Greg Laurie, a BGEA board member and pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., is celebrating his 25th year leading Harvest Crusades, which have been attended by more than 5 million people and have resulted in more than 421,800 professions of faith in Jesus. Laurie recently spoke with Decision about the silver anniversary, his ministry and issues facing the Body of Christ.
Q: What’s it like to celebrate a quarter century of evangelistic crusades?
A: It’s been amazing, and we’re really thankful to God for all that He’s done. When I look at old photographs, it’s clear to me that time has flown. But in many ways, we feel like we’re just getting started.
Q: How does it feel to know that hundreds of thousands of people have been changed for eternity through Harvest Crusades?
A: I feel grateful to God. I feel humbled, overwhelmed and surprised. At the same time, I am confident in the message of the Gospel. When I get up to speak, I expect response—not because of my ability to persuade, but because there’s power built into the message of the Gospel that needs to be unleashed.
Q: You pastored a church for nearly a decade before holding your first crusade. How did you start doing both, and what has it been like having both roles?
A: I was leading a Bible study in Riverside when I’d been a Christian for only a couple of years. As it grew and people started calling me pastor, I began to understand that indeed I was the pastor of what really was a church. It caused me to take very seriously the need to prepare, to study and to know the Word of God much better. I committed myself to the discipline of being a pastor, but I also had a desire to be an evangelist. We did periodic outreaches not only in our community, but we’d also travel to do things. Then a door opened for me to do larger-scale evangelistic events.
I don’t feel that being a pastor has held me back. In many ways, it has helped me be a better evangelist because I have gone to fellow pastors when we were going to hold a crusade in their community and tell them that our ministry is from the church, for the church, to build up the church. The only organization Jesus ever started when he walked this earth was the church. Our desire is to see the church in the community impacted and blessed after we leave, so I feel it has worked in our favor.
Q: How do you try to keep crusades relevant at a time when some critics question their effectiveness in today’s culture?
A: I’m a fan of using all the tools out there as we try to be on the cutting edge of art design, the music we employ and leveraging all forms of media—traditional and social. Yet at the same time we recognize that the power is in the proclamation of the Gospel. The power is not in music. The power is not in film. The power is in the Gospel being proclaimed.
Q: How would you describe what Jesus means to you personally?
A: When I came to Christ at the age of 17, you couldn’t have found a candidate less likely to ever do anything. My mother had been married and divorced seven times. She was a raging alcoholic. I lived all around the country, dragged from home to home. I had no foundation in my life, no value system to speak of. I was as lost as lost could be. But when I asked Christ to come into my life, He changed me.
When I was around 19 years old, I went to San Diego and heard Billy Graham preach in person. I thought to myself, That’s what I want to be when I grow up, never thinking that I would be an evangelist preaching in a stadium. I simply wanted to tell others about Christ.
Six years ago, we had the worst tragedy of our lives when our son Christopher was killed in an automobile accident (on July 24, 2008). If Christ had not been there for me during that time, I can say in all honesty that I would’ve given up preaching. But, of course, He was there for our family. He gave us strength to get through something so dreadful. He gives us strength to this day, and He has used it to increase my urgency to reach as many people as I can while I can.
Q: Your church isn’t far from Saddleback Church, where Rick Warren pastors. Were you able to help him last year after his son Matthew committed suicide?
A: Yes, I reached out to him immediately. I volunteered to speak in his church if he wanted me to. I told Rick I could share a message with his congregation because it was a huge loss for them as well. Of course, our congregation had already gone through it with us. Rick happily accepted. It was a great opportunity to minister to a flock of people who love their pastor.
Q: With the many attacks on religious liberties and biblical standards in our culture, how would you assess the biblical depth of most Christians today?
A: I think there is far more biblical illiteracy among many Christians than when I began preaching. Part of the fault lies in some of our pulpits, where pastors are not teaching the Bible as they ought to. Next to my passion for evangelism is my passion for Bible exposition. When a pastor steps into a pulpit, he should preach the Word of God without apology. When you do that, you’re going to deal with issues that our culture is facing and help people develop a biblical worldview so they learn to think biblically, not emotionally.
Sometimes it seems like the world is turning us upside down more than we are turning the world upside down. We want to point the finger at Hollywood or at Washington, but God points His finger at His church.
Q: Are you concerned that, with the way culture views issues such as homosexuality and same-sex marriage, the time could come when pastors could face legal ramifications for preaching certain biblical truths?
A: I think that day could come—and perhaps is coming. Anyone who knows me knows that my focus is not against any particular sin, but it’s really more of a focus on Christ is the answer. But if the Bible says it’s a sin, it’s a sin. The bigger issue here is are we going to stand on what the Bible says, or are we going to be intimidated and back down? I’m going to stand on what God’s Word says on every topic.
Q: Do you think that some evangelicals are almost cutting pages out of the Bible in capitulation to the culture?
A: I would say that there could be, among some, a proneness not to take pages out of the Bible but to neglect pages that are in the Bible, and thus not really declare—as Paul says we ought to—the whole counsel of God. I believe [Thomas] Jefferson had a Bible that met his criteria. The story is told that he cut out all the miracles of Christ. We can’t do that. It’s God’s Word, so we just need to proclaim it, believe it and let God do His work through it. Our job is to teach His Word and to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, not to edit or leave out the parts that are somewhat challenging to teach on.
Q: When you think of “that day”—when you’re face to face with the Lord—what runs through your mind?
A: I think every one of us wants to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord” (Cf. Matthew 25:21). For me, it’s not only the excitement of seeing Jesus, but also being reunited with my son, whom I miss greatly. I recognize that every day I’m a little closer to that day, so it causes me to almost have one foot in Heaven. When you’ve lost a loved one who’s very close, it’s almost like a part of you is in Heaven already. It’s like you’re homesick for a place you’ve never been. God’s built that in us. I look forward to that day. I don’t dread that day at all. ©2014 BGEA