Known for being many names that the media has dubbed him (Hipster pastor, celebrity pastor, illuminati, cult leader) since he started pastoring Hillsong NYC, Carl Lentz is anything but. Although he is living what others would call, “a preacher’s dream”, pastoring one of the largest growing church in America is not a walk in the park. Just on its third year, Hillsong NYC is home to more than 6,000 people in any given Sunday - ranging their attendance from the tri-state area. If you think numbers aren’t significant, just take a gander of the logistics: How many volunteers make a Sunday happen? Nearly a thousand and they do it for free! Yes, volunteers aren’t paid because it’s voluntary. How many people baptized during the last two years? Hundreds. How many started their journey by accepting Jesus as their Lord and Saviour? More than 20,000. The numbers don’t lie - there’s more than enough people counting and keeping count of it.
Meeting in clubs, ballrooms, and none of the conforming venues Christians are used to, Hillsong NYC as Pastored by the dynamic duo, Carl and Laura Lentz reaches out to the diversity of New York City. Imagine this: walking to a heart thumping, dim lighted venue but greeted with smiling smiles and “Welcome Home” signs, one wouldn’t think they stepped in a house of worship. Then, the music continues, pop-rock Christian songs with a hint of EDM blasting through the speakers, and people jumping, raising their hands, singing at the top of their lungs from left to right. You’re then introduced to a plethora of leaders who help build the church. Soon, they start looking familiar. A video or two will be shown. More singing. Finally, a Pastor clad in leather, a new haircut dubbed as “The Carl Lentz”, and tattoos design his arms. What did I just walk into?
I don’t have to imagine this. I don’t have to hear the stories. I’m witnessing it. I’m living it.
As a Christian growing up, I was used to hymns and church at a certain time and place on Sundays. When I discovered Hillsong, that notion changed. When I started coming to Hillsong NYC, I experienced it for myself. If you’ve read the Bible and have read about Jesus’ adventures in His ministry, my church is exactly like that. Always on the move, attracting all sorts of people, and including everybody in everything we do. Hearing Pastor Carl speak a sermon for the very first time, I knew that I wanted to be a part of what he was helping build. I’ve learned so much and have stripped away my former beliefs of what it means to be a Christian. That’s the thing with Carl Lentz - he preaches what Jesus is about without pointing fingers and making you feel ashamed. Instead, he makes you wonder and examine what your life has been like before Jesus and what improvements there are available when you choose a life with Jesus.
If you ask any part of the demographic in our church what Carl and Laura Lentz best stand for, you’ll hear a plethora of different answers. However, the message behind it remains the same: church is inclusive and not exclusive. In addressing social issues such as having the LGBT community attend their church, Laura says, “We can’t tell people how to live. That’s their journey.” They’ve created an environment of safety, where you’re able to let your guard down and allow people to see you and know you for who you are, not who you think a Christian should be.
So many lives have been changed for the better and it’s quite obvious that the Lentz’s (among many others who are building the church and fighting the good fight) are vessels. “Hillsong can’t save your life. I can’t save your life. But I can point you to Jesus - who definitely can save you,” another one of Carl’s nuggets to take to heart. He’s known for catchy sermon titles such as Church In The Wild, Take a Right On Mott, That Girl Is Poison and one liners that, to some, become personal mantras. Mine is: Keep showing up (to church). Keep being faithful because even when you aren’t, Jesus still is.
The greatest thing about their method of teaching is how open and raw they are with everyone. They never command, only encourage. You can have a totally different opinion on anything, but still, they welcome you. They encourage that you should be well versed with The Bible and not just take in the dose they deliver on Sundays.
What about money?
Ah, yes. People often think money is an issue and misunderstand “giving” to the church as a money issue. Carl never asks for money. He encourages you to live generously. You will never be obligated to give a monetary offering and you certainly won’t be harassed in doing so. “Jesus doesn’t care if you have money. He cares about money having you.” When you think about it, money isn’t the issue - it’s the way we portray money is the issue.
Upon hearing all the negative aspects that come with building an expansive church, Carl seems to know how to answer diplomatically yet correctly (citing the issue of Hillsong being a cult, “A cult is when I tell you what to think and if you disagree, then you’re out! We are the opposite of that. You can come as you are and you’re always welcome”). A lot of people are skeptics because they see Hillsong as a brand and nothing more. Be that as it may (as you can never change people’s minds), Hillsong has always been about loving God and loving people. That’s become paraphrased in the indulgence of being in New York City: reaching the faceless to the famous. It’s no secret nor a surprise that Carl Lentz is enigmatic and attractive to people. He uses what he’s got in his hands and allows God to use him in reaching those that seem “unreachable”. Know this: Carl will treat a homeless person with the same amount of respect, dignity, and humanity just as he would to a “celebrity”.
So, when you hear that Hillsong or its pastors are more famous than Jesus, negate it. They’re simply making Jesus famous. Because if you strip the name, the lights, sounds, venue, and propaganda - people will still come. People will still see the heart of those who lead with a purpose united with those who are building the church. No matter who, no matter where, no matter how - it will never be about making ourselves famous. It will always be about making Jesus famous.
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