Dr. Charles Stanley, the popular pastor who rose from rural Virginia to being pastor at First Baptist Atlanta and whose messages were heard around the world on radio and television, died on Tuesday. He was 90.

Dr. Stanley occupied First Baptist’s pulpit for nearly 50 years – but it almost didn’t happen.

In fact, Charles Stanley was once punched by a member of his church before he even assumed the role as senior pastor.

This isn’t the beginning of his long ministry story, but it might be the most colorful chapter.

Charles Stanley arrived at First Baptist in Atlanta in October of 1969. He was hired as an associate pastor. But then the senior pastor, Roy McClaine, retired. Discussions turned to elevating Charles to the senior role.

Some members of the executive committee thought it was a good idea. Others didn’t. The debate raged for months.

In the midst of the battle, one of the members suggested they should pay Charles to just go away. There were plenty of heated discussions, and at one point, a member of the church got so enraged at the pastor for not withdrawing his name from consideration that he punched him in the jaw.

You might say that Dr. Stanley literally turned the other cheek.

He could have stepped aside, but the minister wanted to trust God and let the process play out. In the end, the committee and congregation voted to promote him and installed him as their senior pastor. Dr. Stanley affirmed the decision by staying for nearly a half-century.

Charles Stanley was ambitious, but in the best of ways. He figured the Great Commission commanded him to reach as many people as possible, and so when he launched “The Chapel Hour” locally in Atlanta, he figured he was doing just that. He was faithful in his area of opportunity, happily reaching and ministering to people.

The Christian Broadcasting Network approached him in 1977 and offered to take his church service to a national television audience. He soon incorporated the effort into what today is called “In Touch Ministries.  The show is available in 115 million homes in the United States and is on thousands of television, radio and satellite stations around the world.

Louie Giglio, a well-known evangelist in his own right, was a friend of the late pastor, and he considered Stanley to be his mentor.

“Dr. Stanley was a titan of faith, and a bellwether among preachers of our generation,” Giglio said. “His simple yet convincing proclamation of the unwavering truth of God’s Word was a foundation on which millions of people around the globe could build their lives in a personal relationship with Him.”

Dr. Stanley did more than preach and teach. He was president of the Southern Baptist Convention for two terms and led the denomination through some challenging times when progressives were trying to shift the denomination away from biblical doctrine. Dr. Stanley stood firm.

The longtime pastor did have his share of personal challenges and struggles. In 1993, the pastor revealed that he and his wife, Anna, were struggling in their marriage. Anna was wanting to divorce, but he convinced her to remain and work on the marriage. The couple struggled throughout the late ‘90s. In 2000, it was announced that Anna Stanley had filed for divorce.

The news elicited a national conversation and controversy. Some felt Dr. Stanley shouldn’t continue in his pastoral leadership role. Others believed he should remain. In the end, Charles Stanley remained, continuing as lead shepherd until October of 2020.

Following his retirement, and even at the age of 90, Dr. Stanley continued to come into his office at the church once a week or so. “I’ve found that at any age, and especially when you are my age, you have to keep planning and having goals.”

Pastor Paul Diamond, Dr. Stanley’s assistant of over twenty years, told me the In Touch founder passed away quietly in his sleep. “He is now at rest,” he said.

Dr. Charles Stanley stood firm in the face of congregational opposition at the beginning of his ministry. He encountered emotional and personal challenge in the middle – and even at the end, when some people thought he was too old and should retire.

“Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him,” he would say.

But through it all, the longtime minister with the southern drawl and heart for the lost made the most of the gifts God gave him, and God blessed those efforts beyond his wildest imagination.