Index Editor Gerald Harris recently had the privilege of interviewing Anthony George, senior associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta. George came to Atlanta in 2012 from Aloma Baptist Church in Winter Park, FL, where he served as senior pastor for 15 years. His exceptional ability to proclaim the Gospel is becoming well known and his circle of influence as a preacher and Christian leader is increasing on a consistent basis as he fills the pulpit at First Baptist Atlanta frequently on Sunday morning and every Wednesday evening.
Index: Dr. George, I have known you since you were a student at Criswell College in the late 1980s and have followed your ministry with great interest. You have mentioned that you grew up in a family that was not greatly involved in the church. How did you come to know the Lord and what were the circumstances that led to your call to preach the Gospel?
George: My parents attended church sporadically when I was a child. My grandparents were very involved in their respective churches and often would take me to church with them. Looking back, I can see so many ways in which the Holy Spirit was cultivating my heart for salvation. But it was after moving to Jacksonville, FL in the tenth grade that some boys in the high school I attended began reaching out to me and inviting me to their church, First Baptist of Jacksonville. As I began attending youth group and church services there, I gained an assurance of my salvation.
Within a few months, I began to sense that God was calling me to into the ministry. That was in 1985. Dr. Jerry Vines and Dr. Homer Lindsay were co-pastors at that time. It was an unprecedented season of exponential growth and spiritual momentum at First Jacksonville. I am so thankful I was a beneficiary of that season of spiritual outpouring on an evangelistic church led by two amazing men of God.
Index: Who have been the primary influencers in your life – your mentors?
George: I have often wondered why God would smile on me, of all people, the way He has by blessing me with so many men and women of spiritual influence. It’s a long list, to be sure. Of course, Homer Lindsay and Jerry Vines were very influential in my life as my pastors. Additionally, Paige Patterson has played a major role in my life. He was the president of The Criswell College where I got my bachelor’s degree and later became the president of Southeastern Seminary after my first year of graduate enrollment there.
Index: What is your view of the Bible and how did you come to have that view?
George: I believe that Scripture is the Spirit-inspired revelation of God to us. I always say there are two 3:16’s that every Christian should know. Of course, the first one is John 3:16. But the only reason we can believe the promise of John 3:16 is because of 2 Timothy 3:16, which says all Scripture is God-breathed. Without the latter, can we truly be confident of the former? The view of the plenary, verbal inspiration of Scripture was instilled in me as a new believer through the teaching at First Jacksonville. But it was definitely reinforced in the academic setting at The Criswell College and through the preaching of Dr. W.A. Criswell at First Baptist Dallas while I was a student.
Index: Describe the essence of your ministry at Aloma Baptist Church in Winter Park.
George: I served at Aloma for 15 years. Joe Boatwright, my predecessor, served for 26 years prior to retiring. He stayed at the church and became my greatest advocate, prayer warrior, and encourager. Unfortunately, I spent the first few years trying to reshape Aloma rather discovering what Aloma’s ministry values already were and capitalizing on those values and the uniqueness of Aloma’s spiritual DNA. Aloma was a church where broken people found healing and renewal. Once I embraced that identity, things started working the right way. It was a wonderful experience to pastor that church. I had no idea the degree of grief I would feel during the process of leaving Aloma to come to Atlanta.
Index: What were the circumstances that led you to come to First Baptist Atlanta?
George: In January of 2008, Dr. Stanley’s doctor ordered him to take several weeks off to recover from bronchitis. The minister of music at FBA, Rodney Brooks, shared my name as a possible guest speaker during that time. Someone from the church called me and asked me to take one of the Sundays. I prayed about it for two seconds and said, “Yes!” I was invited back about four or five times after that, to the point that I had to decline additional invitations due to the perception problem it was creating for me at Aloma. Then in December 2011, I got a call from Dr. Stanley asking me to pray about coming to serve as his associate pastor. After nine weeks of prayer and soul-searching I accepted his invitation. My first Sunday at FBA was April 22, 2012.
Index: What are your greatest joys in being a part of such a strategic church?
George: It’s hard to comprehend the extent of FBA’s impact around the world. I’ve been here four years and am still in awe. It’s also been pretty amazing to feel like something I’m doing in my role of assisting Dr. Stanley is helping him do what he does to preach to the nations of the world. He tells me I’m helping him, so I’m going to take his word on it!
Index: What are your greatest challenges in being the senior associate pastor of FBA?
