01 October 2012

Craig Groeschel Preaches at Harvest Bible Chapel

By now, it probably does not surprise one to discover that James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel find themselves inviting questionable pastors to fill the pulpit when MacDonald is away. Perhaps the greatest example of this was when The Steven Furtick Show Played at Harvest Bible Chapel last year. MacDonald has been on his Vertical Church tour since August, and this past weekend provided another opportunity to invite a guest speaker to preach to the multiple Harvest congregations. So who was behind Door #1? A man who James MacDonald refers to as his "dearest friend," Pastor Craig Groeschel of Lifechurch.tv.

Groeschel has been highlighted here before, most notably when he was a featured speaker at Steven Furtick's Code Orange Revival. Lifechurch.tv is the largest church in America and boasts an extensive Internet presence. Most likely due to the immense success of this empire, Groeschel is greatly admired in leadership circles. He recently spoke at the World Leaders Conference, and he has been featured in the past at Bill Hybels' Global Leadership Summit. He also will take the stage next month at Mark Driscoll's 2012 Resurgence Conference.

Superstar Steven Furtick often can be heard naming Groeschel as "my pastor," and so it seems that the Lifechurch.tv leader even is a pastor to pastors.  Suffice it to say that Groeschel's name is one of the regulars that we find appearing alongside one another as a new, ecumenical, evangelical magisterium appears to be forming. It likely should not surprise us, then, to learn that James MacDonald invited this influential man to preach to his congregation.

Due to the wonders of technology, Craig Groeschel preached via video to all of Harvest's campuses, gracing not one Harvest stage with his presence. Preaching from Mark 2, and the story of Jesus' healing of a paralytic, Groeschel entitled his message "Bringing People to Christ." He claimed that MacDonald asked him to speak on this passage, and later in the sermon we learn that MacDonald also asked him to share with his flock the ways in which Lifechurch.tv brings people to Jesus. Knowing this, perhaps the following statistics do not surprise:

*"Attempting to explain the text" is not equivalent to accurately interpreting and teaching the text.
We know from the Code Orange Revival Recap that Craig Groeschel likes to talk about himself. This sermon was no exception. As can be noted from the pie chart above (which is based on approximate numbers), over 50% of Groeschel's sermon consisted of narcissistic storytelling. To be fair, some of this also consisted of talking about Lifechurch.tv or Harvest, but the majority of time spent outside of the biblical text was spent on stories about Craig Groeschel.

The reader also will notice that the time spent in the biblical text was spent either reading the passage or "kinda-sorta attempting to explain the text." This description is used because the teaching of the text was...well, lacking.

Of course, even this writer could say a hearty "Amen" to such declarations as, "We are not good people," and, "Until we see ourselves as sinners we can never see our need for a Savior." Commendation is owed to Groeschel for speaking those truths. Their presence, however, does not overshadow the remaining narcissism.

Based on Mark 2:1–12 and using the paralytic's friends as a model, Groeschel attempted to share various characteristics of people who bring others to Jesus. For the sake of time and space, we will not walk step-by-step through this sermon in this particular forum. Astute and discerning readers who have the time may listen and test Groeschel's words against Scripture for themselves. Some may even glance at the chart above and think, "Well, he spoke almost half the time about the biblical text, that ought to count for something!" Yet, let us think: should a pastor be spending more than half of his sermon talking about himself? Do you go to church to learn about Jesus or to learn about your pastor's bar stories? Do you go to church to have God's Word opened, taught rightly and thus to see Jesus exalted? Or do you wake up Sunday morning hoping that your pastor will tell that story about how your church purchased Google ads with inappropriate catch words so that people searching for those words will suddenly find themselves bombarded with ads for "church online" (see about 30 minutes into the sermon)?

Craig Groeschel is fond of saying that Lifechurch.tv will "do anything short of sin" to bring people to Jesus. This not surprisingly elicits applause and affirmation from his audiences. It appears that any excuse for over-the-top relevance is sufficient in these circles. We see this time and again in the narcissistic preaching of seeker-driven pastors, and the man-centered, secular entertainment that is on display week after week in these "churches." And lest one argue that Craig Groeschel is different, and that Lifechurch.tv is not like those other churches, then how can this recent performance of "Gangsta's Paradise" at Lifechurch.tv be explained?

