The problem I am trying to solve — both in my book and in my calling — is quite simple. It is my job, my goal, my purpose, to give people the tools to continue on, no matter how fatigued they may feel. I have come through literal hell and high water. If it wasn’t poverty, it was fatherlessness. If it wasn’t fatherlessness, it was insecurity. If it wasn’t insecurity, it was rejection. If it wasn’t rejection, it was a lack or loss of purpose. I believe that through spiritual discernment, guidance, mentorship and therapy, I have been able to quiet some of the negative voices that plagued me for so many years. Author Shellye Archambeau in her book Unapologetically Ambitious calls this ‘Imposter Syndrome,’ which she defines as the feeling of not belonging. Whenever self-doubt emerges, remember that doubts hold no truth.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Pastor Keion Henderson, Founder, CEO and Senior Pastor of The Lighthouse Church & Ministries, a church community headquartered in Houston, Texas. With more than 20 years in active ministry, and speaking for thousands worldwide, Pastor Henderson is a formidable thought leader, bridging cultural divides with relational armchair dialogues, and leading practical applications for success, via his accelerator for entrepreneurship, L3. His first book The SHIFT: Courageously Moving From Season to Season, has inspired people of all genres and backgrounds to face life’s challenging stages with tools, courage, and purpose.

Founded in 2009, The Lighthouse Church encompasses five campuses and 30 ministries, as one of the fastest growing churches in the nation with over 12,000 members and climbing, welcoming viewers worldwide. The Lighthouse Church will open The Dream Center in 2021, an adjacent 40,000 square-foot facility. Pastor Henderson has been commended as a true servant-leader, recognized as a CNN Heroes Award nominee, helming disaster-aid initiatives both locally and internationally. He has also been recognized by The John Maxwell Institute as one of the Top 250 Leaders in the nation, and he was nominated in 2019 for a Stellar Award, for Traditional CD of the Year for his breakthrough album, “The River.” He is originally from Gary, Indiana, and is the father of one daughter.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

My childhood resembled any modern-day poor Midwest big city neighborhood, bullet-and-poverty ridden … we lived just east of Chicago in Gary, Indiana; five of us in a two-bedroom apartment, with no transportation. The average age of a black male on the street I grew up on in the late 80’s and early 90’s was 25 years old. I feared death at an early age. I lost my first friend to a bullet in the sixth grade. The pain of losing a classmate to violence at 12 is almost unbearable. My mother worked at Taco Bell for seven dollars an hour, and raised four children, three biological and one adopted. My younger sister and I had to share bath water at times as a way of conserving limited resources. My father was a prominent, affluent leader who lived about five blocks from us, yet my mother still had to struggle. I grew up angry and upset, and understandably frustrated. But one thing that childhood did not do is strip me of my dreams. Somehow, even as a child, I always saw myself in the future. One of my favorite songs is “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. I remember paying five dollars for that cassette tape, and I saved up to get it. I listened to it every night. That song that helped heal a nation in a very divided time, led me to make a decision in my heart that I was going to make a change for my family, some kind of way. At that time I did not have a road map but I did have a desire. My mother used to tell me those cords on my Walkman headphones, they were going to choke me to sleep. Thankfully I did not choke myself to sleep, but maybe those song chords choked the hopelessness away. That change did come. It touched me so much that eventually in 2018 I recorded it on my first gospel album, “The River,” which is still a beloved song in our ministry, heard by thousands listening across continents. And thanks to the seeds my mother planted through her dedication to us, I was able to make that change for my own daughter, who by God’s grace and our hard work, knows no such strife.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

The best book I have ever read — to date — or rather a book that significantly changed my life is The Speed of Trust by Stephen Covey. There are so many things that can prompt change in our lives, in an organization or family life, whatever role you play. Some of those changes that are prompted can be fleeting. Your attitude can be unstable, and that’s understandable. Everyone deserves to not be okay all the time. One can be a little selfish at times. That’s understandable. Everyone deserves something they don’t have to share. But to me, trust is non-negotiable.

