Southern Baptist Pastor and 'In Touch Ministries' Founder Dr. Charles Stanley Is Dead at 90

Dr. Charles Stanley Portrait from In Touch Ministries (Credit: In Touch Ministries)

I grew up among a hodge-podge of denominations and religious movements, from Catholicism, to Church of God in Christ, to Southern Baptist. Along with the extremes from confessional to charismania, much of the preaching I heard ranged from works and acts of service to hellfire and brimstone. Three guesses on who trafficked the most in the “turn or burn” language. While fear of eternal damnation is a powerful motivator, it’s not a permanent basis to build a relationship with God. Southern Baptist pastor, teacher, and radio broadcaster Dr. Charles Stanley seemed to have understood this. His theological training and denomination were Southern Baptist, but his teaching was rooted in scripture, and his delivery was that of a passionate instructor who wanted to ensure you understood the depth and importance of his message, more than a gleeful deliverer of fear, loathing, and divine retribution.


As a person of faith and a curious observer and journalist, I have watched many of Dr. Charles Stanley’s contemporaries fail, fall, or flame out. Yet, Dr. Stanley maintained as pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta for 50 years before he willingly stepped down in 2020 at the age of 87. The church is considered one of the most diverse congregations in the world, with a membership of people from across the state of Georgia, with origins from 98 different countries.

Founded in 1972, Dr. Stanley’s In Touch Ministries radio and television program reached audiences who normally shunned Southern Baptist preaching. Consider that period in time: The Jesus Movement was transforming the nation and the world and the new media of evangelical television was moving into prominence. It is a testament to Dr. Stanley’s integrity, consistency, and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ that In Touch Ministries is well known, well respected, and still transforming lives 51 years later.

On Tuesday, Dr. Charles Stanley departed this life for his desired heavenly home. He was 90 years old.


From Fox 5 Atlanta:

Dr. Charles Frazier Stanley, the senior pastor at First Baptist Church Atlanta and the founder of In Touch Ministries has died.

FOX 5’s Buck Lanford has confirmed First Baptist Atlanta Senior Pastor Anthony Georgia that the influential Atlanta faith leader passed away peacefully at his home Tuesday morning.

For more than five decades, the pastor, broadcaster, and author served on the staff of First Baptist Atlanta. He was named Senior Pastor in 1971, becoming the 16th pastor at the historic church that was founded in 1848. Under Stanley’s leadership, the church saw unprecedented growth. In 1997, FBA moved from its Midtown Atlanta location on Peachtree Street to the former Avon property in Dunwoody to accommodate its diverse membership of more than 15,000 from all over the metro area.

Christianity Today offered this tribute:

Charles Stanley once took a punch to the face for his church. The longtime pastor and oft-praised preacher, who died on Tuesday at age 90, fought hard to lead in his Southern Baptist congregation, earning him a reputation for faithful obstinacy, a commitment to following God’s will, and a life of devout prayer.

He frequently repeated his life motto, which he learned from his grandfather: “Obey God and leave all the consequences to him.” That kind of obedience wouldn’t come without cost, Stanley said, but God rewards stubborn faith.

“Granddad told me, ‘Charles, if God tells you to run your head through a brick wall, you head for the wall,’” he wrote in his 2016 memoir, “‘and when you get there, God will make a hole for it.’”

Stanley was the pastor at First Baptist Church Atlanta for 51 years. He started as associate minister in 1969, when the megachurch had 5,000 members, and remained in the pulpit until 2020, when it had about 15,000 members. He also preached daily on the radio and television through In Touch Ministries, which he founded in 1972, and was widely regarded as one of the best preachers of his generation, along with Charles Swindoll and Billy Graham.


In 50 years of ministry, the one flaw that could be attributed to it ended up being a beautiful example of Dr. Stanley’s dependence upon God in the midst of his pain, failure, and loss, as well as a testament of the grace of God. I remember it was quite stunning to many when Dr. Stanley announced on his program that after almost 40 years of marriage, his wife wanted a divorce. Dr. asked others to pray for them, and focused on God’s will and Kingdom rather than his own distress. Because of his marital troubles, Dr. Stanley endured a battle over whether he could continue as pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta, and this battle affected his relationship with his son, the Rev. Andy Stanley, and led to their estrangement.

The greatest fight of Stanley’s ministry, however, was the fight to save his marriage and stay in the pulpit after his divorce.

Anna Stanley filed for divorce in 1993, without explanation and using only the couple’s initials, A. S. and C. S. The news got out anyway and caused an uproar at First Baptist Church. The congregation had never allowed a divorced man to serve in ministry, and Stanley had taught that divorced men were disqualified from ministry.

Stanley announced from the pulpit that the couple was not getting divorced, but was separated and working on their marriage. Anna amended the suit a week later to ask for formal separation instead of divorce and then dropped the case.

She filed again in 1995.

“I am dismayed by my husband’s refusal to accept the critical state of our marriage,” Anna Stanley said in a statement to the Atlanta Constitution. “Instead, he has made repeated announcements from the pulpit that progress was being made towards our reconciliation, when in fact, the very opposite was true. I do not choose to contribute to this charade.”

There were no allegations of infidelity or immoral behavior. Anna said her husband had long made his priorities clear, and she wasn’t one of them.


In the end, Stanley maintained his pastorate, but could not sustain his marriage.

The church voted to keep Stanley, even if the separation continued. When Anna filed for divorce a third time in 2000 and succeeded in ending the marriage, a board member announced that Stanley would continue as senior pastor. The congregation responded to the news with a standing ovation.

However, it was from a different and more vulnerable place that Stanley delivered his teachings, and it had an impact on people who had previously dismissed him.

“It was Romans 8:28. God knew what he was doing,” Stanley said. “People would say, ‘I used to couldn’t watch you. What do you know about loneliness and hurt and pain and suffering and loss. Now I can watch you because now I know you know how I feel.’”

Stanley reconciled with his son through counseling, the two megachurch pastors going to therapy together. The elder Stanley talked about the death of his father, his traumatic relationship with his stepfather, and his need to maintain control. He invited Andy to preach at First Baptist Church in 2007. The younger Stanley’s sermon was on a familiar theme: “The Cost of Following Christ.”

Dr. Stanley is survived by his son Andy, his daughter, Becky Stanley Brodersen, and six grandchildren.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly indicated In Touch Ministries was founded in 1977. The article has been updated to reflect the correct date. We apologized to our readers for this error. 



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