Of course, this is a weak attempt at relevance, unless one's definition of the word includes a poor cover of a rap song from 1995.

So this is type of influence, apparently, that James MacDonald and the elders of Harvest wish to unleash on their church and congregation. But narcissistic preaching and worldly entertainment do not a successful church make. At least not by the standard of the One Who matters.

Pastors are called to preach the Word of God without compromise or gimmicks and in spite of fads or intimidation. While anecdotes and illustrations can be helpful, should they comprise the bulk of a message? Clever tales that elevate self do not save lost souls. The Word of God, and Jesus Christ revealed through the proclamation of the Word, that is what draws lost sinners by the power of the Holy Spirit. Did Jesus command shepherds to teach about themselves, or about Him and all that He taught? Did the apostles seek to point people to themselves or to Christ?
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. (2 Corinthians 4:1-5)
preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:2-4)
There are many who still attend Harvest Bible Chapel each week who know that it has begun a seemingly unstoppable tumble down the slippery slope. There are many who attend each week who remain oblivious, who trust their pastor to a fault, and eagerly gobble up whatever food he offers them. To the latter (who probably are not reading this blog) I would say, pray for wisdom, discernment, and eyes and ears to see and hear what God's Word says, not man's. To the former, I offer this admonishment: check your heart. Ensure that your motives for remaining are glorifying to God and are not instead nursing a grudge or feeding resentment. Desire and seek instead to be fed a healthy portion of God's Word rightly divided, for this is much easier to swallow than growing bitterness. 
Itching ears and unfaithful shepherds are not a new phenomenon in the visible church. So long as mutual ego-feeding exists, they will persist. But those who have been called out, granted ears to hear and eyes to see ought not participate in that feast. Far better, friends, is the banquet of the unshakable Word of God.

Further Reading
Prophet-leader Craig Groeschel and an Evangelical Gangsta's Paradise
Apologist and Radio Host Chris Rosebrough Calls for Mark Driscoll to Repent
The Resurgence Reminds Us of the Piper-Warren Embrace


  1. so, essentially a person who holds different than yours, preached a sermon with a few things you disagree with, at a church you don't attend.

    Oh no, whatever will we do.


    1. Anonymous,

      ~there is no (private interpretation) of Scripture-2 Peter 1:20. This means any church, or any preacher, or teacher who think they are somehow exempt including yours. That is what the Holy Spirit said through Peter. Men spoke as they were carried along by the Spirit. And since Paul relates what Jesus did, that it is (the Spirit), and (not men) who interpret spiritual things to the spiritual, (anyone), other than the Holy Spirit interpreting the Word of God, is an invalid source.

      Jesus makes it clear that the Father's word, and Jesus spoke only what the Father spoke, and is directly communicated to the individual by the Spirit of Truth-The Holy Spirit.

      Even Jesus said to Peter that it was (NOT MAN) who revealed the truth to anyone, but the Father.

      So please stop defending people who are "raping" the bible with their narcissism

  2. @Anonymous - You would sit silent while people preached things that are not biblical? Remember Spurgeon said "Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between what is right and wrong; rather, it is the difference between right and almost right."

    We should express concern because the popularity of people like this are influencing many. The people mentioned above have not just "preached a sermon with a few things you disagree with" but many sermons, and even written books that, essentially, promote the self instead of the biblical view of dying to self. Jesus pointed everything He taught to Himself, Paul preached Christ crucified and pointed to Christ constantly ("For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." 1 Cor 2:"), yet may preachers will point to themselves or encourage us to point to ourselves, and these two are a case in point.

    I'll bet that these people have never preached on the 'goodness and the severity of God', as Ravenhill both said and preached... Of course, I'm humble to be prepared to be proved wrong.

  3. she gives no concrete examples. she gives no scriptural support. this blog post is 100% opinion.

    is that biblical?

    1. Anonymous,

      Anyone can listen to the sermon for him or herself - it is linked multiple times above. For the sake of time and space no, I did not clip out segments of the video in order to address every issue within the sermon. If I had, I suspect I would then be accused of taking things out of context, so either way I'm stuck.

      This primarily was meant as an FYI for those concerned about the recent actions taken by Harvest Bible Chapel. Apparently you did not benefit from it. That's okay.

