by Seth Williams
August 12, 2014
"My faith in Jesus tries to play out in everything I do. I think in all the decisions, whether that's family or work, it's the focal point, what everything comes back to."
I first heard of Craig when I saw one of his Open 24/7 video interviews with Jamie Tworkowski, founder of To Write Love On Her Arms. I loved the interview and wanted to learn more about him. I later found out that he is the founder of XXX Church, an online resource/ministry to help fight porn addiction. Since it launched in 2002, XXXchurch.com has had over 70 million visitors. Craig is also the author of twelve books. His latest book, Go Small, just released in early August. He has been featured in GQ Magazine, Time, Newsweek, Wired, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and has appeared on Good Morning America, Nightline, CNN, Fox News, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I had the privilege of chatting with Craig over Skype late one night at midnight (it was 9pm his time). I hope it inspires you. Craig lives in Pasadena, California with his wife, Jeanette, and their two kids, Nolan and Elise.
What's your favorite album of all time?
Probably Fear by Toad the Wet Sprocket. Throwing it back to 1991.
What's your favorite film of all time?
We were talking about this the other day and I was still citing Better Off Dead and Rainman and my wife said I needed new films. Those are two classics, but she said I needed a new list. There's nothing that's taken over those two. Although last year there were some good movies out. But I'm still sticking with those two.
It sounds like you're a big lover of shoes. So what's your favorite shoe you've ever owned?
You know, I've been trying to find these, and they actually just brought them back, the Air Tech Challenge, the Agassis. They made their way back. I used to have the whole Agassi outfit, you know, the jean denim with the pink spandex with the matching Air Tech Challenge. So they just brought those back, but not in the same colors. I don't play as much tennis as I used to, but those have to be tops.
What's the most important part of your life?
I think right now it's two kids and my wife. I don't know what's bigger than that.
How does your faith in Jesus define who you are as a person?
Gosh, we go from Nike Air Tech Challenge to that (laughs). I think it's more than defining. It tries to play out in everything I do. You know, I think in all the decisions, whether that's family or work, it's the focal point, what everything comes back to. I don't think it's just a thought on a Sunday or a thing that's sitting over a Bible that's not been picked up. It tries to be a part of all of this. I'm not saying that that always happens, but that's the goal I think.
Has having kids inspired you in any new ways creatively in what you do?
Yeah, I think for what we do specifically, I always say I started this for some kids that were in my youth group, and now twelve years later it's now more about the challenges my kids are going to face, when it comes to porn and sex. So it's a lot more personal in that regard from somebody else's kid to my kid. When a kid brings porn to school now, this is stuff that we're dealing with. It gives you a different perspective when it is your kids at stake. It's my friends getting divorced. It's not strangers. That's probably the hardest part, when what we deal with comes so close to home with family and friends. This world that was once so far away from us, people thought I can't believe you do that for those people, and now it's affecting all these people really close to us. So that's the part where I hope at the end of the day that my kids get it, they get what we're trying to do. It's not stuff that's too far off from what they're going to witness or that they're going to be face-to-face with. So yeah, it gives you a different perspective. From a way more personal standpoint, I didn't grow up around this, but now our kids sure are. And then with all the devastation in marriages around us, I think, I'm not exempt from that. My wife and I are going on sixteen years and it's all a good reminder. Every day I'm reminded why we're in this and what we're up against and I would say the odds are against a lot of us trying to keep things straight. It's a challenge for everybody.
I commend you for what you're doing. I think it's phenomenal. I'm thankful for people like you leading the charge against such a dark challenge in life. So on that topic, I'd love to hear about XXX Church and how it started.
It was just an idea of how to help people who are caught up in this that aren't going to go asking for help. How can we show up in their world? It was 2001 when we started working on it. It made sense to put it online back in the dial-up days and try and get people help and let them know that they're not alone. I would have never thought that twelve years later this is what we'd still be doing. We've had a lot of different ideas and we've done a lot of different things that haven't taken off like this. I think it was a matter of right time/right place. We didn't even know that much about how to help people and how to see people through this. But all that to say, I don't think it mattered what we were offering. We were just willing to talk about it and willing to show up and begin that conversation and I think the rest went from there.
Tell me a bit about the inspiration behind your new book, Go Small, and what that means to you.
