Keeping the Church for the Churched – An Open Letter to Andy Stanley

Mr. Andy Stanley, I have something to say to you regarding your insistence on making the church a place the unchurched would love to attend.  You say, “As committed as our team is to creating churches for unchurched people, we still have to fight the pull toward becoming a church for church people. Honestly, I don’t understand why every church wouldn’t determine to become a church unchurched people loved to attend.”   Well, there is at least one reason I can think of – the Bible.  Paul’s instructions on “how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth,” are pretty clear (see 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus).  [You can see Mr. Stanley’s post here.]

What you are saying is that the church is too churchy.  The unchurched don’t like it.   It seems to me your position is really to make the church worldly enough that the world will feel welcome.  I’m more than a little confused by your stated battle in regard to the “pull toward becoming a church for church people.”  You do not have a church for church people – you are safe, my friend.  But the question I want to address with you is where in the world you get your marching orders for creating a “church that’s not a church?”  I mean, that’s what you seem to be saying.  I confess that I have not read your book, only excerpts from the “pastor articles” on the Faith Gateway website.  But I think I get the idea.

Andy, I’m a big baseball fan, perhaps you are as well.  Last year I was at Turner Field in Atlanta and was thinking, “Wow, this is really all about baseball.  In fact, it appears the Braves are just too baseball-y.  How in the world are they going to attract soccer fans?”  Really?  Do you mean to tell me they don’t care if soccer fans come to their baseball games?  They should at least put up a soccer goal in center field, don’t you think?  They have an organ (yikes!) and they sing baseball songs.  Okay, they do play some rock and roll and country stuff between innings.  They also have a lot of extraneous activities to entertain people.  But come on, every time you go it’s a baseball game – minor changes in the rules each year, of course, dictated by the denomination (oops, I mean the MLB).  But as far back as I can remember it has been, “one, two, three strikes you’re out, at the old ballgame.”  And they do it at least 162 games a year, which is more often than most churches meet, even if they have three services a week!

I admit the illustration has some difficulties.  Life is that way.  But the ongoing problem with the church as a general rule is that it’s much too worldly.  The buildings look like theaters inside and out, the worship is a “show,” filled with ego and designed for the worshipper and not God.  And the worshipper that is being courted by the entertainment isn’t even capable of worshiping.  Worship is a practice for the church to engage in not for the unchurched to be entertained by! (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14-16).  A lost man cannot pray, he cannot worship, and he cannot please God.  The Bible even says if he were to plow a field to him it would be sin (Prov. 21:4).

I’ve tried to find some Scripture to support entertaining the goats but thus far I have been unsuccessful.  I have found a very clear scriptural call to shepherd the sheep (cf. 1 Peter 5:1-4).  You entertain the goats, my friend, I will attempt to the best of my ability with the help of the Holy Spirit to shepherd the sheep.

I get it, I really do.  I mean we need to face the fact that many churches who do church stuff, and only church stuff, are nothing more than country clubs or family reunion halls.  You need not tell me how ugly people professing to be Christians can act or how hardened they may be toward evangelism.  You are correct that the church is often guilty of talking about the Great Commission and ignoring it at the same time.  Church people have been guilty of looking down their noses at the lost, of condemning their lifestyles and making no attempt to reach them with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I get it, I have experienced the phenomenon often in many of the churches I have been called to pastor.

But let’s be honest, Andy, the reality is that people like that are very likely not even saved themselves.  What makes all of this a tough call is that the member rolls of our churches are filled with the lost.  They got in somehow but were never truly converted.  But they are quite comfortable because now there are those trying to make the church acceptable to lost people.  How did this happen?  Church discipline is gone.  Don’t tell me you are going to make a church that the unchurched will love and you are going to incorporate church discipline.  No sir, lost people won’t go for that.  Just cross that off your list.

Baptists and other evangelicals have doctrinal statements that have maintained the need for a regenerate church membership.  But that won’t fly in your model.   You probably should cross that off your list as well.

I say, let the church be the church.  Let’s make it so churchy the world can’t stand it.  Let’s do discipleship, let’s minister to the hurting, let’s go out in the highways and hedges and compel people to come in and when they come let’s welcome them with open arms.  But if they are lost let’s not make them comfortable in their sin.  If God is dealing with them let’s create an environment where the Holy Spirit can do what Jesus said His job was to do – conviction of sin, righteousness and judgment to come (John 16:8-11).  Let’s preach the gospel and tell them that without repentance and faith, without a surrender to the Lordship of Christ, they could very well end up separated from God forever in hell.  You know, I don’t think the lost at large will go for it, especially that warning about hell.

My beloved friend, Dr. Sam Cathey says, “the church has become so worldly, and the world has become so churchy, that you can’t tell the two apart anymore.”  He concludes that if you turn a church crowd and Wal-Mart crowd loose at twelve noon on a Sunday that within five minutes you’ll not be able to distinguish one from the other.