The Speed of Trust showed me that integrity should not be up for auction, so to speak, no matter who or what the highest bidder is. I want to be trusted by everyone and everything I encounter. I want the neighbor’s puppy to trust me. I want an infant peeking over the back of the airplane seat to trust me. I want the elderly woman crossing the street to feel trust as she walks past me. Stephen Covey says the way to accomplish this is recognizing in anything that you do, whenever trust is high, costs are lower. Whenever trust is low, costs are higher. That changed my life because life can be a lot less expensive, if you are trusted. Not only economically, but with all assets — depreciation comes from the erosion of trust — whether you’re calculating time or money. The book inspired everything I have pursued since I read it in 2009. It’s helped me become a better dad, leader, minister, mentor, spiritual father and friend. Not only is the book inspirational, but it honed my priorities and refreshed my entire value system.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I will never forget that we started our church with five people, and within 16 weeks we had 800 members, and by the end of year one, we had 1,500 parishioners. We were renting a middle school for services and we had it packed full. I had the option of doubling our rent in order to increase our services, but I decided instead to move to a bigger space. All I was thinking at the age of 28–29 was bigger. And we did move to that bigger space, and our growth stagnated. After reviewing the data, we realized the new location was a headache to get to, farther and too off the beaten path. It taught me that sometimes even in the midst of growth, you have to stand still. Sometimes growth means figuring out how to stay and not leave. We sometimes associate growth with moving on. Sometimes growth means getting a pay raise and driving that old pickup truck one more year. It means staying in that house a little longer and deferring the walk-in closet until that investment portfolio is a little more solid.

On a less serious note, I was preaching in the pulpit many years back, and I was very passionate about the subject, and I almost slipped up and allowed profanity to enter into the discourse. It was one of those words that you didn’t have to say, yet everyone knew, and everyone laughed hysterically. That moment was only slightly less unnerving than when I went to lay hands on a parishioner to pray for her a few years ago, and she had on a wig and I had a ring on my finger, which caught the hair and lifted the wig. The congregation roared, and it followed me for years. Thankfully, most of the people who were there are kind enough not to mention it anymore.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

I’ve been on this earth 40 years, this July. And in my 40 years either through study or experience, I have seen a lot of things fail. I have seen businesses like Sears, that were the go-to shopping centers of my day, fail. I remember going to Blockbuster as a kid, which has been replaced by Netflix. Through my study I have seen the fall of The Babylonian Empire, The Roman Empire, The Byzantine Empire, and all those places in those days, were said to be indestructible. We saw it with The Titantic, a boat that engineers said not even God could sink. The earth has failed. God regretted that he made man and destroyed the world by water in the book of Genesis. But one thing that I have never seen fail, is a book. The original text of Christianity, Islamic and Buddhist manuscripts, no matter what your faith is — they remain. Look at the longevity of these books, they have stood the test of time. If there’s one thing that unites society throughout history, it’s written language. So, I didn’t really write this book for a temporary thrill or so that it would have a social impact, although I want it to. I pray that this book and more to come will have historical implications and impact. Humanity has used storytelling since The Garden of Eden. If it were not for scribes and authors, history would not be chronicled. So, what I am writing and what I hope to write in the future is to inform people of the state of humanity in this season, and to perhaps leave a legacy in written form that will help people to shape their children the same way every book I have ever read, has shaped me. Human progress, and accounts of it — anthropology itself — outlives social change.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

The story that speaks most clearly to my main motivations as an adult in hindsight — overcoming — is the void left by my not knowing my father as a young man, then subsequently learning he was also a leader in the community, and my neighbor — and that nothing really changed after I learned this truth. He was not with me at Dad-and-Doughnuts school functions, or my basketball games, before or after this truth was revealed. In my chapter “Disappointment,” I outline how embracing disappointments is crucial to surviving shifts — no matter the disappointment. Almost two-thirds of African-American children are raised by only one parent, and this number is climbing. So while I am certainly not alone in the origin of my struggle, it points to any statistic a person experiences which defines a core struggle in their lives. Choosing to treat disappointments with the respect that we treat fire — to be used as a tool, or to be received as damage — will frame our future.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

