Craig and Amy Groeschel: “Tech-savvy Pastors”
What does it take to be named one of the most influential pastors in America (5th to be exact)? Or to be recognised as the most innovative church in modern times? As a ‘techno-junkie’ Craig Groeschel (pronounced Grow-SHELL) would know - he has 13 church campuses that plug in live every Sunday to the main hub; broadcasts a Sunday sermon to the Second LIfe virtual world and has created a website called mysecret.tv as a place for people to confess anonymously on the internet.
In a media saturated world, where the Church is increasingly seen as irrelevant, Craig and wife Amy are bringing the timeless message of the Gospel across in a modern, tech-savvy way.
Craig, tell us about LifeChurch.tv?
LifeChurch is one church that meets in 13 locations and also has over 50 services online at http://live.lifechurch.tv. In 2000, Amy gave birth to our fourth child on a Sunday morning before church started. Since I couldn’t preach, we decided to show the message on video from the night before. It worked so well that we started adding services and eventually new locations, using video teaching.
With a heart to reach out to people who might not (or could not) attend a physical church building, we started Church Online, which consists of worship, a message, live prayer and lots of online fellowship through chat (with translation available for 32 different languages). Thousands of people from over 140 countries participate each week.
What would you say to critics who feel that virtual church fosters unaccountability and lack of pastoral care?
Interestingly, worshipping at a physical church doesn’t guarantee accountability either, unless the right relationships are in place. Those who worship online can experience as much (and often) more accountability by sharing their lives with others. Some believe that people are more transparent and interact for longer periods of time online than they would in a physical church reception.
Just as many people connect through Facebook or Twitter, Church Online provides another opportunity for people to build accountability and support relationships as they interact, disciple, enjoy fellowship and pray for each other.
How do you manage to preach, lead a church, be a husband and a father to six children?
Leading a large family and church is definitely challenging. I’ve always believed that if I reach many people in the world but lose my family, I’ve failed. From the beginning of the church, we’ve designed our church activities around our family values instead of the other way around. For example, the only night I regularly work is Saturday night when I’m preaching. Instead of meeting with church leaders in the evenings, we do early morning or lunch meetings. Throughout the history of the church, I’ve explained to our people that I don’t want them at the church building several nights a week, but would rather them be in their homes with their families or serving in the community. Without a doubt, we say “no” to many things that other people say “yes” to.
What are the challenges you face in ministry?
For several years, our biggest challenge was developing strong leaders to handle the growth. In recent years, God has enabled us to identify and equip leaders better and faster.
From a personal perspective, I feel a tremendous spiritual responsibility to preach truth and be a Godly example to our people and other churches. The opportunity to minister to so many is simultaneously a blessing and a burden that I don’t take lightly.
We also feel a burden to equip the global Church. We are working hard to make many resources available to church leaders for free at http://open.lifechurch.tv/. In 2010, more than 48 000 church leaders downloaded over 750 000 free resources to use in their churches.
What advice can you offer to pastors who feel burnt out?
Pastors find it so easy to give, but often difficult to receive. When a pastor is burning out, he or she needs to ask for help. A week away from ministry won’t solve their burnout. I’d suggest asking for a sabbatical and seeking counselling immediately. Bill Hybels once said, “The way I was doing the work of God was destroying the work of God in me.” If a pastor/ministry leader finds himself (or herself) in a similar place, it’s time to drop the pride and ask others to help.
In the ‘Christian Atheist’ you talk about people who believe in God, but live as if He doesn’t exist. Why do you think there is such widespread discrepancy amongst Christians?
The term ‘Christian Atheist’ describes my life growing up. Even though I believed in God and went to church, I did not know Him personally. I’m guessing there are countless people like that in the world today. I’ve noticed another large group of people in churches that want all the blessings from God without conforming to the image of Christ. It seems many want enough of Christ to keep them out of hell and make their lives on earth better - but not so much that they live any differently. Although what I call ‘Christian Atheism’ has been a problem for decades, in recent years, I’m encouraged that the emerging generation appears to be taking Christ’s teaching more seriously than those in my generation did.
What does 2011 look like for you?
We like to say, “We’ll do anything short of sin to reach people who don’t know Christ.” Because of our passion for evangelism, we’re planning two new LifeChurch.tv campuses and to move two of them into larger and permanent facilities. This past year we experienced explosive growth in our free Bible App known as YouVersion. In response, we are planning to make the app available in eight additional languages, offer more reading plans and translations, and continually provide ways to help people spend more time in God’s Word. We also anticipate welcoming new churches into our Network partnerships and offering more resources to more church leaders through our resource-sharing site, http://open.lifechurch.tv.
Amy, what is the most difficult part of being married to someone in the public eye?
It’s not as hard as some would think. I’m thankful that God has given us a strong marriage. We try to remember that we can’t control what people think - only what we do. If we live with integrity, we trust God to take care of our reputations.
What are some highlights of your marriage and ministry together?
Being married to Craig who is so loving and committed to me is absolutely a highlight. We’ve always been best friends and want to spend time together as much as we can. Our marriage is a blessing to both of us, as it should be. A highlight in ministry is getting to meet and greet people and share in the rewards and fruit of God’s work in our church. Seeing the fruit of our labour early in our ministry come to maturity is such a unique blessing. Also, sharing the hardships with Craig - the hardships of ministry can sometimes be so difficult, but we count it as an honour to suffer together, and it brings us so much closer.
Any advice for couples who struggle to spend time together?
A lot of people will say that “we just don’t have time to spend as a family”. I try to remind them that you have time for what you choose to have time for. When Craig and I got married, we put a saying up in our house that said, “Neglect the rest of the world if you have to but never neglect each other.” Guard your time together.
If you don’t prioritise time with your spouse, ministry will devour all your time. A healthy ministry is usually an overflow of a healthy home. Living a Titus 2 and Proverbs 31 woman’s lifestyle is my heart’s desire.
How do you cope with raising six kids? Any practical tips?
Some people ask, “How do I do it all?” The answer is, “I don’t.” I feel like a key to saying “yes” to my kids is saying, “no” to so many other things. For example, I love keeping our home nice. But several years ago, I made a conscious decision to put relationships with my family ahead of trying to keep the perfect house.
I’d rather have time with the kids than have my floors perfectly clean each day. I also have to make a point to be present and attentive when I am with the kids and my family. I’d advise wives and moms to fight against living for what culture says is important but live for what is eternal.
Any plans to visit SA?
Craig does two international trips each year. I know he hopes to visit soon.