Farewell, Lenny Stadler

When I was a young preacher in Monroe, North Carolina, the ministry of Lenny Stadler at Weddington United Methodist Church almost defied belief.

Throughout the decade of the 1990s, he led what had been a sleeply little country church into the kind of growth that made it one of Methodism’s superstars. 

In ten years, that church grew from about 120 per Sunday to 1200, moved its campus across the street of one of the area’s busiest roads, and did it all with an evangelical theology and revivalistic fervor unknown in most Methodist circles.

As a young pastor just learning my way in ministry, I had never heard that such growth and accomplishments were even possible.

While we shared core theological convictions, Lenny and I were more acquaintances than friends.  We had an age gap of 10 years and I have always been leery of joining an entourage surrounding pastors who are bolder and higher profile than I am.

Why am I telling you about this pastor whose presence was so strong in my early ministry life?

Because he died this week after a lengthy fight with colo-rectal cancer and his funeral is today up in Reidsville, North Carolina.  You can read his full obituary here.

Lenny wasn’t perfect: his ego was strong (most of us pastors share that in common with him) and his ministry at Weddington didn’t end as well as it began.

But the fact remains that if you are a self-avowed, practicing evangelical in the Western North Carolina Conference, you owe a debt of gratitude to Lenny Stadler. 

He never apologized for his biblical beliefs or innovative practices and his success paved the way for a next generation of evangelicals to be given the trust of the Annual Conference to pastor in places with high potential.

Like me, for example, being granted an opportunity to serve Good Shepherd starting back in 1999. 

In many respects I believe that if Lenny had not done what he did at Weddington, we wouldn’t be able to do the kinds of things we do at Good Shepherd.

By anchoring one Methodist congregation in orthodox, biblical roots, he made evangelical renewal spread to other churches as well.

That’s a legacy worth leaving.