Carl Lentz, the charismatic leader of Hillsong Church's New York City campus, recently opened up about his unique ministry style and passion for the lost in an exclusive interview with the Gospel Herald.
"I got saved when I was 19 and ended up going to Hillsong Bible College," Lentz shared. "I worked there for four years, went back to Virginia where I'm from, and Brian (Houston) decided to plant the first Hillsong Church in America, and we just wanted to be a part of it. So, we left Virginia with our family and ended up here, and five years later, we're here, we're still alive."
On a weekly basis, 30,000 people -- including celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Kendall Jenner, Selena Gomez, and others -- sit under Lentz' teaching. But despite his reputation as a "celebrity preacher," the 35-year-old husband and father of three is strikingly humble, crediting Hillsong NYC's success to the power of the Gospel.
"For us, we're trying to tell people that this is a relationship with the living God that you can have," he told the GH. "You don't have to do it; you get to do it. When people start to hear that language, their ears perk up a little bit, because maybe they were raised in a church where you had to do this, or you had to go there. We're saying, 'No, let me tell you about Jesus first and what the Gospel is about.' This isn't about bad people getting good, it's about dead people coming to life. Who's not interested in that?"
In a 2015 interview with Complex Magazine, Bieber, who considers Lentz a close friend and confidante, expressed a distaste for traditional religion, stating, "There's a lot of really weird stuff going on at churches. You ever flicked on a channel and a late-night church show is on? Sometimes it's like, 'You better do this or you gon' die and you gon' burn in hell!' And you're like, I don't want anything to do with this. I'm the same way. I'm not religious. I, personally, love Jesus, and that was my salvation."
Speaking to the Gospel Herald, Lentz inadvertently clarified Bieber's statement, saying, "I think everyone's sentiment is the same -- religion, yeah, we are religious, and Christianity is a religion, and religion within and of itself isn't bad, because we believe what Jesus said about religion. But, when people hear 'religion', they're not thinking about the kind of religion we're talking about, which is loving the poor and helping those in need and being totally devoted to God. They think of like, you know, what their grandma said they had to be and codes they had to follow."
When asked what makes his outreach in New York unique, as Hillsong has 12 global campuses, the pastor replied, "Hillsong Church has been built on the same principles for 30 years in every location. So, although it looks different in London, the outworking of it, the fundamental principle is we're going to love God, we're going to love life, we're going to love people. We have to do it in a New York context, but I think the Gospel has been the same forever, and the Gospel never needs to change."
He added, "But, the way that we hopefully communicate it to people will make sense in a New York context. I don't think we're different, we're just trying to do what we do and let the chips fall where they may...it's sometimes easier to talk to people about the Gospel in New York because people aren't about the shallow stuff, they actually wanna talk about stuff that matters. So, I enjoy that part."
Last year, Lentz published the "Occupy All Streets" Bible, which he revealed was written to bring "legitimacy" and "reliability" to the Bible in terms of people opening it up and understanding.
"It's battle tested, it's a really accurate translation. It's in the language we speak...it frees people up to say, 'I get this,'" Lentz told the "Breakfast Club" of the book in November.
Speaking to the Gospel Herald, the megachurch pastor revealed that his "go-to" verse is Ephesians 3:20, which reads, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us."
"I believe that...I'm not capable of doing anything I'm doing -- being a dad, being a pastor, being a husband -- and, if that verse isn't real, I'm not sitting here talking to you," he explained. "Because in our own power, we're not capable of much, but if God is truly able, what do we have to fear? We can just go on out there and let God do what He's gonna do. If that verse is real, it should change the way you go to work, it should change the way you love your spouse, if should change the way you worship. God is able, so what would I be afraid of?"