I don’t know if I can point to an aha! moment that made me decide to bring my message to the world, but I can point to several aha! moments where the world pointed to me and said we need your message. I was preaching at 17 years old in a laundromat with only a few chairs, and the chairs were scattered amongst washing machines, dryers, soda machines and vending machines … I would hear shoes and belts rattling in dryers, and quarters sliding down the slots of vending machines right in between the message from God, coming to me on Sunday mornings. I preached just as hard in the laundromat as I did in Africa in front of 10,000 people. I don’t believe that great men get to choose the world. I think that great men and women do what they do and the world chooses them. So the aha! moment for me was when I woke up one day and realized that I had preached in Lagos, Nigeria; in Abuja, Nigeria; in Accra, Ghana; in London, England … I have been to Australia; I have preached all over the United States of America. And now I can look back to my mid-thirties, when I woke up and said wow, I am still praying to be what I already am. And I realized I have been answering that call since I was a young man. So I don’t believe — at least in my instance — that I decided to take my message to the world, I think I preached the message and the world heard it eventually. Matthew 23:10 says: Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. / The greatest among you shall be your servant. / Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Recently, I was asked to pray for a young man I had never met. He had been beaten and shot four times, and was fighting for his life in the hospital. His mother had direct-messaged me previously, asking me to pray for him to come home. She credited me with his return, as I had prayed and asked God to send her son home. This time, she asked me to pray for his life. (I am emotional as I write this.) She sent me two videos, one with her son badly beaten and bruised, and medical contraptions I have never seen, coming out of this young man, and another video of herself, singing along to a song I recorded called “H.O.L.Y.” It’s a cover of a Florida Georgia Line song, an acronym for High on Loving You, written about a young lady. But when I heard that song the first time, I heard, High on Loving You, Jesus, so that’s how I recorded it. It’s on my 2018 gospel album “The River.” As she played and sang the song, her son was responsive for the first time … they had removed all the bullets … and just squeezed her hand. Two weeks after that, he tested positive for COVID-19, and he was moved to isolation. Today — just a few weeks later — he is out of the hospital, all the tubes removed, including the oxygen, home and walking on his own. And that is why I do what I do.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

The problem I am trying to solve — both in my book and in my calling — is quite simple. It is my job, my goal, my purpose, to give people the tools to continue on, no matter how fatigued they may feel. I have come through literal hell and high water. If it wasn’t poverty, it was fatherlessness. If it wasn’t fatherlessness, it was insecurity. If it wasn’t insecurity, it was rejection. If it wasn’t rejection, it was a lack or loss of purpose. I believe that through spiritual discernment, guidance, mentorship and therapy, I have been able to quiet some of the negative voices that plagued me for so many years. Author Shellye Archambeau in her book Unapologetically Ambitious calls this ‘Imposter Syndrome,’ which she defines as the feeling of not belonging. Whenever self-doubt emerges, remember that doubts hold no truth.

How can other stakeholders help me address this root problem?

A myriad of ways. First, through programs and facilities. We are launching our Dream Center in May of 2021. It’s a 40,000 square-foot community center. I’ve just increased the budget for it a bit because I don’t want to half-meet anyone’s needs. The community is helping with in-kind gifts, donations, prayer, and with connections to foundations that are looking to assist projects like ours, and the word is spreading. Politicians have and continue to assist us with permitting and grants, and giving us access to people who are affluent, so we can be influential. Much has been done, but there’s much more to be done.

We need so much not because we are needy, but because the need is so great. A lot of the people we minister to are impoverished. We’ve connected with the Houston Food Bank and similar organizations to feed and clothe thousands monthly. I have a vision where every person in a family can be on one of our campuses — from the young child at the daycare, to the teen playing basketball, to the mother dropping off the child, visiting her own mother who is in our assisted living — it’s a holistic vision. This can’t be built from Amens and Halleluiahs, alone. We depend upon connectivity and resources and we are blessed to be stewards for these resources, so we can pass those blessings of support to as many in our communities as possible. So my call is greater than the message. My call is to build infrastructures that incubate service. And that is God’s greatest call for us all.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I define leadership as a person who recognizes they can’t do everything, so they inspire other people to do the work that is required. I cannot personally solve world hunger. I cannot put clothes on the backs of all the people who live in our communities, let alone the whole city of Houston, the state of Texas, or the whole world. I know I cannot host everyone at one of our five campuses, though the numbers of viewers of our online campus is growing exponentially. But I do know how to inspire a few people who can inspire a few people who can inspire a few people … who then in turn have inspired thousands. We estimate 750,000 people a week hear our message, and it’s increasing daily. It’s what Jesus did in the New Testament church, he knew that in His flesh He could not be in all the cities at the same time, so He commissioned 12 disciples and sent them out two-by-two, and 2000 years later with Christians counting in the billions all over the world, because God became man in the form of Jesus. So, I preach, spreading the Word like the first church … and if I am speaking at a school or at a conference on entrepreneurship, I am simply being a leader by inspiring others to initiate and finish the work. I once heard it said this way — if you are a leader and you turn around and no one is following you, then you are simply a man taking a walk.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

ONE: Not to worry. I cannot tell you how many things I have worried about, that never happened. I can’t calculate the amount of sleepless nights I have had, full of fear. If I had understood sooner what my grandfather said — that worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair … it gives you something to do but you get nowhere — I would have stopped worrying a long time ago.

