Former atheist Stu Fuhlendorf felt no need for God, achieving high level of success and power in the business world. However, his achievements were tainted by emptiness and addiction, which helped him become open to his need for God. Jana Harmon shares his story 

We are, for the most part, led by our desires. We’re often driven by what we want more than what is good, honest, rational or truly beneficial. We are all seeking after something, something we think will satisfy our souls. But sometimes, as we yearn to be masters of our own fate, as we work hard towards achieving success and status, power and prestige, we only rise to the top to find ourselves empty, unhappy and dissatisfied. 

We begin by asking questions: What was it all for? Is this all there is? We may also find ourselves having made many compromises along the way, stumbling into bad choices, vices and addictions. Was it worth the cost? Our desires may lead us to build a house of cards which may reach the pinnacle, only to fall and reveal that it was built on temporary and shifting sand, leading to all kinds of personal devastation. Jesus once asked a heart-piercing question: What good is it for a man to gain the whole world but lose his own soul?

Former atheist Stu Fuhlendorf felt no need for God, achieving a high level of success and power in the business world. However, his achievements were tainted by emptiness and addiction issues. By the age of 40, he lost it all and found something much better and more satisfying than he once dreamed possible. 


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Stu grew up in the plains of Colorado in a “spiritual but not religious” home. When he was 14, his life took a different turn after his father’s affair broke up his family. It turned him towards self-reliance, ambivalent towards any higher power:

“I was my own god. I was on the throne. It was me who I turned to, and it seemed like I was the only one that I could depend on in my life of the people, places and things. I really turned to myself and my own accomplishments and my own self-sufficiency. You turn to nobody except yourself.”

During high school, Stu was a dedicated athlete who worked hard and took care of himself. At university, he had his first drink of alcohol, recalling “I remember running up and down the aisle, remembering how much I loved the feeling.” It was a pivotal, life changing moment that set the trajectory of his life towards alcoholism. 

After college, he met and married his wife, a lapsed Roman Catholic. They worked hard advancing their careers, Stu returned to school obtaining an MBA and was driven by an entrepreneurial spirit to dream big, build and accomplish. He entered into the legalised gambling industry as controller of casinos with “lots of late nights, lots of drinking, lots of gambling…pursuing other idols of the world”. He worked there long enough to become tired of seeing people gamble away their life savings and moved into a technology company as a chief financial officer. Within two years, the company was publicly traded. Stu fit in well with the company executives who were “heavy drinkers”, working long hours, writing business plans on the back of cocktail napkins late into the night.

Stu’s financial success caused a further distancing from God and a growing sense of self-sufficiency and attainment. He had everything the world had to offer, recalling:

“Well, there were no thoughts of God, and my god was my green brand-new Jaguar car that I bought from England and my house that I bought on the golf course and the mahogany bar that I built in my basement of my new house. Oh, I had gods, all right. But those were my gods, and I was getting everything that I wanted.”

Crumbling marriage

Despite material and career success, Stu’s marriage was crumbling. 80-hour work weeks and heavy drinking had taken its toll on their relationship. He was becoming more angry and argumentative because, he reflected: “I was getting what I thought I wanted and I wasn’t satisfied so it was creating stress on our relationship.”

Feeling discontent and distressed about her marriage, Stu’s wife Trish went to a local pastor for counsel. Sensing her yearning for God, he encouraged her to attend a church women’s retreat. It was there that “God picked her up out of the miry depths and she fell in love with Jesus. From that point forward, there were another nine years of being unequally yoked with a pagan atheist husband, which was a very difficult time for us. I thought she was a wackadoo and a Bible thumper and a Jesus freak”. 

However, Stu also noticed the changes his wife’s new faith was making in her life creating a noticeable contrast with his own, reflecting:

“She would keep her faith private as much as she could, though I could see she was changing. She was becoming happier, more content, more joyful, and meanwhile the more and more stuff I got, the more and more stuff I bought, the more and more I wanted to drink and fill the empty hole in my heart, and I wasn’t happy, even though I was getting everything I thought I wanted. She had a joy and happiness and contentment in her life regardless of what we had, whether I had a lot or I lost things, that her whole identity wasn’t residing in those things like my identity was.”

Refusing God

Even though Trish would ask him to go to church, Stu refused. She continued to pray for him despite his anger about her growing faith. His business ventures were succeeding to enormous heights but he remained discontent and unhappy. Although atheism was giving him self-sufficiency, it was a ‘religion’ that wasn’t bringing him satisfaction:

“I really embraced atheism because it was easier to keep me on the throne and make me the god. But it’s a very, very difficult religion to rationalise, all the way back to the beginning of creation, right? But when you really get to the point of ex nihilo and who creates what, and there being one I Am, and how there has to be a beginning of all things, atheism has no answers. And so it’s a very difficult religion.”


