“Fashion in a city like this is a barrier,” says Carl Lentz, senior pastor at Hillsong Church New York. “If I wear a priest collar and look like a typical man of God, there’s a price to that. There’s also a price to this, but I’m more willing to pay this one than that one.”
“This” is Lentz’s uniform: a Saint Laurent leather jacket, ripped jeans and a low-cut T-shirt. It’s far from what one might expect a pastor to wear, but Lentz is not a “normal” pastor. He cites rap lyrics in his sermons. He once took a selfie with Oprah. He calls Bono “one of the shortest people you’ll ever meet.” He’s walked shirtless next to Justin Bieber, whom he baptized in basketball player Tyson Chandler’s bathtub. He has tattoos.
Clearly, Lentz is no ordinary pastor. He’s a cool pastor.
“If I’m preaching, I would like people to notice what I wear long enough to not notice it,” he says. “So if you came in, you’d be like, ‘Cool, guy has a normal outfit on,’ and you forget. Too cool, people are thinking about it the whole time, like, ‘Man it’s almost extra.’ And then you go the other route, it says something about you as well.”
Lentz’s appearance is often cause for conversation. How can a pastor afford a Saint Laurent jacket? (Yes, he bought it himself.) Isn’t it immoral to care so much about material goods? Should a pastor be allowed to look so…hip?
Here’s another question. Who’s more likely to attract a cool, young crowd in 2017: a man wearing a priest collar or a man in a motorcycle jacket?
Lentz, whose first self-help-style book, “Own the Moment,” is out now, says his attire is part of practicing what he preaches. He hates when people feel like they need to dress up to go to church because “someone has taught them along the lines of ‘who I am right now is not good enough for church.'” So he preaches in what he’d wear any other day of the week.
His closet is mostly black and white — “I’m kinda OCD.” He owns about 60 black T-shirts, 40 pairs of black jeans and three pairs of boots that all look the same. He says he gets most of his clothes — including the Rolex on his wrist — for free because he has generous friends, some of whom happen to be designers, like Jerry Lorenzo of Fear of God.
“Because [what he wears] happens to be different, people talk about it and it is what it is,” Lentz says. “Any chance we get to connect, we’ll take. If it’s about clothes, cool. If it’s shoes, so be it.”
But his wardrobe isn’t the only thing people talk about. When Bieber canceled his tour this past summer, the rumored reason was because the pop star had “rededicated his life to Christ.” Bieber later denied this, but he and Lentz were photographed out and about. Entertainment media immediately took to Lentz, publishing headlines like “Who Is Justin Bieber’s Hot, Shirtless Pastor?”
“Getting used to paparazzi stuff is very hard to grasp,” Lentz says. “Laura [his wife] and I have a different grace for Justin because we know what his world is like, what it feels like to constantly be followed, what it means to never have a moment, like where you don’t want to go outside because you don’t look a certain way and you know it’s gonna get photographed and all that he goes through to just be somebody who’s normal. For us, yeah, it’s weird, but it’s totally worth it. It’s not ideal — nobody likes that — but you deal with it. If that’s what it means to be his friend and to be a support for him, we can handle it. It’s not the end of the world.”
He and Bieber — JB as he sometimes calls him — bond over fashion. “I’m 38, so he’s much cooler and he’s so good looking that he can do so many things,” Lentz says. “I’m in a very small lane where it’s like ‘Bro, I can’t do that, I can’t wear that.’ But, yeah, we talk about it a lot. I mean, not a lot. I would say we talk about sports, we talk about Jesus, clothes, cool shoes. We might go to a store, but it would be included in the whole, like anybody else.”
“Anybody else” could easily be Hailey Baldwin, Nick Jonas, Selena Gomez or any of Hillsong’s other celebrity attendees. That’s the price of being a cool pastor: Your connections are next level.
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