About this time last month, megachurch pastor Andy Stanley was under fire for suggesting Christians “unhitch” the Old Testament from their faith. In an interview with Relevant Magazine, Stanley responded to the backlash by stating “there are some folks who did not understand the point I was making” and encouraged leaders to “be a student, not a critic. Be curious.”
Interesting then, that Stanley is starting a four-week introspective sermon series called, “Me & My Big Mouth.” Referencing James 1:19, the key point of the first sermon is “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
Stanley’s North Point Community Church gathers over 36,000 congregants each week across six campuses along the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia. “This is one of those things that’s so obvious,” he told his massive audience. “But every once in a while we need to be reminded of what’s obvious so we can keep it front and center so we catch ourselves when we begin to depart from what we shouldn’t depart from because it’s so obvious.”
“This is not about your husband and his big mouth, your wife and her big mouth, your boyfriend and his big mouth, your sister-in-law and her big mouth, your boss and his big mouth. This is about you and your big mouth,” said Stanley.
Listening to the first message in the series, one can’t help but think Stanley drew much inspiration from his recent “unhitch” ordeal. I noticed several parallels between his latest message and his Relevant Magazine comments. For example, the popular pastor told his congregation, “We argue, argue, argue. But if you can learn, if you can hit pause, if you can be curious, and if you can ask questions you’re quick to listen and slow to speak, everything changes.” (Emphasis added)
Like his comments to Relevant, Stanley stressed the important role of apologies. “My worst parenting moments was when I was quick to speak and slow to listen,” he shared during his Sunday sermon. “In fact, the things that I’ve had to apologize to my kids for–and I’m a good apologizer.” To Relevant, he offered, “Ask my kids, I don’t have a difficult time apologizing.”
It is hard to tell whether or not Stanley’s new message is an introspective look at himself or intended for his watching critics–or quite possibly both.
What I suspect Stanely will use this sermon series to do is subtly encourage others not to jump to conclusions when they hear him make a startling statement during his preaching. After all, this was the gist of his response to “unhitch” criticisms. The goal is to alter his methodology, not the theology, according to Stanley.
“I decided I’m not going criticize anything I don’t understand. I’m not going to criticize any idea I don’t understand and I’m not going to criticize anybody if I don’t know their story,” announced Stanley during the sermon. “And once I decided that I became a better learner of people and a better understander of ideas.”
As a verbal processor, I can understand the human error of sticking a foot in one’s mouth and always appreciate a sermon reminding me to be “quick to listen, and slow to speak.” But I also recognize the importance of righteous admonition when I depart from things I should not depart from, as Stanely appropriately put it. Both are necessary components of discipleship, and hopefully, both are mentioned during Stanley’s sermon series.