstated. As you said in your sermon, you are recognized as the largest church in America, you write many books, and millions of people listen to you closely. You are well aware of the influence that you have. So I would like you to weigh these things as you consider how, and if, you will respond in any further way.
If you are truly ashamed of what you said and repent of those things, please remove that sermon from your website immediately (at the time of this writing, it remains on your website). I also ask you to repent in the same venue and with the same level of passion as where the sin took place – not on Twitter, but in the pulpit. Please post this message on your website for the world to hear. Many more people will hear the sermon than see your tweeted apology. And consider this: how many people have already decided to leave their small church and abandon their God-appointed shepherds after hearing that sermon? I can’t imagine you would want anyone else to even hear of what you have now become ashamed.
My desire is that you will receive these words in the loving way that they are intended and prayerfully weigh them before God’s Word. As a fellow laborer for the Kingdom of God, I ask you, dear brother, to act in a way that will evidence the true love I believe you have for Christ and His church.
In His Grace.