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Who was Charles Stanley?

Charles Stanley

Dr. Charles Frazier Stanley (1932—2023) was an American pastor, Bible teacher, best-selling author, and founder of In Touch Ministries, a television and radio broadcast ministry with the mission “to lead people worldwide into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and to strengthen the local church” (, accessed 6/8/23). He served as senior pastor of the Southern Baptist megachurch First Baptist Atlanta (FBA) for nearly 50 years. On April 18, 2023, Charles Stanley passed away at age 90.

The hallmark of Dr. Stanley’s ministry was his Christ-centered, practical teaching style. He was uniquely gifted at unpacking challenging theological concepts into straightforward, Bible-based principles for daily living. Stanley credits his stubborn faith in large part to his grandfather, who taught him to “obey God and leave the consequences to Him” (, accessed 6/7/23).

Born in the small town of Dry Fork, Virginia, amid the Great Depression, Charles lost his father (“Charley”) when he was less than a year old. His hardworking single mother, Rebecca (“Becca”), raised him to read the Bible, pray, and attend a Pentecostal church. At age 12, Charles received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Before long, he began following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, pursuing a call “to preach the gospel to whomever would listen” (, accessed 6/7/23).

While studying at the University of Richmond and earning his Bachelor of Arts, Stanley met and married Anna (“Annie”) Margaret Johnson in August 1955. Together they raised two children, Andy and Becky.

Stanley was ordained in 1956 and then pursued his Bachelor of Divinity degree at Southwestern Theological Seminary in Texas. Later, he completed his master’s and doctorate degrees in theology from Luther Rice Seminary.

Dr. Stanley began his pastoral ministry at Fruitland Baptist Church in North Carolina in 1957. During this time, he also served as a professor at the Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute, teaching homiletics, preaching, and evangelism. From 1959 to 1969, he pastored three separate Baptist churches, one in Ohio and two in Florida. He also founded the George Mueller Christian School in Miami, Florida, in 1966.

In 1969, Stanley accepted an associate position at First Baptist Atlanta, then a church of about 5,000 members. On October 1, 1971, Dr. Charles Stanley was elected senior pastor, and, according to the FBA website, the church exploded with growth under his leadership. Stanley remained in the pulpit as senior pastor until 2020, when church membership had grown to more than 15,000.

In the early 1970s, Stanley launched a radio and television program called “The Chapel Hour.” It was renamed “In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley” in 1978 when the Christian Broadcasting Network persuaded Stanley to join the network to offer his practical Bible teaching program. According to In Touch Ministries, “that broadcast grew from 16,000 local Atlanta viewers to a nationwide audience in one week” (ibid., accessed 6/8/23). By 1982, In Touch Ministries was incorporated, and In Touch radio began syndication.

From 1984 to 1986, during a contentious time between conservative and moderate Baptists, Dr. Stanley served two consecutive terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. He was a founding member of the Moral Majority (1979) and the Christian Coalition (1987), and in 1988 was inducted into the National Religious Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame.

The public scandal that threatened Charles Stanley’s ministry and rocked his personal life began in 1993 when his wife Anna filed for divorce. The church called for Stanley to step down, at least temporarily, and seek reconciliation. A divorced pastor had never been allowed to hold the senior pastorate at FBA, and the Southern Baptist denomination had long held that divorce disqualified a person from serving in leadership. However, no accusations of infidelity or immorality ever surfaced, and the church eventually voted to retain Dr. Stanley as senior pastor.

The fallout continued for several years—a period Stanley described as the hardest and loneliest of his life. Charles became estranged from his son, Andy Stanley, who left First Baptist Atlanta in 1995 to found North Point Community Church, a seeker-sensitive congregation in the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta. Charles Stanley’s marriage ended in 2000; however, father and son eventually reconciled their relationship through joint counseling. Anna Stanley passed away in 2014.

To this day, Stanley’s teachings can be heard on radio, television, satellite, and online outlets around the globe and in more than 100 languages. He authored more than 60 books in his lifetime, many on prayer and practical principles for Christian living. In 2020, Stanley transitioned to pastor emeritus of FBA at age 87.

Dr. Charles Stanley once told the Baptist Press that the trials of his life helped him relate to hurting people and become more credible in their eyes. “None of us have it all together,” he said. Through the struggles, Stanley returned to his grandfather’s words, letting God fight his battles: “If we learn to operate out of weakness, we don’t have to defend our image,” said Stanley. “We don’t have to try to impress anybody. We don’t have to do any of that. All we have to do is do what God tells us to do” (, accessed 6/8/23).

Here are some quotes from Charles Stanley:

“You always have God’s undivided attention.”

“You may go through difficulty, hardship, or trial—but as long as you are anchored to Him, you will have hope” (In Touch with God, Thomas Nelson, 1997).

“We are either in the process of resisting God’s truth or in the process of being shaped and molded by His truth” (How to Listen to God, Thomas Nelson, 2002).

“Thank the Lord for using each person as a tool in your life to deepen your insight into His grace and conforming you to the image of His Son” (The Gift of Forgiveness, Thomas Nelson, 2002).

“God is looking for imperfect men and women who have learned to walk in moment-by-moment dependence on the Holy Spirit. Christians who have come to terms with their inadequacies, fears, and failures. Believers who have become discontent with ‘surviving’ and have taken the time to investigate everything God has to offer in this life” (The Spirit-Filled Life: Discover the Joy of Surrendering to the Holy Spirit, Thomas Nelson, 2014).

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This page last updated: June 12, 2023