In a wide-ranging interview with the Christian Examiner in advance of the 20th anniversary of his first Harvest Crusade in Anaheim, evangelist and pastor Greg Laurie delved into a variety of topics beyond his stadium outreaches. Below are a few excerpts from what he said about his upbringing, his conversion to Christ and the use of technology for evangelism.
His mother was married seven times and spent portions of her life living with other men. Laurie bounced around living with her, his grandparents and aunt, and others. For a time he attended a military school. He found out years later that his mother lied to him about whom his biological dad was and that he was born out of wedlock:
"It was a very unstable upbringing and because of the way I was raised, I learned at a very early age to fend for myself, think for myself, to be a person to make his own way in life because I didn't really have any adult role models helping me.
"It was disconcerting to think that I was never planned. I wondered if I was even wanted. I'm thankful my mom didn't have an abortion, obviously, but I look back and I realized even though I was unplanned by mom and the man she was involved with, I was planned by God and He always had a plan for my life.
"I don't think there are any unwanted children. In other words, I think God wants to have a relationship with all of us. Maybe some are unwanted by their parents, but I certainly don't think there are any illegitimate children, perhaps illegitimate parents. Every child is legitimate and deserves to live."
When I grow up
As a child, faith was not a reality, so becoming a pastor was the last thing on his mind:
"When I was a kid my two aspirations in life were to be a graphic designer/cartoonist or to, of all things, own a pet store because I really loved animals. The last thing I ever thought I would be would be a public speaker."
A reluctant convert
As a teen, Laurie said he was smitten with a girl at his high school. Knowing she was a Christian, he showed up to a Bible study on the front lawn of the school and watched her from a distance:
"The last thing that I intended on doing in that day in 1970 was to become a Christian. I wasn't really exploring the Christian faith. I had become disillusioned with my life, I knew the life that I was living was empty. For me it was like a process of elimination. I knew what the answer wasn't, I just didn't know what the answer was.
"I sat far enough away where I wouldn't be thought of as part of the group, which was social suicide, yet close enough to hear what was being said."
While monitoring her, he also watched the other teens in the group and was struck with their contentment and joy:
"Something clearly that I didn't have. I began to try out, for the first time in my mind, what if Jesus Christ really is alive? What if he could change a life and what if he could change someone like me? And immediately as I thought that, I began to say to myself, 'But it would never work for you. You are not the religious type, this is only for certain people, kind of the goodie-two-shoes types, not someone like you that is cynical and hard.'"
He realized that some of the young men in the gathering used to hang and party with Greg. Then one of the young men made a statement that stuck with him:
"'Jesus said you are either for me or against me,' and I looked around at all these other Christians and I thought, well, they are definitely for Him. They are followers of Jesus and I'm not one of them. Does that mean I'm against Him? I didn't want to be against Jesus. I just didn't know that He could be known personally."
Laurie's first sensed a call to evangelism during a 1971 Billy Graham crusade:
"When I saw Billy do what he did it began to dawn on me that I felt was being called to be an evangelist, and I remember thinking I would never be able to reach the amount of people that Billy reached, or have a stadium full, but it was the first sense that I had that this is something I should do as well, which is preach the gospel.
"To this day I love to teach the Bible and see people grow spiritually, but there is no question that the Lord put on my heart a call to bring the gospel to my generation and to be a voice to bring the gospel to a generation."
Laurie was among the first to use a live Web cast for his sermons. His online broadcasts of the Harvest Crusades have reached more than 300,000 people. A recent video posting on Facebook of Laurie making pancakes with his granddaugher was among one of the more popular on his page:
"I don't think we have to be afraid of technology. It's what we do with it. I don't think we have to be obsessed with it or preoccupied. At the same time nor should we ignore it. I say employ it, utilize it to reach more people. Let's respond to that technology and get the message of the gospel to people as quickly as we can.
On the future
Even with the demands of pastoring a megachurch, Laurie loves to do the Harvest Crusades, so retirement is not on the horizon:
"I expect I'll keep doing this until I can't do it any longer, but we're grateful to God that He's continued to open doors of opportunity for us."