Several of the most influential Christian leaders of the past generation died in 2023. Religion News Service and Metro Voice look back at the passing of several giants influential people.
Charles Stanley. The former Southern Baptist Convention president, Atlanta preacher and religious broadcaster died April 18 at the age of 90. The year after he became the senior pastor of First Baptist Atlanta in 1971, Stanley started his broadcast ministry with “The Chapel Hour,” a 30-minute program on two of the city’s television stations. Renamed “In Touch With Dr. Stanley,” it became a nationwide broadcast on the Christian Broadcasting Network in 1978.
He served two consecutive one-year terms as leader of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, presiding over its two largest meetings and assisting in the advance of the so-called conservative resurgence, when conservative leaders took control of the denomination from moderates.
Stanley, who was known as a spokesman for conservative family values, at one time told his congregation he would resign if he divorced. But later he determined he would continue as his church’s leader after he and his wife, Anna, divorced after 44 years of marriage. “The love you have shown me and the love I have for you have encouraged me to remain faithful to God’s call on my life,” Stanley told his congregants.
Elizabeth (“Tib”) Sherrill. A writer and editor for Guideposts Magazine for 65 years and the author or co-author of more than 30 books, including Corrie Ten Boom’s “The Hiding Place,” died May 20 in Hingham, Massachusetts, at the age of 95. She wrote more than 2,000 articles for Guideposts, and wrote hundreds of devotions for Daily Guideposts, now Walking in Grace.
Tim Keller. The author and influential Presbyterian Church in America minister died on May 19 at the age of 72. Keller founded Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City in 1989. The congregation began in rented space at another church, grew to more than 5,000 and became the catalyst for other churches to be planted in and beyond New York.
Keller was known for a nonconfrontational yet conservative style through which he sought to offer an “intellectually credible” view of the gospel. The suit-wearing evangelical preacher told Religion News Service he was determined to act like a Christian even if his views differed from the broader culture.
“This was never the neutral territory,” said Keller, who stepped down as pastor of Redeemer in 2017. “We always had opposition.” He continued writing books, including “Forgive,” published in 2022, and worked full time for Redeemer City to City, a nonprofit that trains church planters and future pastors.
Pat Robertson. The founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network and onetime Republican presidential candidate died June 8 at the age of 93. He retired as the host of CBN’s long-running “The 700 Club” program in 2021 on the 60th anniversary of its first broadcast. The show, on which he welcomed five presidents, became one of many vehicles by which he built a politically influential corps of Christian conservatives.
Robertson led numerous conservative Christian organizations, including the American Center for Law and Justice, which defends the religious liberty of plaintiffs; Regent University, an evangelical school based in Virginia Beach, Va.; and the Christian Coalition, which became known for its “Christian scorecards” placed on windshields of cars in church parking lots.
Jack Hayford. a popular Pentecostal leader and pioneer of the megachurch movement, often regarded as a “pastor to pastors,” died Jan. 8 at age 88. Hayford came to The Church on the Way in 1969, when it was known as the First Foursquare Church of Van Nuys. The church expanded from fewer than 20 to more than 12,000 members during Hayford’s leadership.
Hayford, an author of more than 50 books, also composed hundreds of hymns and choruses, including the widely known “Majesty,” a worship song still played in churches worldwide. The inspiration for this song came while Hayford was vacationing in Wales and Scotland with his late wife, Anna, visiting many of the castles there and sensing how “one might feel if raised in such a regal setting,” according to The Foursquare Church.
Agnes Abuom. The first African and female moderator of the World Council of Churches’ Central Committee passed away at the age of 73 on May 31.
The Anglican Church of Kenya lay canonist was a longstanding peacemaker and ecumenist. From 2013 until 2022, she served as the WCC’s Central Committee moderator.
After Sudan gained independence in 2011, Abuom played a significant role in efforts to bring about peace in both Sudan and Southern Sudan. She started TAABCO Research and Development Consultants early in her career to provide development organizations with advice on reducing poverty.
Christian Atsu. The Ghanan soccer player and faithful Christian died Feb. 6 when his apartment building collapsed during the horrific earthquake in Turkey. Atsu lived in the ancient Christian city of Antioch. He played football for the Premier League in Newcastle, UK.
His father died when he was 12 and charged him to “worship God and always use his talents to better humanity. The best way he knew to do that was to keep playing soccer,” according to Christianity Today.
“Jesus is the best thing that ever happened in my life and I give thanks to my parents for how they brought me up to know Jesus,” Atsu later explained. “I’m inspired by God who gives me strength each and every day to move forward in my football career. … It will be difficult [to be successful] but you will because God is your strength.”
Others who passed include: George Verwer, founder of Operation Mobilization; Bishop Melvin Talbert, United Methodist Church; Saray Young, author; Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth with a Mission; Art Simon, founder of Bread for the World; Carlton Pearson, Church of God in Christ Bishop;
–Dwight Widaman and Religion News Service