Pastor Anthony George felt a little intimidated when he got the call to come to Atlanta to work alongside prominent megachurch pastor Charles F. Stanley.
After all, Stanley led a global ministry.
He was a former president of the powerful Southern Baptist Convention, a best-selling author and his name was known all the way from the pulpit at First Baptist Church Atlanta to Ukraine.
“My primary assignment was to speak in his absence,” said George, who came to the megachurch in 2012 from Aloma Church in Winter Park, Fla. “On any given Sunday, between 150 and 300 guests, many of whom traveled great distances, would come to hear him speak. Hearing him was on their bucket list.”
Apparently, George, who currently serves as senior associate pastor of the 13,000-member church, lived up to the challenge.
On Sunday, Stanley stood in front of his congregation and outlined his succession plan, naming George to became senior pastor at some point in the future.
Stanley, 85, made it clear, though, he doesn’t plan to retire anytime soon.
He said he intends to remain as pastor and “as long as God gives me health and strength, this plan will be officially in place to ensure a seamless transition in leadership whenever God ordains that to occur.”
George will become senior pastor at “such time in the future, known only to God, that Dr. Stanley ceases to be the senior pastor of the church,” according to a post on the church’s Facebook page.
In an interview George joked that Stanley’s “short-term goals (as senior pastor) are through the age of 100. He has longer-term goals.”
The plan, which was approved by the congregation, was unveiled and approved at both morning services.
Stanley came to First Baptist in 1969 — the year George was born — as associate pastor and was elected senior pastor in 1971.
Stanley is also founder of In Touch Ministries, and his radio and television broadcasts reach 180 nations. Stanley was not available for comment.
George said he wants to do more than celebrate the metro area’s diversity.
"It doesn't mean just black or white or Hispanic diversity," he said. "We actually conducted a poll of our members in 2016 and responses indicate that our members come from more than 98 nations. Which means to me we need to enhance the meaning of diversity in a city that has become quite international and the church has come to reflect that."
Does that diversity also include recognition of same-sex marriages?
“We maintain the historic view from Scripture concerning the Christian lifestyle and our view of marriage,” George said. ” However, we know among our congregants there may be people with different views but who understand the view the church has adopted and maintained through the years.”
Ed Stetzer, executive director of Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Illinois, called Stanley one of the most influential pastors today.
“His television ministry has gone around the world and he’s known for his writings and teachings,” said Stetzer. “I’m looking at my shelf, I see three books and a study Bible (by Stanley). He’s certainly a pastor and an evangelical leader of global stature.”
Just as for pastors of the smallest churches, a succession plan is always recommended to provide continuity and stability.
How does one make the transition in leadership from someone who is known around the world?
In the end, said Stetzer, “it’s not Charles Stanley’s name that matters. It’s not Anthony George’s name that matters. What ultimately matters is the name of Jesus and that’s what an effective transition will emphasize.”