TWO: Be careful how you judge adults, when you are in your youth. Not having my father in my life made me extremely angry and very judgmental about the circumstances in which I was born, and I did not realize until I was closer to his age the difficulty he must have experienced at the time. My mother is a powerful and wise woman who taught me the value of ultimate respect. I’ve never heard her say one ill word about my father. NOT ONE. And while my youthful anger to some may have been warranted, by my mother’s standards it was and is unacceptable.

THREE: What defines normal. People panic sometimes when difficulties come to light, as they don’t have a gauge on what is expected. I once had a blogger publish a nefarious and false story about me, even attempting to extort me. I called my mentor and he said, “that’s it?” He, with that one statement, helped me measure a new normal — that I should come to expect a percentage of false and negative noise regardless of the truth or my efforts to prevent it, simply because I am in the public eye. It’s foolish to go to Miami and say, I can’t believe it’s hot …or Antarctica and say, I can’t believe it’s so cold. It’s wise to keep healthy expectations of various atmospheres.

FOUR: I wish I had known who I was sooner. I don’t feel I found my true identity until around my mid-thirties. And maybe it wasn’t for me to know earlier, but I wish I would have known my worth, and how to stand up for my desire for wisdom, knowledge and understanding … I wish I would have known what an identity does for a man — for a psyche. In basketball early on I would mimic other players, and it took me three years as a teen to realize I had my own game inside of me, and if I had discovered that earlier, I probably would not have been on the freshman B-team (although I did end up starting and getting a D-1 scholarship.) But hey who’s counting … LOL

FIVE: When you fail, the world doesn’t care, they are simply waiting on you to get back up, dust yourself off, and keep fighting. I went through a failed marriage and every one of my fears surfaced. What will the church say? Society? Will I ever be able to preach at any other church again other than mine? And I didn’t realize that 99% of the people were waiting for me to get up, dust myself off, and continue to inspire them through my genuine purpose, which includes all of my experiences.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote is: “You were born looking like your parents, but you die looking like your decisions.” That’s so relevant to me because, it says you don’t have to die the same death, whether literal or physical, even spiritually, that your progenitors and predecessors died from. You don’t have to follow in those footsteps. You don’t have to make those same mistakes. You get to rewrite your history by the decisions that you make. The first chapter of my book is “Death, Divorce, & Daddy Issues.” I did not know my father until I was a young man, but what I came to know of him, showed me he had regrets, just like we all do. We all take the good and improve the bad, so that generations who follow us, can live a legacy we can be proud of. Generations of people before me have suffered so that I can seek such freedoms, and that is true throughout human history — we have children so that they might benefit from a better future. That is God’s design.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.

There’s no way I could choose one so I will increase my odds by choosing a few. First and foremost, I would love to have a meal with Mike Krzyzewski (aka “Coach K”), one of the winningest basketball coaches in NCAA history, also leading our Olympic teams to victory. I was surrogate-ly coached by him, and when I was 14, a kid tried to steal my Duke jacket and I almost fought him to get it back, which I believe God would understand. Arianna Huffington, who in her book Thrive, champions giving and balance, which I feel very passionate about both as a preacher and a leader. Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Shawn Carter (Jay-Z), Former Governor John Kasich, and Steve Harvey… (By the way, these meals are on me, no matter where they want to eat.) I think Barack Obama is and was such an amazing communicator, and through his positioning and temperament, politics aside, shows we have a lot in common, from personal development to being under immense pressure, he’s a great human being and incredible leader. We are both from the Chicago area (Coach K is too). I would also love to have a meal with Shawn Carter aka Jay-Z. He is a rapper (and all that might entail) but I think his entrepreneurial knack is incredible, and his intelligence is irreplaceable. He is stealthy — he does things in darkness and yet he creates so much light, such as quietly supporting strangers who need assistance, outside of his circles. During the social unrest in 2020, he sent his private jet to people to get them to courtrooms and trials, crisscrossing the country. He’s just one of the most intellectually sophisticated success stories — from Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects to Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden … from selling drugs to selling millions of records. It would also be amazing to meet Oprah Winfrey, to learn more about how she built a conglomerate as a woman, let alone a Black woman in the male-led media industry. She did it amongst tumultuous controversy and criticism and yet she’s always been a class act. I would also love to meet John Kasich, former governor of Ohio who is a Republican, but in my view has such a balanced perspective on the world. He’s a quintessential example, who shows that we can have different views and get along. Finally, I would love to meet Steve Harvey. He is so relatable — a ‘downhome dude’ — who has made it big. He seems to be the busiest person on the planet yet also has balance in work and life integration. I have always admired his ability to do so much and be so many places and still be whole.