The first title we came up with was Ordinary God and I think the Christian publisher freaked out. We've sold everybody on this idea that God's big and extraordinary. He's not just normal. When I look at Jesus' life, there are a lot of ordinary things. We only know about three years of his life in ministry, but He spent the other thirty preparing for this in a pretty humble upbringing. So I thought we proved a pretty good point for ordinary, but then at the end of the day no one wants to be ordinary, so then they thought no one will buy that book. So when we landed on Go Small I think it was just this idea that we live in a world where it's go big or go home. And the moment you think, well, I've got two thousand followers here, but now you have twenty, and that person has a million. So, it's exhausting in our world how we gauge success, size, and status. I think a lot of us just chase that stuff and at the end of the day I don't think God cares at all about it. What would happen if we went small? Not trying to get people to be lazy and quit their jobs and be bums, but this idea of taking time to slow down at times and be aware of the little things, not just chasing big. That's the idea. I think for me, to be honest, I wrote this book for somebody else because I like big things and I run pretty fast. I had this crazy experience last year where I got sick and I think things just caught up after running like this for years. I started having problems with my health that never got answered. So it's kind of fitting that we're writing this book that I thought would be for other people not like me, but I think I'm the one that needed it the most. The idea of could you actually do these things, could you slow down, could I actually move out of the way. Could I search for the little things, not just the next big thing. So those are some of the things we talk about in the book. I'm excited about it. I think it's different. Like I said, people that know me don't expect that book from me but I think that's the fun part too. It's a strange year for me and it's a strange book but I think there's a lot in there.
How do you see faith play out in the work you do?
You know, you living in Nashville for a season, you were surrounded by all these Christian bands that don't want to be Christians. And it seems like that's the new thing, like I don't want to be in ministry, I want to be a non-profit. I always laugh at that. But yet I find myself with XXX Church, we're not going to take out the word church, but we don't float out the word pastor. I think we're way more interested in reaching a secular audience than we are just talking to the church. But what we've never had to do is scrape away the fact that we are Christians, that we do believe this stuff. You know, church is in our name. So we embrace it, but I think I'm more embarrassed of it. The more people you meet outside of the church the more you realize how goofy and crazy our world is. I'm not talking about the Lord, but our little Christian subculture that at times is something that you want to run far away from. So I struggle with that. I feel like we get an opportunity to meet a lot of people and tell them about Jesus and talk to them about faith. We had a situation last week where we had this girl post a video on a YouTube channel, Porn Star, just thanking us for the kind words that we gave her at the show and I posted that on Facebook and it's like the police came out. Did you tell her to go and sin no more? Did you tell her this? Everybody wants to tell you how you should do ministry, and it's like, guys, you don't know because you've never been there or met this girl. So for me the hardest part is being around it and being a part of it, and putting your faith in the Lord and not in all this other stuff around it because people are going to continue to disappoint you. It's definitely challenging because we get out there and meet a lot of people that tell us all the time, hey, I don't like Christians or I don't normally like your kind. So I think that more people need to know that, that we're not the most liked, we're not what people rave about. And I'm not talking about us, I'm talking about Christians. We carry a great name of Jesus but we've just done such a shitty job of carrying that name. We've run into that wall quite a bit it seems like.
In what way are you failing as a parent and what are you doing to overcome that?
We've got a nine and eleven year old, and pretty soon you blink and it's gone. We were just with friends in Michigan and there were ten kids and one of the couples had car seats and all that stuff and all the rest of us had carry-on luggage and were laughing at them in their minivan, bringing all that crap across the country. So, we don't miss those days, but on the other hand we kind of do. We just go, man, where did that go, where did the last ten years go? And then we think that we've got less time now with them till they're out of the house than on the other side. So that's a part where I look back, and I'm thirty eight now, and I don't think I had any idea what I was doing. Not saying we still know what we're doing. We were just trying to figure it out and do what we thought our parents did well. Make sure we don't do what we know they did a crappy job of. I think just trying to take more advantage of the times we do have now. In a sense, it's kind of part of the whole Go Small thing of just being here now and not waking up and going, man, where did that go. And then the other part of that question, I think with kids, we'd take them to church because that's what you do and because your kids need it. We're trying to figure out that conversation now, and I'm kind of bummed. One kid is going to be in junior high next year, and I grew up in a great church with a great junior high program and great leaders, and I just feel like no one wants to be a youth pastor any more, so youth groups suck. Kids are busy with everything else. I'm really interested in what church is going to look like for our kids because I don't think our kids are going to go like we went. My parents made us go and now my mom doesn't even believe in God. And I think, at least us and our friends, we have been a little less strict on when we go. We maybe go once a month or when we can. But then I'm trying to figure out what that looks like for our kids. I just hope they come up with a better idea than what we're all doing now in church because I think they'll be extremely bored with it and I don't think that's where they'll find answers and the richness in life, at least how we're going about it. That's the question I have. What will our kids come up with that will be better? Or if it's going to work for them. I don't like going if I'm going to be straight-up honest. It's boring. I think the kids are bored. So it's like, what are we going to do about that, and make it more life-giving than just some boring service and some songs. My friend said, why do you take your kids when you don't want to go. Your kids are smarter than that. Those are just questions that are out there. Even though Donald Miller's post on church got him in a lot of trouble, I thought it was brilliant, when he said here is why I personally don't like going and I don't have all the answers but don't hate me. And then people griped at him. But I think he posed a lot of great questions about church. I don't have those answers, I just think our kids, not necessarily my kids, are going to come up with something. I think this next generation will be so bored with what we're doing and they will be less interested in BIG than we were. Churches buying more and more property to open more and more churches with less and less pastors but bigger video screens I think is going to fall apart and our kids are going to watch it and go, what about something maybe a little more simple. I think they'll come up with something better than what we've bought into.
