"Heroes" sermon by Andy Stanley

I still remember my first visit to North Point Community Church over four years ago. Andy Stanley is the pastor of North Point and happens to be the son of Charles Stanley who pastors First Baptist Church of Atlanta. My wife and I both have "Baptist baggage" from bad experiences with that denomination, so it was with great cynicism that we visited North Point. Visiting a church whose pastor is the son of a prominent Baptist preacher, we expected to hear a fire and brimstone sermon arrogantly delivered from a self-rightousness point of view, a lot of shouting, and a final altar call. Man, were we ever wrong.

Andy has a way of taking a book that's 2,000 years old and making it relevant to life today. And as a bonus, he does it with humor, sincerity, and a big dose of humility. My marriage is stronger, my friendships are deeper, and I'm a better Dad because of the growth experienced as a result of Andy Stanley and North Point. I never thought I'd get up before 7:00am and drive the 20 miles from Marietta to Alpharetta, GA, just to attend church, but I do. I can't imagine life without North Point Community Church (hereinafter referred to as North Point).

Since attending North Point, I'd never heard a questionable sermon from Andy or one that made me wonder where he was coming from until August when he delivered the 4-part "Heroes" series. In a nutshell, Andy made the case that a hero is defined as someone who has 1) clarity -and- 2) an irresistable urge to act. My immediate thoughts in hearing this definition were, "where is this in scripture" and "whose clarity?" In my humble opinion, he gave weak answers to both questions, but I hoped that perhaps in a followup sermon he would comprehensively address both.

As he usually does, in the second sermon of this series Andy gave several examples of individuals he considered heroes, one of whom I believe he's dead wrong about. Hearing what I considered to be blasphemy from the pulpit left me incensed. I figured that I had several options: 1) leave; 2) throw something at him; 3) listen to everything else he had to say and hope for a clarification. Option #1 was out because I would have had to yank my daughter out of Waumba Land (children's ministry). Sitting in the balcony gave me a great shot at tossing some vegetables towards the stage, but alas, all I had was my bible, notebook, and cell phone, and I didn't think this would pass the what-would-Jesus-do test.

So I tried to listen. I learned it's hard to listen when you're angry. I prayed for peace. I prayed for calm. I thanked God that I hadn't brought other like-minded friends, family, and neighbors who would never return to North Point had they heard this sermon. I prayed for patience. I also learned that it's difficult to believe someone's words after you feel they've spoken a lie. I did sit through the sermon, and my blood pressure fell, but unfortunately Andy offered no retraction or clarification. So I heeded Andy's closing challenge. With clarity and an irresistable urge to act, I felt compelled to share with Andy my experience.

I considered sending him an email, but I figured that there were several administrative assistants who managed and screened his email inbox. I could have phoned, but I figured with 18,000 regular attendees at North Point's Alpharetta campus that I'd have little chance of reaching him. I decided to write.

I've learned it's always wise to let someone else read a letter of this nature as I wanted to be sure my delivery was clear and not an impediment to the message I wished to convey. I listened to the sermon again online and then started writing. I took the wise counsel of my wife to make several changes and then mailed the letter. My hope was that the letter would at least reach Andy, but I had little expectation of ever getting a response. Again, Andy surprised me.

About a week and a half later, I was shocked to find a message on my home answering machine from none other than Andy Stanley. He had received my letter, read it, and wanted me to know that he'd meant no offense in his message. He offered his cell phone # if I wished to call him back, and then he thanked my wife and I for our involvement in leading a community group at North Point. Andy does his homework. I felt like I'd gotten a call from the Pope.

We traded several voice messages and finally spoke a couple of weeks later. He listened patiently. I think he heard me. Andy didn't change my mind about "Heroes"--I thought his definition of hero and biblical support were weak--I hated the series. It appears he adapted the series from his book, The Next Generation Leader [synopsis here] he wrote a few years ago, which IMHO would have made a better sermon.

Pastors deserve a mulligan every now and then. The last sermon in this series did touch on the subject of how a hero needs to do the right thing the right way at the right time, but it sounded like an afterthought and seemed to fall out of chronological order with the rest of the series. Regardless, the fact that Andy took the time to read my letter and respond speaks volumes about the kind of leader he is, and perhaps that is the message God wanted me to learn. As brothers in Christ we may not always agree, but we always need to listen.