    2. @ AnonymousOctober 1, 2012 6:21 PM

      Yes, it is BIBLICAL for Erin took time to listen and probably watch Groeschel. Have you? Yes, let me ask you straight: DID YOU ACTUALLY LISTEN TO THE ENTIRE Groeschel's "sermon" before you accused EBenz with "just opinion" charge??? I think we both know the answer so here is a remedy for you... the actual sermon: http://bit.ly/LOqACy
      And yes I did listen and did watch MacDonald's best friend and EBenz is right on the target.

    3. I watched the whole thing, yes.

      I found it pretty solid.

      Erin didn't give ONE SINGLE biblical point. just personal opinion.

    4. @ AnonymousOctober 1, 2012 10:08 PM

      She does not have to. She can expect a certain level of discernment in her readers. Can't she??? Well I give you ONE example out of Groeschel's trance like narcissistic self massage his talk is repleted with. Just listen and watch how great of a guy Craig Groeschel really is between 18:35 and 21:20 culminated with a "toast to pastor Craig" fanfare at 21:05... If this is not a classic example of self-aggrandizing, self promoting and self glorification and one of so many done by Groeschel then I do not know what possibly can be. Now do compare Groeschel's self-trance with this Apostolic teaching and practice:

      "For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake." ~ 2 Corinthians 4:5

      See the difference? Really? Then think again.

  4. but if the FYI is based on opinion and circular reasoning with no biblical support, it seems impossible for anyone to 'benefit' from it.

    1. @ AnonymousOctober 1, 2012 6:56 PM

      BTW, did you listen and watch to Groeschel's talk? Did you?

    2. Anonymous,

      I've offered support against narcissistic preaching. I'm not sure what more you can ask for beyond Paul's declaration to "know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified." As for circular reasoning, well, I've not seen you offer examples of this.

      As I said, it was not my intent to walk step-by-step and minute-by-minute through this sermon. Others may do that in a forum more conducive to the practice. And yet, if I had done this, would it have swayed your opinion of my opinion? I suspect not.

  5. I was there and she is 100% right. This was no sermon. It was an objectionabe comedy routine and I regret that my children heard it. What garbage is being brought into God's house.

    1. I don't know how old your children are. I have a pre-teen that I was able to discuss the "message" with afterwards. At first she said he did a "pretty good job". When I asked her what she learned it began to make her think. We were able to discuss the amount of time he spent in God's Word (or lack of it)and the fact that although his stories may be amusing, what did they tell us about him and what he believes? She was then able to process on her own some things that had seemed "off" to her young mind as she had listened...such as the story where the "bloto drunk" man "led himself" to Christ. We also discussed the end of the story where the lost souls were drinking to "pastor Greg" and how pleased he was with his outcome...the same lost souls sitting around getting drunk. Nobody saved. He said it took him several years before he shared Christ with that man. Several years.
      Now before anyone gets on me for still going to Harvest--I have my reasons. I just wanted to share a way that THIS mother tries to use what we hear to inoculate against poor preaching and to teach discernment. Look around. These kids are going to need it.

  6. Two things mentioned in this post are:

    “Craig Groeschel is fond of saying that Lifechurch.tv will "do anything short of sin" to bring people to Jesus.”

    “…pastor will tell that story about how your church purchased Google ads with inappropriate catch words just to trick people into finding "church online" (see about 30 minutes into the sermon)?”

    Is the “anything short of sin” approach acceptable in the life of a Christian according to the scriptures? Purchasing internet ads with inappropriate (i.e. sinful/tempting) catch words, with the objective of “tricking” people; is this a pure and honest way to proclaim the gospel? Is this a trustworthy way to spend financial gifts given by people for the glory of God? Should a pastor be teaching and bragging about these things? No.

    These are specific examples of error and bad teaching, leading the flock astray.

    We are to be holy, for the LORD is holy. We are to conduct ourselves throughout our lives and ministries in fear of the LORD, knowing we were redeemed with the precious blood of Christ. Sincerely, Carol

    1 Peter 1:15-19 (NKJV)

    15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” 17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.

  7. Hoping The Pirate gets hold of this one over at fightingforthefaith.com.

  8. Here it is... the "Vertical Church." What's going vertical? The numbers of rear-ends in seats. It used to be that James would tell a story how every once in a while the leadership at Harvest would decide that it was time for an "Operation Crowd Reduction" Sunday. This would mostly include a strong message that confronted sin and made a serious call to discipleship accompanied by all of its costs being clearly spelled out. Sadly, I think those days are long gone. There's a new definition of what it means to be "vertical," and as much as it may be denied, the actions and associations of JM clearly show that to him "vertical" simply means that the attendance numbers are soaring.

