Louie Giglio (LG) pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, Georgia and founder of the Passion movement was recently in South Africa to launch his two latest books: Not Forsaken, on the topic of fatherlessness and his second children’s book, How Great is Our God: 100 Indescribable Devotions About God and Science.
Giglio was also in the country to speak at a recent Hillsong Men’s Conference at the church’s Cape Town and Pretoria branches.
During a chat with Gateway News reporter Neziswa Kanju (NK) about his books, Giglio shared candidly about fatherlessness, his own relationship with his father and about his struggles with depression and anxiety [Also see http://gatewaynews.co.za/louie-giglio-implores-church-to-talk-about-depression-mental-illness/.]
On ‘Not Forsaken’
LG: The book is about how we relate to God. The main thrust is to help all people, no matter whether they had a great relationship with their father or no relationship at all, to see that God wants to be known as a perfect father. A lot of the time we know that He is almighty. We know that He is sovereign. We know that He is a king and Lord but what Jesus taught us above all is that God is a Father.
The message of the book is to help all of us come to know Him in a personal way as love sons and love daughters of a perfect Father. The hurdle for a lot of people is that they didn’t have a good relationship with their father and therefore, when they hear that God is a perfect Father, they do not know how to relate to God in that way, so they cannot trust in that way. He is everything that you wanted your earthly father to be and more.
NK: How would you explain somebody who has grown up in a Christian home, who knows God as Father, who is very involved with His work, who then commits suicide?
LG: There is an epidemic in the Church and around the world of people of different ages who feel isolated and who feel hopeless. I think that a lot of it is mental illness that has multifaceted causes. I believe that there is a spirit of suicide that is moving very powerfully in the world right now and that preys on loneliness and isolation. Fear, anger and mental illness that people face ultimately leads them to the conclusion that the only way to get rid of this pain or this loneliness is to leave this life.
What God wants to say to people is that sometimes on earth there is pain but I want to walk through the pain with you. This is the message that the Church needs to push forward — that you do not have to pretend. When you walk through the doors of the Church, if you are lonely, if you are isolated if you thinking of suicide, if you are mentally ill or depressed, you should say where you are. And you should know that you will not be shamed or judged.
NK: There are many who feel isolated even in the Church. They feel judged as if they do not measure up to all the expectations of what a good Christian is. They do not feel comfortable enough to share that they are lonely — that they are depressed, and yes they sometimes feel like ending it all. What if one feels judged?
LG: If you are, then you need to find another community of faith. God does heal. He does do miracles. He is powerful but we want to recognise that we are living in a broken planet. We have to give people time to heal. Sometimes the miracle takes a moment. The Church needs to give grace to people and not let them stay where they are but encourage them to move on into what God has for them.
NK: Tell me about your relationship with your own dad how was that?
LG: He was fantastic, he loved me and my sister. He did everything he could to provide a good life for us. I learned at the end of my dad’s life that he felt abandoned by his father — in fact, he was abandoned by his father. When he was little both his mom and dad split up and he lived with an aunt and a grandmother. He was passed around with different relatives. My dad became ill at the end of his life and he told me that he never felt loved or wanted in his life and of course as a son that is something that you do not expect to hear from your parents.
I started realising that my dad was living at a great deficit all of his life and given that, he was amazing but the trickle-down of that I can see playing out in his relationship with my mom, with me and my sister — not really having the capacity to understand emotionally what it took to be the person that I probably needed him to be in some way. He didn’t really have the same common ground of Jesus I wish we had had. He came from a Catholic Church. God was a faraway idea to him. Not Forsaken is really a story of my own dad how he struggled to believe that God could love him because of his experience with his own parents.
NK: You mention that there was a period, a season, you felt that he couldn’t reach you. You needed him more but he was not there…
LG: Well, I think that all men struggle with the same things — communication, vulnerability, admitting that we are wrong. But I think in my dad’s case it was an inability to know how to navigate difficult conversations. He was more prone to avoid things than to step into things. He avoided confrontation at all cost and so we would have “moments”, not so much big differences.
