Stanley: You are already rich, now act like it

Andy Stanley speak about his new book "How to Be Rich" 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 9, at the Barnes & Noble in Buckhead, 2900 Peachtree Road, Suite 310, Atlanta; 404-261-7747;

“How To Be Rich” sounds like a self-help book for the ’80s, but it is actually a wake-up call from Andy Stanley, pastor of the North Point Community Church, one of the largest congregations in North America.

The book recaps a series of sermons Stanley has been giving at North Point in conjunction with the church’s regular fall “Be Rich” campaign, during which North Point yearly raises about $5 million for local charities and non-profits.

Stanley, whose churches attract some 30,000 people every Sunday, establishes his point in the introduction:

"Every fall for the past seven years I've stood in front of our Atlanta-area churches and told 'em they are a bunch of haves who act like have-nots, and that God and I aren't happy about it! Okay, that's not exactly how I phrased it. But when it comes to this particular topic, I've been known to be uncomfortably bold."

If you live in the United States of America and your household income is more than $50,000 a year, then you are among the richest people who have ever existed, and lucky beyond imagining.

But Americans don’t know how to be rich, Stanley writes, and their money manages them, rather than the other way around. Stanley offers a solution he calls “radical generosity,” which he will discuss at a book-signing at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Barnes & Noble in Buckhead.

The still-boyish 55-year-old Stanley recently spoke about wealth at the North Point Ministries headquarters in Alpharetta, dressed in his usual blue jeans and an open-collared shirt.

Q. This looks like a self-help book. Was that an accident?

A. That’s what the publisher hoped would happen.

Q. But it’s not about getting rich.

A. It's about being rich. Most Americans are better off than they think they are. Most Americans are actually rich, (but) a lot of Americans live under artificial financial pressure because they allow their lifestyle to match their income. So they make more money, they jack up their lifestyle.

Q. You’re not just saying, ‘live within your means,’ right?

A. Yes, it’s better than that. Here’s what rich people should do: They should give first, save second and live on the rest. In this country people live, they save and then they give what’s left over. That’s a terrible way to live, and that’s not how to be rich.

Q. Why should they give first?

A. Giving first is a discipline. People get in trouble financially not because of income, but because of self-control, and the self-control that’s required to give first, it impacts every other area of a person’s finances.

Q. What are the risks of a pastor of a mega-church talking about giving money away?

A. (Laughs) The risk is that people who go to certain mega-churches think that's all we talk about. But in doing this for almost 20 years I have never had anyone accuse me, or our churches, of only being about money.

Q. Does writing about the financial benefits of giving lean toward “prosperity gospel”?

A. One of the things I love about our ‘Be Rich’ campaign is that, for years, we have given away millions of dollars, and never once have I said ‘If you give, this is what God’s going to do for you.’ My message is ‘You have already been given to! You live in the United States of America! Number one. Number two, most of you are gainfully employed. Your cars spend the night inside (their own) houses. You trade in your iPhone for another iPhone.’ We are so far ahead that the whole idea of, ‘God, I’m going to give you ten dollars so you give me a hundred,’ it’s laughable! Does God do that? Fortunately for us, He doesn’t have to.

Q. We live in a consumerist economy. How are you going to convince people not to buy things they don’t need?

A. If I told people don’t buy stuff you don’t need, I would be the biggest hypocrite in publishing. If we go down to ‘need,’ 90 percent of what I have I don’t need. We’re not going to go backwards. To suggest going backwards would wreck our economy… But let’s recognize the side effects: it’s easy to be in denial. It’s easy to spend ourselves right up to our income level, which means we create artificial financial pressure, and we don’t need to do that.

The goal isn’t to be rich, the goal is to feel rich, and the richest I ever felt was in the 10th grade with my job at Winn Dixie. I had no responsibility, and I was making $3.92 an hour. All of us can create more margin, and margin is breathing room.