Former Index Editor J. Gerald Harris recently interviewed Dr. Anthony George, who became senior pastor of First Baptist Church Atlanta last September upon Dr. Charles Stanley stepping down as the pastor after serving in that role for half a century. George has become a loved and respected Georgia Baptist pastor and leader in the almost nine years he has been in Atlanta. In this interview, George addresses his transition into the role of pastor at First Baptist Church Atlanta, how the pandemic has impacted the church, and the strategy for ministry moving forward.
Question: You are becoming well known throughout our denomination as the new senior pastor of First Baptist Church Atlanta, but people may not know a lot about your background. Share with our readers a synopsis of your life before coming to First Baptist Church Atlanta.
Answer: I trusted in Christ at age 16 and sensed a calling to ministry soon after that. I attended Criswell College in Dallas then went to Southeastern Seminary for my M.Div. While in seminary, I pastored Waverly Baptist Church in Virginia. In 1997, I left Waverly to become pastor of Aloma Baptist Church in Winter Park, Florida, where I served for fifteen years before being invited to First Baptist Atlanta in 2012.
Q: You have pastored churches in Virginia and Florida and served for over eight years as the senior associate pastor of FBA. How has God used these ministry opportunities to prepare you for your present role as senior pastor of First Baptist Church Atlanta?
A: While I’m sure all of these experiences have prepared me, there are many days when I feel utterly unprepared for the challenges of my role — if not unprepared, certainly inadequate. How can anything prepare you to step into the shoes of Charles Stanley? And to do that during a pandemic and amidst a societal breakdown from racial tensions and political chaos? And all of this while the church services are suspended, and I’m preaching to an empty room. There’s one thing for sure, I have cried out to God for His help more in the past year than ever before.
Q: First Baptist Atlanta is one of the most visible, strategic churches in the southeastern part of our country. Atlanta and Georgia need to have a church that can become the moral and spiritual conscience of the capital city. What do you think needs to be done in order to help First Baptist become that kind of flagship church?
A: Well, when you put it that way, it’s quite a daunting task. I think the way for us to be a flagship church for Atlanta is by focusing more on Atlanta. We really sense God leading us to become more visible in our city, not just by what we preach but by how we help those in need. I do pray that God will use us to be a voice of conscience in a state that is quickly drifting in a dangerous cultural direction.
Q: First Baptist is a multi-faceted church with a large staff and many resources. What will be the focus of your ministry as pastor of FBA?
A: Since becoming pastor, my focus has been on prayer. Right after the pastoral transition in September of 2020, we launched a five-week prayer emphasis called “Forward in Prayer.” God used it to set the tone for a future built on prayer. Our 2021 theme is “Always Pray,” based on Luke’s introduction to Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:1. As I see it, if we will depend totally on God through prayer, what foe or obstacle can hinder us?
Q: What do you see as your most formidable challenges as pastor of First Baptist Church Atlanta?
A: Without being overly simplistic, my greatest challenge is myself. God in His grace has given me this unimaginable opportunity. He placed me here and led Dr. Stanley to put the baton in my hand. The church could not be more supportive and loving. The staff could not be more enthusiastic. In light of this, my frequent prayer is, “Dear God, please don’t let me do anything to ruin this.”
Q: You are perceived as a gifted servant of our Lord. What are your spiritual gifts and how can you use them to effectively serve the people of First Baptist Atlanta?
A: I believe I have exhortation and teaching gifts. I certainly pray that the combination of these gifts, under the leadership of God’s Spirit, will help First Baptist to take the next steps God places before us. I often feel intimidated by the great legacy of Dr. Stanley. But God has a way of comforting me and assuring me that He can use me—most likely in a different and less visible way, but in the way that He chooses.
Q: Dr. Stanley brought prominence to First Baptist Church in Atlanta through his television ministry and leadership of the denomination during the Conservative Resurgence. How would you like for your ministry to be characterized?
A: Before I could accept Dr. Stanley’s invitation to come to Atlanta, God made it clear to me that my job description would be to serve and support Charles Stanley — period. It was as if God was saying, “You cannot say ‘yes’ until you have surrendered any aspiration to be anything other than a servant to the pastor.” That was my divinely assigned job description. I sure hope that the eight and half years I spent in that role can be characterized by humility and service. Now that I am the pastor, I hope and pray that my future ministry will be characterized by those same two virtues.
