If you have read OPEN, the autobiography of Andre Agassi you just cannot help yourself not to like JP, the pastor who became the friend of the famous tennis player. Maybe friend is too an understatement.
The real deal of reading an autobiography of a living person is the opportunity of getting in touch with the characters from the book. After I lent the book to a friend of mine he told me he would like to talk to JP. I was eager too. As I am a curious person I wanted to know what JP is currently doing. I asked my friend if he would mind if I would approach the guy and the answer was no.
Producing music is what JP is doing and you can see the man enjoys it. But for me is not of much help. I had some questions which needed some answers. Being a Baptist Christian I could understand some of the temptations of the former pastor. Watching some top performers taking wrong paths triggered another questions. I was not sure what kind of answers I would get but the least thing I wanted was some diplomatic answers or politically correct ones. Which was not the case. It is a joy to share them with you.
Andre Agassi said that you did not want or pretend to be a pastor but just a guy who understand more the Bible and had some questions. How did you end up serving in that church?
When you follow your passion, there ends up being a lot of unintended consequences. I had a desire to communicate the Bible to people. I felt that so many of life’s answers, truths and inspiration were in its pages, but it was not always easily understood or applied well to today`s modern life. I made it a priority to learn the Bible and then try to build a bridge to people in today’s world and bring those two worlds together. I didn’t seek the limelight, I just enjoyed communicating, especially if it encouraged people. So I did become a pastor and began teaching. My hope was to have an informal gathering, no members, no denomination, just people studying together. But as things grew in number, you become a celebrity of sorts and people put you on a pedestal and consider you a role model and an example. This leads to intense scrutiny of your personal life. That’s the part I rebelled from, I felt unworthy of role model status and I was a very private person. At it’s height, I had nearly 7,000 people and I wanted a lower profile. So when Andre wanted me to mentor him or put me in that Pastor position, I was honest. I said I’m a teacher and communicator but not a leader. Let’s just be friends.
Please share with us some milestones in your life which changed the course of it?
The thing I am best known for is writing a song that became popular in Christian music. I had first given a Bible study on the parable of the Prodigal Son. Lost kid, runs away from home, squanders his life and wonders if dad would take him back even though he was such a mess. Well, the father not only took him back, it says when he saw his son a long way off coming home, he ran to him and threw his arms around him. I realized that this story that Jesus told was made to let us know we could always come home to God, regardless of how far down we are. Then I realized that Jesus said the father ‘ran’ to his son. Even though it was a story or metaphor, it was the only time in the Bible where God ran. He is never afraid, he’s not late. He is pictured on his throne as King. But when we screw up our lives and reach out, he ‘runs’ to meet us. That truth resonated with a ton of people so when I got a call to write some songs for a friend’s upcoming record, I put the Bible study I gave to music. It’s called „When God Ran”. Knowing that that song has touched millions of people around the world for so many years is the one thing that I’m so appreciative of.
Reading Open, we find, for some surprisingly, Andre attending a church for more than 6 months sitting in the back of it. Usually when a high profile figure attends a church there is a temptation from that church’s leaders to approach this guy, to put him the spotlight and make this issue public in order to attract more people. What made to have a totally different approach?
You are right, and that happened to Andre two or three times before he came through our doors. A pastor actually made him stand up and get a round of applause. He was mortified. Three things here.
First, I hated fame myself, I craved privacy and valued it in others. I wanted him to be able to duck in late, leave early, and if he ever wanted to talk, he could reach out to me, if not, I thought, leave him alone.
Second, my church was in Las Vegas, the entertainment capital, as it’s called. So we had stars that were performing on the strip coming every week. Singers, comedians, actors, we even held a special service at 2:00 PM Sunday for all the casino people so they could sleep in after working late. So after almost every service there was a celebrity or two that would come up and say hi. You just learn to take it in stride.
Third, and for me the most important. If there’s going to be a star or a center of attention, I think it should be God. I’m not comfortable with the superstar Pastor or big personalities in the church. I think we should all recognize each others humble status and let God shine more than man.
We can notice a certain pattern to top performers either they are musicians, sportsmen, racers, etc. The more talented or strong they are in their area of expertise, the more vulnerable they are in their personal or private life. What chances are for them to succeed and stay in the top in the long run, having a balanced life, without a team of real friends to support them?
They say, if you want to see a man’s character, let him succeed. It destroys many people. I think there is one trait that protects people in the storm of success and that is being accountable. Having people that you trust tell you the truth is a valuable hedge against coming off the rails. It’s so difficult to get it right in every area. Some of my heroes, politicians and other leaders for example, have been poor Fathers. Many beloved givers and great thinkers are just mean spirited toward their staff. We’re so uneven in living out our values. And if you keep your roots planted in truth, reality, and good faithful friends, you can sustain your life’s work without burning out or getting confused about your place in life. Men like to conquer but they don’t like to reign. We’re better at starting things than in running the long race well.
You seem to enjoy a low profile but I also don’t imagine you as an yesman, therefore are you entitled to be proactive in giving guidance or even rebuke when you see a wrong attitude or habit at a star? What are the boundaries of involvement here?
All of my friendships are deeply encouraging in nature but brutally honest as well. We all count on it like the air we breath. Typically people don’t think of men having deep, personal, vulnerable relationships with each other. But my friends and I don’t know any other way. I don’t think it comes in the way of criticism very often though, we are mutually trying to grow and evolve and we’re there for each other holding up a mirror and discussing our challenges and trying to share a bit of wisdom with each other.
Do you believe in big visions or in small steps of faith guiding you to bigger things?
I always think big. I like bold ideas. I want to leave a deep mark on the world. I think I do that to the point that it can be a fault. I’m not very nuanced. So when it works, a big idea or a bold, unafraid move can make big things happen and I revel in it. But bold moves in the wrong direction can get you in trouble fast. Honestly, I’ve done both.
Who are the five persons alive you would like to meet?
I’d like to get all five living First Ladies (American President’s wives) in a room talking off the record. How interesting that would be to have a front row on history.
Who are the five dead persons you would have liked to meet?
They all had their flaws and blemishes, but there was something magical about each of them. I’d like to peek under the hood and see what made them tick.