Megachurch Pastor Jonathan Stockstill recently released his debut book, The Real Jesus, Challenging What You Know About the Greatest Person Who Ever Lived, as a way to combat cultural Christianity.
Stockstill, a pastor's kid who is now Lead Pastor of Bethany Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has been a ministry leader since he was 17. Since 2011, he has opened five new church campuses across Louisiana, started Bethany College, and partnered with the Surge Project to plant 3,400 new churches worldwide.
As he expands the church across the world, he told The Christian Post that he penned his new book to “put the person of Jesus Christ back in the center of what it means to be a Christian.”
“People commonly confuse their church attendance, spiritual habits and good deeds as a sufficient substitute for their own faith in and relationship with Jesus,” he explained, noting how, in his book, he pushes back on religious rituals.
Stockstill said his hope for The Real Jesus is that it will equip readers to see Jesus as He really is while also understanding what it means to be His disciple.
Along with being a pastor, the father of four is also an internationally recognized worship artist who has recorded more than 10 albums. By the time he was 30, he'd written over 100 songs.
The following is an edited transcript of Stockstill’s interview with The Christian Post where he identifies the differences between cultural Christianity and the biblical mandate to follow Christ.
Christian Post: What inspired you to write The Real Jesus?
Stockstill: Three things: 1) I have seen that we live in a cultural Christianity — whether seen in our Christmas and Easter holidays, or in the gospel choir on the Grammys. We are a product of Christianity. I wanted to put the person of Jesus Christ back in the center of what it means to be a Christian. 2) I had an encounter with God in October of 2007 that forever changed my life. I talk about it in the book. 3) Jesus said, “if you love me, you will obey my commands.” That verse pierced me to my core and sent me on a journey of discovering exactly what He taught. This book is all about the man, the model, and the message of Jesus Christ.
CP: Does Western society have different versions of who Jesus is?
Stockstill: Absolutely. ... People commonly confuse their church attendance, spiritual habits, and good deeds as a sufficient substitute for their own faith in and relationship with Jesus. Yes, all of those things are great, but unless these actions are the result of an intimate relationship with our Savior, then it’s all for naught. Our faith in Christ should be so flourishing and fruitful that we can’t help but regularly do those things.
Sadly, the idea of Christianity has become a to-do list for many, while Jesus just desires to know each of us more intimately.
CP: How do you keep your ministry focused on the real Jesus despite the many different versions of Jesus that exist in this day and age?
Stockstill: Here at Bethany Church, our mission statement is: “Bringing all people into the life, family, and purpose of God.” If our ministry isn’t bringing someone into a personal relationship with Jesus, connecting them with other believers to do life with, or empowering them to live out the God-given purpose in their life, then we know that what we are doing isn’t of the real Jesus that we read about in Scripture.
CP: What can someone do to identify how they might be following the wrong gospel?
Stockstill: To be a Christian means to be a little Christ. The only way you can be a little Christ is if you study Him, follow Him, obey Him, and allow His Spirit to transform you into His image.
Simply put, if you have a religious tradition, but not the things I mentioned, you may be on the wrong track!
CP: Along with being a pastor, you're also a worship leader. Does being a worshiper help your connection with God?
Stockstill: For sure! Whether I’m leading or not, there’s no doubt that entering into the presence of God through worship is powerful.
There are many instances in the Bible where praise preceded a breakthrough. No matter what it may sound like, declaring whose we are and who He is will always create an environment where God can work in our lives and reveal Himself to us.
A Jesus-centered mentality has changed how I lead worship. When I lead in worship, I focus all my attention on Jesus. His presence follows.
CP: What do you say to those who might not believe in real-life encounters with the son of God?
Stockstill: It’s human nature to doubt and play the “what if” game. However, Jesus Himself said, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” When you pursue Jesus, and not just what He offers, you can’t help but encounter who He is.
For those with their own questions, I encourage you to seek out Jesus wholeheartedly for your answer(s) because you’ll soon experience for yourself everything that He is and wants you to become in Him.
CP: Why do you think people do not have a real, raw and relevant relationship with God? What are the roadblocks? How can we cultivate that?
Stockstill: Life happens, and it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the things of today. Intentionally creating time and space for any relationship is difficult. With a world full of distractions, it’s no wonder that people lack authentic relationships with others and God. You may be doing a bunch of good things but that doesn’t mean you’re doing what’s best. And it’s hard to know what’s best unless you’re in constant communication with who has given us His best. Being still and knowing that He is God is most definitely easier said than done.
We can’t hear His voice unless we’re close to Him and have removed ourselves from the things of this life. Until we are disciplined enough to create space for God, it’s crazy to think that we’ll know Him fully. Jesus was intentional about His relationships with others and even sought refuge in a garden to get clarity from His father, so shouldn’t we learn to do the same?
CP: What are the benefits of being a true disciple of Jesus and not just a fan?
Stockstill: Being a disciple of Christ means that we have everything through Him that God’s Word promises. As His sons and daughters, we will never be without because we are one with Him.
A fan of Jesus may temporarily experience these things, but being His means that it’s ours for eternity.
CP: What else can we expect from you in the near future?
Stockstill: Having released Worth The Wait, a live worship album this past February, you can expect to hear more from me and the Bethany Music team as this year progresses. In fact, we just recorded a gospel album.
Also, I’m thrilled about our church launching a campus in New Orleans this June and the opportunities that God will provide for us to be the real Jesus to such a captivating city.
This book is just the start of many new ventures for this year and next. Stay tuned!