Carl Lentz On Rap, Religion & Justin Bieber - Hope 103.2

Carl Lentz On Rap, Religion & Justin Bieber

Hillsong Church’s New York pastor Carl Lentz dropped in on his city’s most popular R&B radio station and took church to rap fans across the USA.

By Clare BruceFriday 1 Apr 2016CultureReading Time: 6 minutes

Getting hundreds of thousands of American R&B fans into church on a Sunday would be tough, if not impossible, task.

Instead, Hillsong Church’s New York pastor Carl Lentz dropped in on his city’s most popular hip-hop and R&B radio station Power 105.1, and took church to the fans.

He appeared in an interview on the station’s nationally-syndicated, hit radio show The Breakfast Club, hosted by TV and radio personalities ‘DJ Envy’, Angela Yee and the controversial ‘Charlamagne Tha God’. For 30 minutes Lentz gave Jesus-centred answers to questions about life, morality, rappers and church culture.

‘Justin Loves Jesus’, Says NYC Pastor

Watch: Hillsong New York pastor Carl Lentz chats all things Jesus and church on commercial radio.

The interviewers were especially intrigued about his friendship with Justin Bieber, who once spent time living with the pastor and his family.

“One of my best friends [Judah Smith] is a pastor in Seattle, and he had known Justin for a bit, and he called me to go to a concert to meet Justin,” he explained. “We kinda hit it off and I got to know him over the course of five or six years. I think he’s a good kid. I’ve enjoyed getting to know him.

“He was in a period [in 2014] where he was really passionate about deepening his faith and he felt, ‘I’ve gotta get out of the mix, I want to be a normal guy’. I said ‘cool, let’s do it’. He came to all of our meetings, all the stuff that I do, lived in my house [in New Jersey], ate dinner with my family.”

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Eventually, the Lentz family had to move house because fans found out Bieber was staying there, which caused problems.

“Justin loves Jesus, he’s trying to figure this out,” he said of the much-scrutinised pop star. “And it’s hard when you have a microscope [on you]. But we also [say] ‘don’t complain about what you pray for – so if you pray that God’s going to put you on the map, don’t complain about it when He does’. You’ve gotta know how to handle yourself. And to his credit, he’s really trying to be a man in the public eye, being true to who he is.”

Do People Come To His Church For Glimpses Of Celebrity?

DJ Envy
DJ Envy of The Breafast Club asked Carl Lentz to ‘bless the room’

When the radio hosts asked Lentz if people come to his Hillsong services in New York because of the association with Bieber, Carl said they aimed to keep people like the pop star out of the spotlight.

“I’m sure a couple have,” he said, “but they find out pretty quick it’s not about that. If you’re coming for Bieber, you’re not going to stay for Bieber. You can sense a vibe pretty quick that our church is not that place. If you take a photo, we’re going to take your phone. We respectfully say ‘everybody deserves a chance to listen and grow without photos, so if you could just leave that stuff outside we’d appreciate it’.”

If you’re coming for Bieber, you’re not going to stay for Bieber. You can sense a vibe pretty quick that our church is not that place.

He said famous friends were not necessarily great publicity for pastors, and deflected criticism by defending the right of celebrities to attend church.

“You actually get more flak for it than you get pluses,” he said, “because once you’re linked with any sort of famous person, if they’re doing great, people give you credit, if they’re doing bad, people try to throw some serious shade. They say ‘you’re a horrible leader’.

“For me, 99 percent of Hillsong Church is not famous. And that’s who we are. Yes, there are people [there] who are famous, but should they not be allowed to come?”

On Money, Lifestyle Preaching, And Ripped Jeans

Carl and Laura Lentz
Pastor Carl Lentz and his wife Laura. Picture:

Lentz’s interviewers revealed their dissatisfaction with the more religious elements of American church culture, by peppering him with a host of questions about money, offerings, preaching style and dress-code.

Why does Hillsong rent theatres and concert venues for church?

“We can’t afford [a building] and there’s not a lot of space. Most of the churches in this city have been here for decades and decades so for us we’re just trying to get in where we can. That’s why we started doing church in clubs and concert venues.”

And why aren’t the services 3 hours long like in some American churches?

“Our service is about an hour and 30. Because I’ve been to church where I’m just sitting there and I’m like, ‘I think I love God but I’m starving. And I would rather never come back if it means I have to sit here and hear another offering, and another song, and another testimony.”

Which of his three campuses does he preach at the most?

“We try not to tell people who’s preaching where so it doesn’t become about a preacher. Which is America’s tendency where you have people going to church for a preacher.”

On his “life coach” style of preaching:

My goal is trying to make sure people understand this is not a distant God.

“Jesus spoke to every single area of life and I think it’s our job as pastors and leaders to make sure we do our best to help people with their practical, everyday life.  When He talked about a mustard seed, he was talking to farmers. When He talked about fishing, he was talking to fishermen. And sometimes when you go to church, you hear messages that are so beyond where you are at that you feel like this is disconnected. The whole reason why Jesus was so incredible is, he was literally going to people meeting them right where they are at. My goal is trying to make sure people understand this is not a distant God.”

When told that he dresses like he’s ‘part of a boy band’:

“It’s part of the hustle (job). Our church is about being who you are and sometimes it gets our foot in the door in places people wouldn’t listen if you had the regular pastor thing on. We have 8 services, I tried preaching in a suit, it’s too hot. I just decided I’m going to preach in what feels normal. And it helps people to come in and feel like you can just be yourself.

“I’ve been to churches where I’ve been the guest speaker and they wouldn’t let me in [because of my attire]. And after I spoke those same people would be [coming up to thank me] and I’d be like ‘I remember you, you wouldn’t let me in!’ That’s cool, but imagine how many people have tried to pursue a relationship with God but are afraid of the church walls.”

Explaining The Message Bible:

“It’s language that we speak. It just makes sense. Sometimes you read the Bible and you’re just trying to figure out what in the world it’s talking about. This [version] really frees people up to say “I actually get it”.”

How did he start out on his Christian walk?

“I had the regular road of ‘walking away’. I played college basketball for NC State and was doing my own thing, and I had a moment where I went back home to Virginia Beach, went to a church and felt like I needed to repent, start fresh, and I never looked back. I ended up going to Australia, finding my wife, studying the Bible, making sure this was real for me. I’ve just seen the grace of God in my life, and I look up and I can’t believe what God’s doing with somebody like me.”

A Closing Prayer On Commercial Radio

Pastor Carl Lentz of Hillsong New York prays on The Breakfast Club
Pastor Carl Lentz prays for the hosts of The Breakfast Club

DJ Envy finished the chat by asking Pastor Lentz to “bless the room” in prayer. Lentz held hands and prayed with his interviewers, who then promised to come and visit his church.