George: The greatest challenge has been transitioning from the role of lead pastor in the two previous churches I served to associate pastor here. Being the associate pastor at FBA is like being in charge of everything, yet being in charge of nothing. I’ve always been able to make decisions, implement them, and move forward. But here there’s a process. And, of course, the process begins with running it by the pastor and, even before that, deciding whether or not it’s worth his time to consider. It’s the intentional pausing to honor that process that has led to a drastic shift in my leadership habits.
Another challenge is that I came from a situation where I used to apologize for not being in the pulpit to a church where I now apologize when I am in the pulpit. The FBA members are very encouraging and tell me to stop apologizing. But inevitably when I preach on a Sunday morning, there are people in attendance who came from some state or country far, far away to hear Dr. Stanley in person. When they realize he’s not there, it’s a huge letdown. I completely understand their disappointment. So it’s definitely a challenge to preach when you know that many of those in attendance wanted to hear someone else besides you. It’s a regular serving of humble pie, to be sure!
One thing that this experience has helped me to see is the importance of training people in ministry for the roles other than the lead pastor. It seems that most formal training is with the intent of preparing the one who will be the lead player, i.e., the senior pastor. Serving in an associate role has given me a greater understanding of the challenges of serving under someone’s leadership as opposed to being the primary leader. I pray that I’m playing the “second fiddle” role successfully. But I now have a new appreciation for and sensitivity to those who are in subordinate roles in ministry.
Index: How would you describe the moral and spiritual climate in America today? What are your primary concerns about our culture?
George: In my assessment, we’ve lost the culture. The biggest crisis we now face is internal. I am concerned that the church is forfeiting its identity in the name of sensitivity. Consequently, we risk losing the church as we know it. I find myself grappling with how to harmonize the emphasis many authors and conference speakers place on pastors “speaking to the culture” with the mandate of Jesus to Simon Peter to “feed my sheep.” I definitely see the value of the former; but I fear the disappearance of the latter.
My second greatest concern for the church in America is the blatant erosion of religious liberty we are witnessing. I’ve watched with a sense of alarm the systematic and deliberate efforts by the president and his administration to intimidate churches and other Christian institutions and Christian-owned businesses into compliance with their radical, social reshaping of the country. Our primary cultural concern at this point should be to defend the Constitution against the insidious assaults of those who want to eliminate historic Christianity and the free exercise of the religious values on which not only America was built, but all of Western Civilization. Religious liberty now supersedes the cause of defending the unborn and traditional marriage. At stake now is our very right, because of our faith, to even think a certain way or to express those thoughts publicly.
Index: What do you think the church in America will look like in 25 years? Do you see any significant changes that are inevitable?
George: It’s hard to know what the next 25 years will mean for the confessing church. However, I do believe that the greatest safeguard against the drift into apostasy is a relentless commitment to biblical preaching. I enjoy observing and listening to pastors who are expositional in their preaching while using creativity and technology to enhance their communication. They are proving that Bible exposition and creativity are not mutually exclusive concepts. I’m not fearful of progressive styles of music and other stylistic changes. But I am dreadfully fearful of the outcome of the willful abandonment of Scripture as the primary, driving content of preaching.
Index: What have you learned in these last four years from working closely with Dr. Charles Stanley?
George: There are so many things I have learned from working for Dr. Stanley. And let me clarify, that’s how I describe it: I work for him, not just with him. Let me list just a few of the things I’ve learned from him:
- I’ve learned from him to fear God and not man. Dr. Stanley truly rests in God’s approval, regardless of opposition or criticism from others.
- I’ve learned that it’s ok for leaders to think big. In Touch Ministries was birthed by a vision in Dr. Stanley’s heart. He trusted God to make it happen.
- I’ve learned that God provides when we trust Him. Dr. Stanley has been on the air for over 40 years, and he’s never asked for money on the air—not one time. Yet God has met every need and has provided abundant surplus in addition.
- I’ve learned that taking extended time away from ministry is one of the keys to Dr. Stanley’s longevity. It takes church leaders and a congregation who will make that provision and affirm the pastor when he takes that time off. But Dr. Stanley has always taken two and three weeks off at a time when he knew he needed it. In every instance, he came back stronger and the church was the recipient of his personal renewal. He’s now in his 47th year of service at FBA.
- I’ve learned the value of perseverance. Dr. Stanley will be publishing an autobiography later this year in which he shares many of the obstacles he has overcome from childhood to the present. Through every battle and crisis, he has refused to retreat or to quit. It’s truly remarkable. And as he approaches his 84th birthday in September, he’s still working on more long-range goals for his life!