When Jesus worked in my life and when He called me into the ministry, I made a decision to become a preacher. These are the things that I could not talk to him about because he didn’t know. He didn’t know how to bridge that gap. Those were the biggest decisions I was making in my life. Decisions that were affecting everything about the direction of my life. For many years we didn’t talk about many of those things but there was no huge negative abuse or abandonment with my dad and my sister and me. He was a good dad and I think, given his circumstances, he was actually a great dad.
NK: Would you say then that most men that end their life or leave the Church do so because they are not understood, or because of an inability to express themselves — because “men don’t cry”. Would you say that is the reason that they would feel forsaken by God and even the Church?
LG: We feel forsaken for a lot of reasons. Every man has some work to do to let God break through the shell. Every one of us is a fallen human being who is a little bit short of God’s glory and plan for our lives. Men have a tendency to want to say: “I have it all together, I am good I can take care of it I don’t need help,” or on the positive side: “I am looking out for everybody else and I don’t need to worry about my own need. I am trying to make sure that everybody else has what they need” but all of us men are not in the same boat. We have to humble ourselves before the mighty hand of God, we have to admit that we need help. We have to admit we are weak and that God is able to do what we cannot do and we need to learn how to cry.
There is no rule in God’s economy that says a man cannot feel every range of emotion and we should. Jesus cried and if Jesus cried and He was a man then all men should cry at some point in their life and take the example of Jesus. God is reaching out to call men sons and to call women daughters and I think that this is the key to finding game-changing reality that all of us need.
NK: The Passion movement speaks to millions of young lives around the world. What is at the heart of it?
LG: The idea behind Passion is to see an awakening come, especially a spiritual awakening, around the idea that life is not about me but life is really about Jesus. Ultimate meaning comes when I live my life for Jesus and for His glory. His glory is eternal and my glory is very temporal. I can make my life count by living for the things that matter most. We have been gathering students to that end for 23 years now at events around the world, hoping that they go back to their churches, cities and campuses with the vision to see Jesus exalted, to see the Church strengthened, to see people come to know Jesus, to see oppressed lifted and the bound freed.
This is a unique calling of ours. I don’t know how it worked out but stadiums full of people show up which is not usual; it’s not normal.
NK: Tell me about your own conversion. Apparently you had a spiritual encounter at 2am one morning while a student at Georgia State University?
LG: I think I crossed over from really knowing a lot about God to really knowing God. And that was a process of a few years for me. I grew up in the Baptist Church pastored by Charles Stanley. I loved Jesus. I really wanted to live a life for Him but I was struggling with a lot of things that a lot of teenagers struggle with, which is “can I have my cake and eat it too?” Can I live in the Church and live in the world? Do I do what I want to do or do I do what God wants me to do? Everyone has to come to a crossroads and most people come to the crossroads when they are 18, 19, 20, 21. They have freedom if they are at university, they have the autonomy to be able to make their own decisions. Coming through that tunnel for me was really coming to decide: do I really believe the claims of Christ? I had to lay down wanting to do it my way and decide to do it His way and that is the decision I made at Georgia State University after a party. I was sober. I made the decision to follow Jesus and leave the results to Him.
On ‘How Great is Our God’
NK: Let’s talk about your children’s books. What prompted you to write for children? Most male pastors will write about leadership, marriage and you wrote children’s books about God and science. What was the motivation around that?
LG: Well partly the reason why I am here today is two messages I gave — one called Indescribable and the one called How Great is Our God. They took on a life of their own and it all started in South Africa. I had never been to South Africa. This was 15 years ago. The messages came out in America but all of a sudden, we started getting these massive orders for these big shipments to South Africa.
I tried to lay these messages down. I have preached these messages countless times all over the world. The kids love them. I said we have to turn these messages into a children’s book, somehow. I think the space where science and God meet is a very precious space.
God is the ultimate scientist. He made it all. How Great is our God is about showing kids everyday something phenomenal about creation, about the stars, or the plants or the human body or about animals or nature and then there is a parallel from that amazing thing to the God who made that amazing thing and to the God who made them to discover more the intricacies and the beauty of God’s creation.
Pastor Giglio’s television show is on every Tuesday at 7.30pm (SA time) on TBN Africa Channel 343