Q: First Baptist Atlanta has had an extensive media ministry for many years. What kind of media ministry do you plan to have at FBA and how would it resemble or be different from that of your predecessor?
A: When Dr. Stanley founded In Touch Ministries in 1982 as a separate organization, In Touch took the place of the church’s media ministry. When he announced his retirement last year, we had to face the reality that we were not only losing our pastor, but we were also losing our relationship with In Touch. This meant that the church’s media presence, which has been the most salient feature of the church’s identity, was gone.
I am currently exploring opportunities for launching a broadcast ministry in several U.S. markets. For the moment, our live stream viewership is growing in ways we never could have imagined.
Q: You have become known as a gifted expository preacher who is not afraid to address difficult subject matters. You have already preached a series of sermons on Daniel and Revelation. What would be your counsel to pastors regarding addressing prophecy and the challenging moral and cultural issues of our present day?
A: My first word of advice would be to repent if you are not a dispensational premillennialist. Just kidding—but not really. Even so, when we interpret prophecy rightly, it’s so clear to see where we are heading — directly to the end-time scenario depicted in Revelation. Consider the solidified hegemony of conventional media, corporate America, higher education, the giants of tech, and, as evidenced in recent elections, the left-leaning globalist politicians in Washington. Their dogma is a despotic and unforgiving orthodoxy of wokeness. These allied forces have harnessed their consolidated power to silence, marginalize, crush, and even destroy any voice of dissent which diverges from their orthodoxy. When you know Bible prophecy, it’s crystal clear where all of this is taking us.
Q: Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic you have become the face of First Baptist Church inasmuch as you have addressed your congregation and thousands of others through live-streaming worship experiences. How has this pandemic impacted First Baptist Church and your own ministry? What does the future look like for First Baptist and churches across the nation in view of this crisis that continues to impact our lives in a myriad of ways?
A: After suspending our services last March, we have remained in furlough, so to speak, ever since. The rationale for staying closed this long is somewhat complicated but nonetheless justified due to various contextual factors. To be honest, I’ve struggled with the rhetoric of certain spiritual leaders who have claimed, quite self-righteously I might add, that to suspend church services was wrong or sinful. It makes me want to reply, “Maybe you don’t believe in local church autonomy. But I do. So, please take care of your church, and we’ll take care of ours.” Churches’ responses to COVID-19 are not one-size-fits-all. And it’s been extremely unhelpful to have otherwise supportive church members incited by pastors in other states to become disrespectful and divisive toward church leadership and even encouraged to leave their church if services remain suspended.
That said, we have just announced that we will finally be resuming our in-person services on February 7. We are very excited!
I wish I knew what the future looks like for us and for other churches. Every pastor wishes he had a crystal ball. What I do know is that every pastor, staff team, and congregation who turn to God for His direction will be blessed with His guidance, ingenuity, and power to adapt, innovate, and thrive in whatever the new normal looks like.
Q: What would you like for First Baptist Atlanta to accomplish in the next decade under your leadership?
A: My desire would be to see more people saved and baptized, more people discipled in the Word, and more people deployed into ministry and missions than ever before.
Q: First Baptist Atlanta has become a leader in Cooperative Program gifts to the Convention. You are a trustee at Truett McConnell University and have a history of being supportive of the good things our denomination is doing. Why is it important for churches to support the work of our state and national Baptist missions, ministries, and educational institutions?
A: The notion of Baptist churches doing together what no one of them could do alone is the wonder of the Cooperative Program. What SBC churches have done together since the Cooperative Program began in 1925 is perhaps unrivaled in Christian history. However, the future viability of this mechanism requires that giving churches always hold accountable those entities who are the beneficiaries of Cooperative support—state and national. It also requires that the heads of those entities, in subservience to their respective boards of trustees, remain faithful to our confessional statement and to our Baptist distinctives. My confidence to continue supporting the Cooperative Program was bolstered by the recent statement from our courageous seminary presidents who denounced Critical Race Theory as being at odds with Holy Scripture and the Gospel. By this, I am not implying that my confidence to support the Cooperative Program was in question. I’m just saying that their statement sent me a strong message to keep pressing on in the support of our great denomination.
On the state level, I am very thankful to be a Georgia Baptist. Our state is filled with pastors who walk with God, preach the Word, and lead their churches to be on mission. I love and support the leadership of our executive director, Thomas Hammond. And I am honored to be a trustee at Truett McConnell where we have in Dr. Emir Caner a president who is loved and respected by the board of trustees, the faculty, and the student body.