The importance of having integrity and defining one's identity through Christ are some of the topics discussed in a new book by Craig Groeschel, senior pastor of an Edmond-based megachurch with multiple satellite sites.
Groeschel, 45, is founder of LifeChurch.tv, which now includes numerous satellite campuses across Oklahoma and in other states. He recently talked with The Oklahoman about his book “Altar Ego: Becoming Who God Says You Are.”
The text of the interview has been edited for space purposes.
Q: What does it mean for someone to have an “altar ego”?
A: Obviously the word “alter” is spelled “a-l-t-a-r,” so what we're trying to do is recognize that our ego is our belief system about ourselves. So many of us have an inaccurate view of ourselves. What we're trying to do is lay down who we think are on the altar — to sacrifice who we think we are — to become what God says we are. I'm really trying to help people learn what their identity is in Christ, not their identity based on what other people say or how they feel but on who God says they are.
Q: What made you decided to write this book at this particular time?
A: You know, in so many ways this book is about my own internal struggles. Before I was a Christian, I really didn't like myself. I know so many people who just really struggle with low self-esteem, so rather than just make them feel better about themselves, I want to help them replace the lies they believe with the truth of God's word, so they can live a life that really matters and be fulfilled in all they do.
Q: What are some of the labels you had to overcome years ago in order to have more of an “altar ego”?
A: A bunch of them. One, I was a party guy and wild, so to believe that God could use me to do something significant, that was a big step of faith. I had to unlearn and overcome what others thought of me. The first time someone called me pastor, I almost fell over and said I'm not worthy — don't call me that.
I talked to my pastor and he said something I love. He said one day you'll grow into that name. That meant a lot to me. Also in the book, I tell some funny stories about being a tightwad, just being scared to death of not having enough and not being generous at all. God empowered us as a church to give away as much as we can. That overflowed into my life personally to try to live well below our means to try and give sacrificially to make a difference in different places in the world.
That meant a lot to me to overcome the title of being one who was not generous to become, with God's help, someone who is more generous.
Q: What obstacles do you think most often stand in the way when people begin to define their identity?
A: So many people, their identity is based on what others have said or how they feel about themselves, and so it can be something so small. A teacher tells a third-grader “you're not good at math,” and all of sudden for the rest of their lives, that person believes, “I'm never going to be good at math.” They internalize one statement and build a belief system around it. Or someone says “You're kind of pudgy. You're kind of fat” to a little kid, and suddenly they internalize and believe that's always how they are going to be. I'm hoping that this book helps people to see that they are believing things that are either not true about themselves or they may be true today but they don't have to be true tomorrow. With God's help, we can overcome labels and become someone new and different.
Q: Why is there a need for people to know their true identity?
A: Because so many people are trying to live a life that they think others want them to live. Internally, there's a tension of knowing this isn't who I really am. I'm performing for the expectations of others. I'm hoping that we can help people to see where the inconsistencies are between their values and behaviors. If we can align our values with God's values and then our behaviors are borne out of those beliefs, then we can really live a wholly integrated life where our actions and our values are consistent. There's just fulfillment in that.
Q: You used the term “integrity deficit.” What does that mean?
A: Unfortunately, many people would agree there's an “integrity deficit” in society today. You know it because people are more shocked when someone does something with integrity than they are when the opposite occurs. We are so used to leaders in our society doing the wrong thing. In fact, people almost expect it now, which is tragic. I read a story yesterday about a street person giving back a diamond ring that he had found and that was big news because he did the right thing. With this book, hopefully it can help people align their beliefs with their behavior. There's a difference between reputation and integrity. Reputation is who others think we are, and integrity is who we really are. If I have integrity, then what I say will line up with what I do and my private life will be consistent with my public life.