    Listen to this introduction of Craig Groeschel by James MacDonald. What impresses him the most about Craig? The fact that he pastors the "largest church in America."


  9. How about this -- let us all be as discerning in our own truth to Scripture, abiding in our Lord's words in our own thoughts, actions, decisions, opinions and observations. What is our assignment as Christians -- is it not to make disciples of all nations. So, as I asked Rich on his FB post about this, to whom have you shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with in the last day or week? Are you working for the Kingdom or working to cause division? No question, discussion like this has merit, but of little worth if opinion and comment come from people who are Christians in noun form only, not verb Christians ACTUALLY walking with Christ in deed, action AND word, carrying it to the lost! Col 1:28: "Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily." This, my friends, was the core of Pastor Groeschel's message at Harvest. No one commenting here, not even Rich, has mentioned this -- the most important message for our ears and all critics seemed to have simply ignored it, focusing on other matters instead.

    1. Jim Leman~

      2Cr 4:5 For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake.

      I don't know much about Groeschel except from what I've read about him on this site. But if Furtick embracing Groeschel is any indication of what he espouses- I would more than likely conclude that birds of a feather flock together applies.

      Furtick preaches himself--the narcissistic gospel. I've heard and watched plenty enough of Furtick to know what he espouses and it's false. As one Christian stated to which I agree-"The gospel he(Furtick) preaches is not the gospel found in the Scripture. It is man centered. Nothing of repentance, maybe a little sin here and there but nothing that would drive a person to their knees crying out to God for mercy. No regeneration, no wrath, nothing of the holiness of God. It is devoid of anything that means anything."~

      Sure they can read the bible but so can Satan. Certainly, they can sprinkle Jesus Christ here and there and give a plethora of truth and a smattering of error-- but who in their right mind would ever take a chance in drinking a cup that is 99% water and 1% cyanide?

      Those who leave the straight and narrow are the ones causing divisions- not those of us who expose the fruitless deeds of darkness" as the bible commands us to do.

      it just never ceases to amaze me and at the same time grieve me for the gullible and the innocent that those who defend people teaching error never seem to (OOPS) remember - the Scriptural mandates that we are to "watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them."-Romans 16:17, and we ARE commanded to "Expose the deeds of darkness"-Ephesians 5:11

      We are to be faithful to the WHOLE counsel of God's word

      You know, it takes lots of maturity to know the difference between "contending for the faith delivered once for all to the saints" (Jude 3) and "stirring up division." (Titus 3:10)And it also takes a lot of maturity to see that true Unity among the body of Christ is unity in the TRUTH not unity in error at the expense of truth..

      Sincerely in Christ, Linda

  10. Martin Luther said "The true distinguishing mark of false teachers is that they direct the attention of their listeners to themselves and their lives instead of to Christ, as St. John here does and testifies. Praise God, that is what we and others are doing. For all our sermons have this goal: that you and we may know and believe that Christ alone is the one Savior and Comfort of the world, the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls [1 Peter 2:25], just as the Gospel everywhere directs people to Christ and as John does in his testimony. That is why we never attempt to attract people to ourselves but instead lead them to Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life [John 14:6]. On the other hand, all those who do not preach and testify about Christ but about themselves are false teachers."

    "On John 1:7-8," Walch 7:1466, 1479f. Cf. AE 22:60f.; WA 46:538-571; Aland 316, Pr. 1752]

    Quoted by Walther, "Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Synod," translated by Everette Meier, from At Home in the House of My Fathers by Matt Harrison

  11. First of all, I have read your blog for a while and have really enjoyed it, and agree with what you write most of the time. I haven't listened to the message Craig gave at Harvest, so I can not speak to that.

    I have attended LifeChurch.tv for a while and don't have the same feeling you do about Craig being narcissistic. Yes, he tells stories about personal experience to illustrate his point, but it is not the "Craig show".

    I have attended many megas and have seen narcissism to the highest level, and just haven't seen that at LifeChurch. In fact, Craig seems to be very humble. The only problem I have with him is his association with James MacDonald and Steven Furtick, and that DISGUSTS me!

