Do you think that your ministry has contributed to a higher profile of evangelical Christians?
I think so. I notice interestingly enough that Time magazine has the cross on the cover, the 25 most impressive or influential evangelicals in America today, and I'm not one of the 25. I suspect that I probably should be included, because I speak to more Americans every Sunday on television than anybody else. I've founded the first and longest-running television church service in history, we have 2.4 billion viewers [worldwide] in a single week.
You're called the founder of the mega-church movement. What do you think makes these churches so successful?
I think they should survive because I think huge shopping centers will always survive. The concept of the mega-church-some have attributed that to me. Whatever people want to buy, they can get it in the shopping center. It's one-stop shopping. Churches should be that way. They can get a Sunday morning church service, but they can also have a ministry to singles, a ministry to young people, a ministry to music people, a ministry to people who have specialized hurts.
But I don't know the future of the mega-church. It may depend on traffic flow, it may depend on political evolution in the hierarchy of the different faiths, it may depend upon the personalities. I'm 78, and my church is still a mega-church. But what we have not seen is the death of the founding pastor of a mega-church, and how that impacts the ministry. Whether that church can survive without the personality of the founding person is something we'll have to see. I hope it can, and I believe it will. But who knows?
What do you think your legacy will be?
I don't think anybody can begin to guess. I do know that a contribution that I am making, and I'm proud of it, and that is we've created a facility in architecture here that will be a fabulous church forever and forever and forever, and if church attendance drops, membership is low, it will continue to be a fabulous place as a tourist attraction. The building and grounds are all designed to preach a message and inspire people.
I don't have any disagreements with most of the positive evangelicals, and I think I'd be considered one myself. I'm glad they have the power to make a difference politically. But I've always felt that I should stay neutral politically, and I have. Why? Because I majored in psychology, and I don't think another one of the evangelicals that you'd know by name did. And in psychology we were taught that you don't impose your ethical values on other people, not if you're going to be their pastor.
If you're going to counsel people-and that's all my ministry is, it's a counseling ministry more than anything else-people have to believe that they can trust you and that they can listen to you, that you're going to try to help them and not just politically try to convert them to your views. That's an ethical demand in professional psychology circles, and I think it applies to ministries too.
Your new book is called "Don't Throw Away Tomorrow." What do you mean when you tell people not to "throw away tomorrow?"
I mean, continue to live with hope. Many people have no hope. Often, in our earthly life, we're presented with opportunities to make very creative decisions but always are easily tempted not to grab hold of the opportunities. When an opportunity comes, it holds possibilities. And when you move away from it or don't sense it or grasp it, you're really throwing away your future, you're throwing away your tomorrow. We do it in many ways-young people do it by giving into drugs. Married people can do it when they allow tension to rupture their marriage permanently without taking counsel that could have saved them. Our life is all waiting for us tomorrow, and we have the opportunity to grasp it and reach for it and live with hope.
What do you say to elderly people who may feel that they have little to look forward to?
I'd say that it's understandable that they would feel that way, but it's a very dangerous process they're going through. They have to take positive action, or they'll end up in depression, which is so common among older people. What can they do? They've got to have a purpose to live for. This may be in the form of a ministry where they have a list of names of people that they will call. They will have an expanding telephone arrangement with persons who need to have somebody call them and encourage them. That's a great possibility.
I know lots of exciting older people do that until the end of their days. And it's like being the pastor of a little church, encouraging people and uplifting them. And at the end of some of these telephone calls there will be tears-happy ones or sad ones-or there will be laughter, and that's the joy of ministry, whether you are an ordained religious minister or whether you are just ministering to people because they are human beings and you're a human being, and you are meant to be helpful.
How specifically would you advise people to go about choosing positive values to live by?
Sharpen the spiritual life. Learn to think in the transcendent sphere, where you are operating in the spiritual plane, and God can communicate to you through ideas, where you will begin to hear God speak through feelings, and the feelings will be a message coming to you. They will be positive messages like "Do something" or "Be something." Think of another world, that's the whole point.
I think so, I really do. I don't know what it would be like to have optimism without some kind of faith. I think we are designed to be spiritual creatures. There's no way for spirituality to enter into this thing made of bones, meat, hair, and blood unless there is a faith system that can allow thoughts and feelings to come in, even when we cannot touch or feel or hear the voice of, let's say, God.
We are designed to be faith creatures. But faith is not a spiritual thing. It is a force, not a value. The spirituality comes in the values that we pump into faith. Faith is a pipeline. It can flow in health, in terms of water or oxygen, or it can be filled with poison. What values do you pour through there?
Have you always taken the optimistic view of life?
I think so. I was born and raised in an environment [of] a very strong Christian family. I was taught there is a God, no debate about it, and we can pray to Him, and He will guide us. I was 4 years and 11 months old when I made the decision to become a preacher, added it to my prayers, and that took care of the next 20 years of education. All my life, I have been a faith-directed, assumption-managed person, and I make decisions based on assumption. And I've had a phenomenal life, and still am having a phenomenal life.
What do you do when you have moments of doubt?
I don't believe I have moments of doubt. I may have moments when I don't have an exciting belief that something wonderful is definitely going to happen. If I had that assurance, I suppose faith wouldn't be necessary. But I'm a goal-managed person, and I keep my eyes on my goals, and they keep me alive and enthusiastic.
Is there ever a time when you think a person should give up on something that they dream of? Don't things just sometimes not work out?
I think so. That's why if I didn't believe in a divine God to illuminate and manage me, I don't think I could live.
So when a person does fail at something that they cared about, what do you advise them to do next?
Well, get a new dream, get a new goal. We have to be project-controlled people. And every human being needs a project, even if it's nothing more than planning who you're going to have lunch with today. If we don't have a project that compels us, we're going to be depressed, defeated, and lose enthusiasm for life. It's natural.
How did you react when your friend, longtime Crystal Cathedral orchestral leader Johnnie Carl, committed suicide in December? Did that affect your faith?
[Unfortunately] Johnnie had a tendency to despair, despondency, and depression because of the mental sickness that he lived with all his life. I hired him 30 years ago. We found out he had this mental problem, and we were led to believe that we should probably not keep him on the payroll because he might do something damaging to himself or others. But we believed in his gifts, his abilities, and we did the right thing and kept him on for 28 years. And what he did was phenomenal.
Do you have a favorite or most meaningful prayer that you might like to recite?
Yes I do.
I often pray that prayer. That means that I'm observant of people that are going to encroach upon my path or encounter me along the way. The Lord's leading me to the person He wants to speak to through my life today. It's amazing how that changes one's attitude toward people that are coming down the sidewalk.
A funny thing happened the first time I was remembering it, actually I was driving my car, trying to memorize it, and I saw a red light behind me and a siren. I was pulled over. I was driving over the speed limit. The first person I met was a cop. Lord, lead me to the person you want to speak to through my life today. Isn't that great?