Apr 19, 2022

ChurchPulse Weekly Conversations: Andy Stanley on Church Unity

During a recent interview for Barna’s The State of Your Church webcast, Andy Stanley (senior pastor of North Point Ministries) sat down with Carey Nieuwhof to discuss pastoral burnout and political polarization in the Church. Stanley discusses new ways he’s thinking about attendance during the pandemic, the importance of taking breaks from ministry and how to posture oneself when addressing division in the local church.

On Viewing Empty Chairs as an Opportunity
Recent Barna data show that one in three pastors (35%) feels more confident about their calling compared to when they first entered pastoral ministry. For pastors who might be experiencing doubt regarding their ministry calling—especially if their church’s attendance is low—Andy Stanley offers a new perspective. 

“I met with 30 new staff,” Stanley notes, “and said to them, ‘You’ve come to work for us at an extraordinary time. We have space, we have financial resources, we have people resources and the mission’s the same. It’s never been easier to attend one of our local churches.’

“Of course, we want people to come back,” he continues, “and people who are going to come back are going to come back. But in terms of energy, there’s no point in trying to talk adults into coming back to church… [However,] in terms of reaching unchurched people or re-engaging people who’ve been away from the church for years, we feel the opportunities have never been better.”

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On Taking Necessary Breaks
Recent Barna data reveals that two in five pastors (38%) have given serious consideration to quitting full-time ministry within the past year. In light of this finding, Stanley discusses what pastors should do if they are feeling worn down. 

“If you need a break, figure out a way to get out,” he states, “Because if you stay in too long, you just get cynical, you get critical and you get negative.”

Stanley continues, “You’re not being unfaithful to God [if you take a break]. You’re being faithful to your health. You’re being faithful to your family and your sanity. You’re not out of the ministry; you’re just not working at a church.”

“[Even so,] don’t close the door permanently in your mind or your heart about your involvement in the local church,” he encourages, “because new seasons bring new energy and new opportunities.

On Staying Unified as a Church
As the interview comes to a close, Stanley discusses the importance of maintaining unity in the local church despite differing political opinions. He notes, “Differences of opinion are a reality, but division is a choice… The solution or the perspective that should be maintained, is throughout the New Testament… The apostle Paul shows up in a culture where he had three [buckets]. He had Rome, local priesthoods and religions and then the temple. He refused to get in any of those buckets. He was attacked from all three sides and he refused to go [their] way.

“When Jesus said he is going to build his Church, [he was introducing] something brand new, something unique that’s not going to fit in any of the buckets,” continues Stanley. “As Christians, we should be politically active. We should be socially active. We should vote with a Christ-informed conscience. But at the end of the day, we should have more in common with Christians who are on the other side of the political divide than with people who are not Christian.”

Additionally, Stanley notes, “In John 17, [Jesus] could have prayed for anything. The only time we catch Jesus praying for those that will come to faith through the testimony of the apostles and the generations after that, he only prays for unity. … The enemy of the Church is not a political party. The enemy of the Church is disunity. Imagine what would happen in our neighborhoods and in our country if local churches came together around the Great Commandment… When that happens, the world will begin to change.”

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About the Research
October 2020, Pastor Survey data: Barna conducted 408 online interviews with Protestant senior pastors from September 16 to October 8, 2020. Sample error plus or minus 4.8 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

October 2021, Pastor Survey data: Barna Group conducted this online survey among 507 Protestant Senior Pastors from October 12-28, 2021. Participants are all members of Barna Group’s Church Panel. Minimal weighting has been used to ensure the sample is representative based on denomination, region and church size. 

Featured image by Rosie Sun on Unsplash.

About Barna
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

© Barna Group, 2022

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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