In New Book, “Own the Moment,” Carl Lentz Offers Take On Christian Self-Help, but Aims for Something Different

It is a book about Twitter and Instagram, and about having a good cry with the professional basketball player Tyson Chandler. There is advice about relationships and parenting, and a lesson about not being ostentatious told through understated drug dealers. There is a chapter that explores how white people, like the author, should be able to say “black lives matter.”

But the character who pops up the most in this book is God.

“Own the Moment” is a book by Carl Lentz, the lead pastor at branches in New York City and Montclair, N.J., of Hillsong, an international megachurch that began nearly 35 years ago in Australia. With an engaging, casual voice and an easy humor, Mr. Lentz sidles up to the idea of a self-help book rooted in Christianity, and then aims for something different. The approach is not unlike the way his church has taken its place in American evangelicalism, with a decidedly unusual flavor that might even appeal to those who recoil from a typical Sunday service.

“I have a real palpable disdain for religious jargon. I grew up in church. I ran from church. I know a real Christian from a churchgoing nominal Christian better than most,” Mr. Lentz writes. And on the day he found God, he adds, “I was riddled with fear. Things like ‘What if this isn’t real?’ ‘What if this means I have to give up everything that I love?’ ‘What if this means that for the rest of my life I have to listen to terrible Christian music and wear pleated khaki pants and get a haircut that looks like literally every single Alabama football fan?’”

Mr. Lentz, 38, is slender, 6-foot-2, with nearly a dozen tattoos and a preference for painted on skinny jeans. So far, no pleated khakis in sight.

Hillsong NYC holds most of its services at the Manhattan Center’s Hammerstein Ballroom, a 2,200-seat music venue in Midtown, where it packs people in to four services every Sunday. Even at the 10 a.m. service, which has rows of stroller parking at the back, the room is dim, the smoke machines are going and music from the large house band swells like Coldplay with a heavy dose of resurrection.

On a recent Sunday, nearly a dozen people stood on a stage bathed in purple light, clutching microphones or guitars, pounding keyboards or drums, with another dozen forming a chorus behind them — Hillsong Church has a powerful recording label that is a dominant force in Christian contemporary music, and music is elemental to its services. A giant screen above the stage displayed close-ups of the singers with song lyrics stamped across the bottom of the screen so congregants could sing along. And sing along they did, flooding the concert hall with thousands of voices, outstretched arms and an enveloping emotional charge.

In the middle of a song about reverence, belted out from every corner of the concert hall, Mr. Lentz appeared onstage wearing hipster aviator glasses, tight black pants and a black blazer draped open over a low-cut black T-shirt. When the song ended, he delivered a fiery, and at times funny, sermon about being a Christian every day, as a man played the keyboard behind him. The sermon crescendoed near the end as he screamed into the microphone, neck veins popping, that sometimes we need to say to the “devil, temptation, shame, all that stuff: ‘Your mama!’ ” As music surged back into the concert hall, Mr. Lentz walked off the stage peeling away his sweaty blazer.

“The way I try to preach is the way I tried to write this book,” Mr. Lentz said, his words dancing with a hint of the South, carried through from Virginia Beach where he was raised. “I’m going to preach straight, and hopefully open a wide enough door that even if you don’t believe what I believe, you can glean something from it.”

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SOURCE: The New York Times