Just so you know, Mr. Stanley, I actually agree with you about the baptism testimony ministry you suggested.  Now, making video testimonies, that’s a bit much for me, but we never baptize anyone until they have written their testimony.  They then give, read or have someone else read their testimony just before they are dunked.  We encourage them to invite their friends and family to their baptism, especially the ones who are lost.  We are friendly to them, love on them, and then we have church.  CHURCH that looks, feels, and sounds like church.  Church for the redeemed.  Churchy church.  You know, we sing the songs of Zion, we preach the Word, and we offer an invitation. We use words the lost sometimes don’t know or understand.   We sing some songs they won’t necessarily resonate with. That’s okay.  It’s new to them and we have prayed ahead that our God would move, that would He would change them, save them!  Sometimes, to our great joy, He does!  We have a BIG God and He is mighty to save.  We don’t have to act, smell, or look like the world.  In fact we have a lot of scripture in our Bibles that tells us NOT to do that (cf. 2 Cor. 6:11-7:1).

Here’s my suggestion for you.  Start having church for God, make it God-centered not man-centered.   Focus on Him, not the people you are trying to attract.  Grow the disciples in faith.  They will then go reach others.  In fact, tell your “church” to stop inviting people to “church.”  Yes, you heard me right.  Teach them how to invite the lost to Christ.  If the lost truly come to Christ you won’t need to invite them to church, the Holy Spirit will convict them and they will come to church!  And when they do they will need churchy church, not some watered down pretend worldly church.  They’ll need the real thing.  After all, Jesus said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32).  If we lift up Jesus He will do the rest!

Church is for the churched.  It is not and never has been for the unchurched.  The church is for the “exalting of the Savior.”  The church is for the “equipping of the saints.”  The church is for the “evangelizing of the sinner.”  “To Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Eph. 3:21).


  1. Wonderful article! The meeting of believers should be for encouragement and edification, not primarily evangelism.
    I’m thankful we are part of a fellowship that understands we are suppose to be different from the world. There aren’t many like that left.

  2. Marie Brown · · Reply

    Thank you Pastor Tom Rush for this awesome article. My prayer is that more people in this world would take a stand for God and His word. So many people want to “pick and choose” their scriptures. But the Bible is the “Word of God” from cover to cover whether it “steps on our toes” or not. Most of the time a God-sent message by a Man of God does step on my toes. Praise God for this. It tells me that my God is a Great God and knows everything I do. Kinda keeps me looking to God and my Lord and Savior for guidance 24/7 365 days a year. Thank you Lord for Your blessings on me.

    1. Thanks Marie, your comments are greatly appreciated. Blessings to you as you stand on the Word of God!

      1. Sherry Hendon · ·

        Thank you Pastor Rush. I got a lot out of this article you wrote to Andy Stanley.
        Also, thank you for coming to First Baptist in Richland. I look forward to your return. God bless you and your ministry

  3. Pastor Rush, you admitted, “I confess that I have not read your book, only excerpts from the “pastor articles” on the Faith Gateway website. But I think I get the idea.”
    Please, Sir, do yourself a favor and do not connect the dots until you hear, in totality, the message that Andy is delivering. A full understanding of his approach will yield a real embracing of what God is doing through him. (listen to which is just one example of the challenge with which we are provided).
    The proof of the effectiveness of Andy Stanley’s ministry is seen in the life of my 24-year old son who is wildly in love with Jesus Christ. He is a veracious reader of God’s Word. Jordan lives for Jesus Christ in a way that anyone (believer or not) can identify him as a follower of Christ. He understands the salvation that Jesus provides is beyond the “rules” that man has piled on top of the pure Gospel message and he has been effective in leading others into relationship with Jesus Christ.

    Please do not kill an effective part of Christ’s team… Andy Stanley has been used by God to change my life, my family’s life, and countless tens of thousands of others.

    1. pastornathanrush · · Reply

      James, in the first place, it is not necessary to read every word Andy Stanley (or anyone else) has ever written in order to effectively engage their teaching. The assumption you have made is that all we need to do is “get the whole picture” and then we’ll be on board. The fact that Mr. Stanley may have been used by God in some cases does not mean that the totality of his message, or even the majority of his message, conforms to biblical standards. And that really is the key. No pastor is ever responsible for the change (positive or otherwise) in people’s lives. God is responsible for that, and He uses primarily His Word to accomplish that purpose. A changed life is never proof of the effectiveness of the one who ministered; but always of the efficacy of God. As the Apostle Paul stated in 1st Corinthians 3:5-8, the ones who plant and water are nothing, but only God who gives the increase is worthy of praise! While we are thrilled to hear of your son’s positive response to the gospel, it is our position that experience can never supersede the clear testimony of Scripture as to what constitutes proper and effective ministry.

      So far as we are aware, as of this writing, Andy Stanley is alive and well, having suffered no adverse or deleterious effects to his health as a result of this blog!

  4. MR. JERRY WAMSLEY · · Reply


  5. MR. JERRY WAMSLEY · · Reply


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