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Opening the door

Over time, Stu continued to see his wife’s life transform and eventually accepted her invitation to go to her church community group. He was surprised to find people who loved each other and loved him despite his disbelief. They had a “sense of wisdom” that he had never experienced before. Finally, at age 41, he decided to attend church expecting to hear a “weak, shallow message”, but he heard something completely different. Stu was stunned when the pastor said: 

“’For all you middle-aged men who think that God isn’t in control and that God isn’t sovereign in these matters from the foundation of the world, you’re not God.’ And he just started barking: ‘You’re not God. You’re not God.’ And I remember sitting there thinking, Oh, really? I thought I was god. And I felt really angry at him and then I could not wait to go back to church the next week.”

Stu kept going because he was drawn past his expectations of a simplistic “God loves you” sermon to the hard-hitting messages painting “the entirety of the gospel”. He explained:

“It was expository preaching of books, of going passage by passage, or verses by verses through books of the Bible, where it wasn’t topical. It was hitting all the hard issues. And expository exegetical preaching. And I’d never been to a church—I’d only been to church a few times anyway—where it was that compelling and the messaging was that good.”

For the next few years, Stu’s heart was softening. Although he was still “an arguing atheist”, he found that Christians were able to argue against his position in an effective way. He began to realize “how feckless and moronic a lot of my views were becoming”. 




A world without Jesus

Six years later, he was taking his third company through an initial public offering. As a functional alcoholic, Stu continued to drink heavily, especially through the celebration of this new achievement. While walking through London, one of his work colleagues spotted a yellow star on a window, identifying the place where Marx wrote his manifesto to the Labour Party while commenting: “Marx had one thing right, that religion is the opiate of the masses.” Once he reached his hotel, Stu began to wonder, “Is that true?” And then he thought, “What would the world be like without Jesus?” It led him to consider Jesus in a way he never had before:

“That’s what hit me. And I thought, ‘Yes, the world is broken. Yes, I’ve heard this concept of depravity. Yes, there’s sin all over the place, but what would the world be like without Jesus?’ The wave came over me. I started sobbing, pools of snot and tears, and was saved. I wept that whole night in the hotel room on my back and on my stomach on the floor, saying, ‘Lord, I can’t believe what a rebel I’ve been. I’ve had this all wrong.’ I came to Christ that night. And didn’t get any sleep at all. And I felt joy, but I also wondered, ‘Oh boy, what is this going to mean?’

So I can’t honestly look back now and say I didn’t really see that I had a need for God. Oh, I saw I had a need for God. The problem is that I filled up that empty hole in my heart with everything except for the true Lord, which is what addiction or alcoholism or sin in general is, which is filling that empty hole in our heart with something that’s counterfeit. And once we understand that, we can get healthier and get sober and understand that there’s only one worth worshipping.”

Change takes time

Becoming a believer in Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean immediate life change. For Stu, life transformation was a process over time through which his life and career took many ups and downs. During the 2008 recession, he lost his reputation and money after being sued. Alcohol was destroying him. After a drinking binge in 2010, Stu finally admitted, “I cannot glorify God and be a drunk. I need help.” 

He spent the next 28 days in an alcohol rehabilitation centre. Bibles weren’t allowed there, but Stu was allowed his personal Bible, which he read every morning at 5:30am. By the time he left, 19 others were joining him for Bible study. Although he had a brief relapse after rehab, he left alcohol behind by the end of 2010, 13 years ago. 

By 2011, his business ventures were coming to a close and his new adventure towards ministry was beginning. Stu recalled:

“I went to seminary and fell in love with church. Fell in love. I was in the office in 2012 with a member of a faculty, and I was in tears saying, ‘I can’t believe this, but it feels like God is calling me to be a pastor.’”

By 2013, Stu was on church staff. By 2014, he was preaching at a large church. In 2016, he became senior pastor of a small church plant that grew from 40 members now to hundreds of people. It is the kind of place where he first found Jesus, commenting, “Our church is very transparent. It’s also the kind of preaching that is, I think, bold but expository and truthful, and people’s lives are being changed, and we’ve had many, many people baptized, and yeah, God is good.” God is good, indeed.


If you’d like to listen to Stu Fuhlendorf tell his full story, tune into the Side B Stories Episode 65, Apr 14, 2023. Or, you can find it on the Side B Stories website at


Jana Harmon hosts the Side B Stories podcast where former atheists and sceptics talk about their turn from disbelief to belief in God and Christianity. She is a teaching fellow for the CS Lewis Institute of Atlanta and former adjunct professor in cultural apologetics at Biola University where she received an MA in Christian apologetics. Jana also holds a PhD in religion and theology from the University of Birmingham in England. Her research focused on religious conversion of atheists to Christianity and related book is entitled, Atheists Finding God: Unlikely Stories of Conversions to Christianity in the Contemporary West.