Andy Stanley’s new book is called Deep & Wide and I can’t see the book’s title without breaking into the song we sang (it seems) every week as a kid; it was one song we all knew and could sing. Andy’s the pastor of a monster-big church in Atlanta. I was originally asked to speak at North Point when three young pastors — Norton, Jason, Steven — asked me to do a bit of a conference on Embracing Grace. Maybe it was on Jesus Creed, but I think it was embracing grace’s ideas.
Then I got invited to Catalyst and spoke on the ways we read the Bible that showed up in Blue Parakeet, a talk I love to give — and then I got an e-mail from someone at North Point and they asked me to do the same talk on Blue Parakeet for the Sunday services (all three of them). But I was too clever for that because it’s too much lecture and not enough sermon, and so I adjusted it so it was more of a sermon, and after the first service, a duly appointed leader told me to leave out the sermon stuff I had added and to do Blue Parakeet stuff. So I did, and it went well. And they asked me to come back the next summer to do two talks on Jesus Creed, which — as it turns out — has had no follow-ups, which might mean I made too many points (after all I’m a professor).
But I tell you this for this: the first time I went there someone told me “Andy” was in the cafeteria “over there” and I asked “Who is Andy?” And I have to confess I don’t follow church news enough to know who he was — I knew Norton and Jason and Steven. But I did meet Andy then and was impressed — as was Kris — with his humility. Some big time pastors fill a room; Andy blended in. I liked that. Then the Catalyst event happened. Then when I spoke the first time at a weekend service — the Blue Parakeet event — Andy picked me up at the hotel himself. I thought that was really cool. And I’ve admired Andy since I met him the first time, so I was really eager to read his new book — and it’s a book with a story and some stuff for pastors.It begins with a heart-rending story: Andy grows up the son of a famous Baptist preacher in Atlanta, Charles Stanley. Andy liked ministry but never felt “called” so he asked his dad if it was OK with God if he “volunteered” and Charles said that was fine. So Andy went off to Dallas Theological Seminary and then came back as the student minister at his dad’s church … and that’s where this book tells a story most wouldn’t tell.
First, his mom filed for a divorce from his dad — and that’s a big issue for Southern Baptists at that time (and probably for many still) — and their marriage had been dead for a long time, they had worked at healing it, and it wasn’t healed. Then Andy thought it was a good idea if Charles resigned because Andy knew they’d ask him back … and that fractured the relationship of father and son … but they kept after one another and met and prayed and fought and got through it and over it. Then Andy resigned from that church, and it was soon rumbling that he and some others wanted to start their own kind of church — one for the unchurched — and they did, and it’s called North Point, and Andy was in no condition to start a church, but that’s the point of the book — God’s grace is bigger than we think, and God uses sinners in messy conditions to create places of worship and ministry and work with messy people … and we’ll get to part two next time I post about this book. It’s really good.