    I am sorry that he is being linked with these other pastors, but you are judged by the company you keep!

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      First, thank you for the respectful tone of your comment, even though you disagree on certain points.

      I appreciate your indignation over the association of your pastor with some of these men. It's an encouragement to see that, in spite of the high profile celebrity of your pastor, you still acknowledge these concerns and do not blindly step in line with all that he does or those he promotes.

      I respect your disagreement with me on Groeschel's tendency to preach narcissistic sermons. I simply ask that, when we walk away from church on Sunday (or Saturday, I guess, for some), what is it we remember most about the message? Is it something we learned about Jesus and the biblical text, or something we learned about the pastor? When we glean lessons and applications from the sermon, are those rooted in the biblical text, or in a funny anecdote relayed by the pastor? I take no issue with a personal story here and there, but when the bulk of a sermon is comprised of personal storytelling, then that sermon ultimately is not pointing us to Jesus Christ.

  12. So I am supposed to be impressed because Craig Groeschel goes into bars to witness to people he describes as "wasted"? Are you kidding? Have you guys ever heard of Voice of the Martyrs?

  13. Yes, I have attended and tithed and served at HBC for many years. Reference some old notes from 8-10 years ago and you will see filled pages and bulletin inserts of points and application. Now compare them to whatever notes you may be taking, and it is probably filled with stories and small catch phrases appropriate for a bumper sticker or tweet.

    Any one of us who has attended a recent sales meeting or conference knows how familiar the PERFORMANCES (not preaching) are at Harvest. What is sad and alarming is that our church has become more like our business model seminars and conferences and less about worship of Christ alone and discipleship. The advertisements claim to examine the Bible verse by verse, but what is delivered is a ‘Bait and Switch’ and a stretch of an interpretation supported by testimonials like a slick info-mercial. Instead of knowing Christ through the exposition of Scripture and worship, we are suckered and settle for the inspiring personality of our busy (on tour) and personable pastor (from a screen). It is an attempt to “fire us up” with emotion and no substance so that we buy the product (the James MacDonald ministry). We can be part of a satisfied customer base and meet each week to refuel the passion for the product. We can tell our friends how easy it is to listen to our pastor, instead of how we must count the cost of following the Christ. But our efforts to bring more people into the marketing scheme of selling the Harvest ministry in the name of Christ (Matthew 7:15-23) is no more than a pyramid scheme. Whatever happened to the correct interpretation of John 2 regarding consumerism in the church?

    Even as some would argue that the sermon this past week was (partly) fruitful, they would have to admit that Groeschel’s message was laced with verbal endorsements for Pastor James while ignoring his questionable actions and direction. We were exhorted to “laugh” when we are called a MEGA church because we are “really a MICRO church”. First, this is ridiculous. We ARE a mega church and growing. Second, no one is accusing and finding fault by writing articles about us being a megachurch. Many are saddened and confused and angry about the distortion of the true Gospel and the church, and they are writing about THAT. If anyone is referring critically to a megachurch, it is that we are being compared to the Jim and Tammy show of the ’80’s.

    Groeschel summarized the action points of the message to be about loving people and teaching the Word. But it seems the ultimate goal is to bring people to church not intriduce them to the Savior and message of the Gospel. How else can you explain why we listened to 40 minutes about the actions of 4 men and not about their faith or about the Savior/Healer. I would challenge those who want to defend the messages of Pastor James and/or Groeschel as being exalting to Christ to count the number of references to James vs. Jesus and the amount of time spent talking about building the Harvest kingdom vs. God’s. Do the cute stories refer to the ministry and the person instead of our God? The evidence will be lop sided.

    J Crane

  14. Has anyone else noticed that JM uses the word "manifestation" in his speech, writings, tweets...since TD Jakes and ER2?

  15. Maybe Oprah will speak at Harvest soon. This man is a fraud.

  16. I don't know about oprah but I fully expect to see Joel Osteen at Harvest. And I am not kidding.

  17. I brought my concerns about TD Jakes to a Harvest "elder" after church one Sunday. He used the technique that I have read about that Mega-churches use with their congregations...This elder send up a "balloon". An idea (ostensibly of the pastors) that he thought might provoke a reaction, but desiring to "test the waters" of the congregation for the pastor. He asked me what I would think if Joel Osteen was a guest at an elephant room. I am certain it will come to pass...


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