A man of God.

A Christian broadcast pioneer.

A preacher who prayed with presidents.

And a man with an eye for nice ties.

These were among the many descriptions used Sunday to describe Charles F. Stanley, founder of In Touch Ministries during a worship-filled “Legacy Celebration Service.”

Stanley, a two-time president of the Southern Baptist Convention, died last week at age 90.

Thousands filled the sanctuary at First Baptist Atlanta, where Stanley pastored for more than 50 years.

Some were church members who sat in the pews every Sunday. Others had never met Stanley but knew him from his sermons on his broadcast ministry or had read one of his many books.

Stanley was a man, as one pastor said, “who stood the test of time.”

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Franklin Graham, the eldest son of preaching icon Billy Graham and president and CEO of the nonprofit Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, was among the speakers.

He said he prayed that there would be an army of young pastors who would model themselves after Stanley.

The last time Franklin shook Stanley’s hand was at his own father’s funeral in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2018.

He said the best way to honor Stanley was to stay true to the Word of God.

“Dr. Stanley is where he ought to be, in his Father’s house.”

Many told stories of Stanley’s prayer ritual — always on his knees, in his darkened prayer closet when possible.

Anthony George, the senior pastor of First Baptist Atlanta, said music was also important to Stanley and some of the performers Sunday were among his favorites, including CeCe Winans and the Collingsworth Family.

“Music is what inspired him. Music is what sustained him. Music is what kept him going,” said George.

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

People started lining up outside the church hours before the 6 p.m. service.

Among them was Peggy Burch of Norcross.

Burch has attended First Baptist over the years and plans to soon join. She praised Stanley for his preaching style.

“He teaches on a level that you can understand,” she said.

Burch said Stanley’s words provided immeasurable comfort when she was going through a divorce.

“He helped me through it all,” she said.

Ruth Malhotra, a lifelong member of First Baptist Atlanta, was baptized there at age 10.

Stanley, she said, “anchored himself in Scripture, while reminding us in a personal way that intimacy with God and obedience to His Word should be our highest priorities.

Some of the world’s most recognized names in evangelical Christianity were among those attending.

Among them, the Rev. David Jeremiah founder and host of Turning Point for God and senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in California.

During the regular Sunday service, George told the congregation he had heard from former President Donald Trump’s team that he had hoped to attend the evening service but was unable to do so.

Instead, Trump sent a video message from him and his wife, Melania, praising Stanley and offering prayers to those influenced by his ministry.

He called him a “great man.”

When he was president, Trump asked Sonny Perdue, then Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and former Georgia governor, to invite Stanley to the Oval Office to pray for him.

Stanley did, as he had for Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

George said that in following in Stanley’s pastoral footsteps at First Baptist Atlanta he was “eating fruit from the trees that Charles Stanley planted.”

In an earlier service, George talked about the big fights in Stanley’s life, such as when he was voted on to be pastor of the church, which later grew to be one of the city’s largest megachurches,

The “big fight” came when Stanley and his wife, Anna, divorced. Many in the church and other Southern Baptist pastors called on him to step down. “There’s been a fight over his role in the culture and his views on politics and applying the Bible to society.”

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Stanley was born during the height of the Great Depression, in Dry Fork, Va. He was raised by a single mother after his father died when he was nine months old.

He was called to ministry at the age of 14.

He pastored churches in North Carolina, Ohio and Florida before being called as associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta on Oct. 1, 1969.

Two years later, Stanley was named senior pastor.

Stanley’s longtime friend and fellow pastor, the Rev Charles R. Swindoll, offered a soothing message for those who followed Stanley.

They should remember that to “be absent from the body is to be at home in the Lord and that’s where that man is right now. He is at home with the Lord in that perfect place and that perfect setting. "

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the ongoing mission of In Touch Ministries.

Tap or click here to watch a replay of the service:

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray