Normal isn’t working, says Pastor Craig Groeschel.
The LifeChurch.tv pastor wants Christians to stop blending in with the rest of the world and start standing out as God intended. It’s time to live differently. It’s time to get weird, he says.
Weird is Groeschel’s latest book. In it, he tells readers of the many “normal” ways people are living and how that’s only leaving people more stressed, more exhausted, more busy, more alone and more detached from God.
As someone who considers himself possibly the biggest weirdo in the Christian world, he reveals what identifying yourself as a Christian really means and how (practically) believers can move toward that “God kind of weird.”
CP: The way you describe it in your book, normal doesn’t really sound all that great – with stress, busyness, debt, affairs. So why are Christians, who have the much better alternative of living differently from that, sticking with that normal lifestyle?
Groeschel: I think the message of our culture is so strong, so loud and so persuasive that we’re often overwhelmed, overrun by it. And I think Christians find comfort sometimes in doing what the crowd is doing when the call to follow Christ makes them uncomfortable because it is different. I argue from a practical standpoint, if you just look practically at what normal is doing to people, it’s not working. I hope to encourage them to, Jesus said broad is the road that leads to destruction and many people are on it. I used to find comfort on being on that road because that’s where everybody was. And I hope Christians and others will have the courage to step off that normal path onto a maybe a narrow one that’s maybe a little more difficult but it leads to life instead of to death.
CP: Do you think Christians are turned off by being different and being an avid follower of Christ because of the more fundamental religious people they have seen, the ones they might associate with bigotry, exclusivism, and judgmentalism?
Groeschel: I think there’s certainly a bad kind of weird and I think there’s probably a good kind of weird and there’s even a God kind of weird. So I’m hoping people won’t move toward the bad kind of weird but instead, I was actually surprised at how much this work does resonate with people in that if I am going to be a fool for Christ, that’s going to make me different. And I think that culture tells us not to be weird and so we often buy into that. But when our eyes are focused more on the prize, it actually motivates us to be called weird. In fact I find comfort today when people call me weird. I worry more about my Christian walk when they don’t call me weird.
CP: Recently there’s been a lot of debate about Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins and the notion of hell. What we’ve been seeing is really Christians who preach about hell and that Christ is the only way to salvation are truly viewed as weird. Is that how you see it?
Groeschel: I think that there’s more of a drift in culture to people who believe the Bible is God’s word and they preach about a little hell and that Jesus is the only way, I think a lot of people do think that’s a weird message. At the same time, I personally think the whole Gospel message is so different and so beautiful that God would send His son Jesus to die. If you look at that just objectively, that’s pretty weird. That’s weird in the best sort of way.
CP: Do you often preach about hell at LifeChurch?
Groeschel: I mention hell regularly and I’ve preached full messages on it, the reality of hell, as best as I can understand it from Scripture and I teach regularly that Christ is the way to eternal life and without him that we are destined to hell.
CP: You talk about normal being lukewarm Christianity but you say that lukewarm Christianity is not really Christianity at all. It’s an oxymoron. So if you were to remove the lukewarm Christians, would our churches be a lot emptier? And if so, where does the responsibility lie? In the pastors or the individual believers?
Groeschel: I think, unfortunately, a lot of churches, including mine, have a lot of lukewarm believers in it. I think if I look back through my life over the last twenty some odd years as a Christian there were significant seasons that I was lukewarm. So I don’t think the answer is getting them out of our churches as much as trying to get more of Christ into them and then get them into the world. You ask where the responsibility falls and I think that it falls on both the people and I think that as pastors, we have to take some responsibility as well. If our churches are full of lukewarm people, chances are we could do a better job of presenting the truth of Scripture because I think that Scripture and the presence of God does move us to a more serious and faith-filled, committed Christian life. We can’t take all the responsibility because people still have to choose but I do think in the seasons when I’ve looked at our church and thought the people aren’t as passionate I had to look at my own leadership and ask how can God stir me and lead me to better motivate them to a holy, sacrificed life.
CP: I guess that ties in with my next question. What are you hoping readers get out of your new book? When I look at this book and your previous one Christian Atheist, it seems like you’re really trying to shake up Christians and tell them to step it up and open their eyes to the reality of what it really means to be a Christian.
Groeschel: In some ways, Christian Atheist was about my earlier pursuit of kind of overcoming just believing in God but truly living as if He does exist and then Weird is almost like a follow-up. To me, the more I fall in love with Christ, the more he’s going to make me different from the world. And I’d probably challenge people, don’t try to be weird like anyone else. For example, we have six kids and we homeschool our kids. That’s kind of our weird. Don’t feel like you need to do that. God doesn’t have a cookie cutter weird but I believe He’s got a custom weird for you. If you are pursuing Christ and you’re letting God’s work be your guide, it’s going to make you different. And if you’re not different, that’s when I’d be really worried. If people are persecuting you every now and then and saying why is your life different, then that’s probably a lot better sign than you just blend in the culture and don’t stand out at all.
CP: This might be off tangent but can I ask why you decided to homeschool your kids?
Groeschel: It’s real hard to put into words because we didn’t know anyone that homeschooled at the time. My wife was teaching and said I just feel like God put this on my heart and I would’ve been against it in every way because of the way I was raised. I thought I actually agree and I don’t even know why. Even at the time we had no idea the thousands of reasons we believe in it later. We just felt like it was obedience then. I’m real careful not to try to impose those values on anybody else because I think a lot of people shouldn’t, probably most people shouldn’t. But really we felt like it was being obedient to what God showed us.
CP: For Christians who want to turn up the weird, what should their first step be?
Groeschel: I think that they should look at their lives and compare it to Scripture. I think the problem is most of us, including me, tend to look at our lives and compare it to other people and to what others are doing. We’re drawn to want to please people but becoming obsessed what people think about us is the quickest way to forget what God thinks about us. So if our biggest motivating factor is to live for God and to please Him, I believe he will lead us out of the pull toward the cultural norm and then we’ll be different in the right ways instead of different in the wrong ways.
CP: That actually reminds me of Francis Chan (Southern California pastor) because he was having such a hard time, looking at Scripture and comparing his life to it. He took the bold step of leaving his church and trying to start a new ministry or whatever his next project is. And everyone is viewing him as weird, including fellow pastors.
Groeschel: I actually thought he was weird too. I love Francis for being so weird. He wrestles with trying to please God as much as anybody I know and I affectionately call him weird.
CP: It seems like you’re equally called weird by many people. Is there any specific thing that you feel makes you particularly weird?
Groeschel: Something that I’m really excited about, I think a lot of times your greatest strength for Christ will be born out of your greatest weakness. And one of my greatest weaknesses, I was always afraid of not having enough the way I grew up. So out of that weakness and fear I feel like God has called our church to a position of radical generosity. I’m actually really excited about being weird that way. We’re often criticized, believe it or not, for what we give away. Even in our own lives, we’ve always tried to model living well beneath our means and giving aggressively. I think everyone needs to have their own custom weird and we want to be weird in that way. We feel like we’re called to serve the broader church, giving as much as we can. We love giving away the YouVersion Bible app. People always scream why don’t you sell it for a dollar? Our Bible’s not for sale. We want to give it away. I’m really passionate about that and about being generous in every way we can.
CP: When you say you were criticized for being generous, are you also talking about the resources that you make available online?
Groeschel: We do. That or giving away royalties of a book. I’ve got family members who say why would you do that. I’ve got mentors that I respect and love that say we should charge something for the resources because people will value it. You’re criticized if you sell it. You’re criticized if you give it. I’d rather be criticized for giving it.
CP: I noticed you’re on Twitter. Do you think it’s weird to be on Twitter or not to be on Twitter?
Groeschel: Well, I actually just started Twitter maybe six months ago. I think I was probably considered weird for not being on it for as long as I was. I didn’t want to get sucked in to something that would take me away from my family and I was afraid that I might obsess with it. But ultimately I decided it was a tool that I wasn’t utilizing that I should use. So I think I was weird for holding out as long as I did probably.
CP: So your church is one of the fastest growing churches in the country, you have 20,000 people attending and 13 campuses? You definitely set your church apart from the rest with not only your explosive growth but also your use of technology – multisite and online campus. What’s next for your church? More expansion? Innovation? Projects?
Groeschel: About 30,000, a little more than that in the seats and then online as well. Thirteen or 14 (campuses).
We’re trying to do more of the same. We’re hoping to launch a couple of new campuses this year. We’ve got one going in Broken Arrow, Okla., and another one going in Midwest City, Okla., so we’re trying to get those up and going. We’re actually trying to take our church online platform (which is quite expensive and not easy to do) and make it available for other churches for free. It’s a bigger task than you would think. We’re trying to create a platform that’s usable for other churches. That’s something we’re working on this year. We’re really trying to take the YouVersion Bible app and giving it away at even a faster pace than we are right now. I came to Christ through reading a Bible that was given to me and so I believe so much in that. We’re trying to give those away by the millions.