What's your greatest fear as a father?
I hate flying so I always fear death on a plane. I don't mind if we all die on a plane, but there's the fear of our kids dying before us. Losing them would probably be the biggest fear.
How do you deal with the fear of flying because I'm guessing you have to fly quite a bit?
Yeah, I don't know what the deal is. It used to not bother me but now I've done one too many flights with crazy turbulence. It's still safer than driving but I just don't like it. It definitely plays into some decisions now where I go. It's like, dude, I don't want to go to Cincinnati in February, flying through snow. I'd prefer to drive if I could.
What's your greatest dream as a father?
I think beyond obviously having my kids follow the Lord, it's wanting to make all their dreams come true. Whether it's my daughter wanting to be on a competition dance thing or my son wanting to be an actor. My parents supported me in the crazy things I went after, so it's like how can we get behind the things they're into and what can I can do to fulfill those things for them.
What challenges your faith most in life?
It's such a dumb analogy, but in regards to what we do, it's like we're on the field. And I don't want to sound like I hate every pastor, because I don't. Just some of them. You know, I love how they talk at church on Sunday, but Monday through Friday they're just in their office with their church people. I feel like we're put to test with real people every day that are skeptical that are visiting our site because they're in some sort of crisis or tragedy or they need something. And so there are challenging situations all the time with those interactions. So there's not a day that goes by where we're not encountering somebody that doesn't believe what we do and probably doesn't know if they're even interested in those things. They need something else. So it's like how to meet those physical needs in order to meet spiritual needs. There are quite a few challenging situations that come up all the time that are vast from people caught up in tragedy to people looking for answers.
How do you find time to spend with God? What does that look like for you?
I don't have any great formula in place. I hate the mornings. But my buddy, he loves the morning, and he gets up at 5:30 and it's his routine. And I don't have any of that since my schedule is different every day. Oftentimes it's late at night after everyone's asleep when I get the most work done and I'm the least distracted...after I'm done with Skype interviews at 9pm, or midnight your time (laughs). I'm able to read something or just turn everything off and think about things. I'll sit with something for a while. I don't have to work on a talk every week, but when I was working on that book or a talk for that book like I'm doing now, I'd try to find a passage or some thoughts on what the Lord is saying. I don't read through things every year. I'm super shallow. I almost failed Greek in college, so I'm not into commentaries and Greek and Hebrew and any of that. I read the Message translation because it's the easiest. I'm inspired by the guys who do the Bible Project videos. And I just bought this thing on Kickstarter, Bibliotheca, by this guy who thinks the Bible is such a big and overwhelming book, so he just made a book that looks better than our Bible text. So when I see that and the Bible Project stuff, anything like that to me is great when you see something that's not changing the text but it's putting it into today's world.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave for your children and family?
Sounds like I'm writing my will here, planning my funeral (laughs). We started doing this thing in New York on Thursdays called Legends. It sounds goofy, but it's a bunch of guys started by Scott from Charity: Water and a guy named Brant. We do one in LA on every other Thursday. What these guys came up with was this idea of you wanting to be a legend, in being a great friend, father, husband, loving the Lord, and loving work and the things you get to do. But the analogy is that the legend is just like a point on a map. It's not just something that's talked about. It's someone who's remembered for those things and for the people they've invested in, not just all these other accomplishments. We meet with that idea of wanting to be legends.
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