Steve Carter has been named the incoming Lead Teaching Pastor at Willow Creek Community Church.
Hear Steve Carter share his faith story, from his childhood in California to stepping into his latest role as lead teaching pastor of Willow Creek.
Perhaps the best phrase to describe Steve Carter’s calling in life is “invest in people.” Whether he’s unpacking Scripture to help people grasp the full impact of God’s love, shaping his two kids in the ways of Jesus, or grabbing coffee and conversation with someone from the community, Steve is all about investing himself in the people God brings his way. So it only makes sense that as he steps into his new role as incoming Lead Teaching Pastor at Willow Creek, he brings with him a God-given passion for pouring God’s love, wisdom, and grace into the lives of people.
Steve’s journey as a Christ follower began in junior high, when two high-school juniors named Dominic and Nathan (who went by the dual nickname “Dominate”) decided to invest in him. “They challenged me to ‘dominate life,’ which for a 7th grader seemed like the greatest invitation ever,” Steve recalls. “Week after week, they poured into me, talking about Jesus and mentoring me. I began going to church and within months gave my life to Christ. Dominic and Nathan invested in me in ways that forever changed my life.”
Steve’s journey of becoming a pastor followed a trail of mentoring relationships—godly people who, like Dominic and Nathan, invested in him along the way. In high school and college, a youth pastor named Hal took Steve under his wing.
“He took me out for tacos one day and told me, ‘I see something in you. I want to do everything I can to help you grow in Christ and become who I think God made you to be,’” Steve says. “He challenged me, and trusted me, and called me out when I needed it. He and his wife let me join them for dinner like one of the family.”
Hal continued to mentor Steve weekly by phone throughout college and for the next 15 years—until a tragic motorcycle accident took his life three years ago. “His life marked me deeply,” Steve says. “Whether I’m teaching or pastoring or living out the way of Jesus in my community, I try to honor Christ and I try to honor Hal.”
While attending Hope International University in Fullerton, California, Steve met a young woman, Sarah, who would become his wife. An emerging artist, Sarah served alongside Steve in a non-profit he launched with friends called Solidarity, which equips local churches to be transformed by engaging marginalized and under-resourced people in their communities. Steve was serving as an intern at Rock Harbor Costa Mesa at the time, when another pastor, Rob, reached out to him. This pastor was leading a church in Michigan that was growing like crazy. He knew Jesus didn’t change the world through masses of people, but rather through pouring himself into a handful of disciples—and he wanted to invest in Steve.
“Rob and his wife called me and said, ‘Graduate as quick as you can—and come live in our basement!’” Steve says. “So I did. And he mentored me for a full year, instilling in me a deep love of Scripture and a passion for the craft of teaching.”
After that year, Steve and Sarah got married, and Steve took a job as junior-high pastor at the Michigan church. For the next five years, he worked daily to pour God’s love, truth, and grace into students, develop Student Ministry volunteers, oversee the teaching content, and build the student community.
Around this time, Steve met Bill Hybels, who began investing in him from afar. “A few times a year, Bill would invite me to South Haven, Michigan to meet with him,” Steve recalls. “I’d pick his brain about teaching, leading, and pastoring. These conversations were monumental in my growth as a pastor.”
God wasn’t done developing Steve yet, and the next chapter led him and Sarah back to California. There, Steve served as Associate Teaching Pastor for Rock Harbor Costa Mesa, working with Teaching Pastor Mike. A year later, Steve was invited to take on the role of campus pastor of Rock Harbor’s first regional campus. Continuing to follow God’s call on their lives, Steve and Sarah planted a vibrant new community in the heart of downtown Fullerton: Rock Harbor Fullerton.
“In 2011, Bill reached out to me about a Director of Evangelism/Teacher-at-Large role at Willow Creek and because of my mentoring relationship with Bill, Sarah and I sensed God calling us to join the Willow family.”
For almost six years, Steve has worked diligently to craft and hone his teaching gift through Midweek and weekend messages, as well as teaching opportunities at conferences and churches around the country. “And this past year, Bill has created space for me to start pouring into other teachers around Willow,” Steve says. “One of my greatest joys is helping emerging teachers get better! I meet regularly with a gifted group of growing teachers, and we help each other develop our teaching gifts to invest in people.”
With the gifts and passions Steve has for investing in those he teaches—and pouring into others—the Elders recognized quickly who God was calling to the role of Lead Teaching Pastor.
Beyond his role at Willow, Steve is a well-received national speaker on issues of grace, faith, reconciliation, and following the way of Jesus. In addition to authoring This Invitational Life, he co-hosts the Relevant Is Doing a Sports Podcast, a weekly show that talks about issues relating to sports and spirituality.
Steve and Sarah, along with their two children, Emerson and Mercy June, are thrilled to let their family’s roots grow deep here at Willow—and continue to invest in their Chicagoland community.
Follow Steve on Social!