Steve Carter: His Life, His Calling and How to Find Yours


If there’s one popular saying that Steve Carter brings to mind it is that “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” Of course, we must add that there’s no pun intended since this article greatly addresses Steve Carter the author. At first glance, one would probably peg youthful Steve Carter as an artist or a musician. Carter would probably have no problem with that. He’s well known to many as the teaching pastor of Willow Creek Church in Illinois. As committed as he is to being an author, a pastor and a leader, he would probably rather be known by his passions, not his title. One of Steve Carter’s passions is helping you find your passion.

In his latest book, “This Invitational Life,” he attempts to reach across religious and other divisions,  extend an invitation to escape what he calls an “us and them” world, find our common humanity, and find our passion. He tells the story of how his journey to finding his passion began with an invitation from two high school friends. He also shares spiritually inspired, but very practical advice on how to find your passion. Perhaps the most memorable piece of advice is what Carter refers to as “the Triangle,” made up of three crucial things to look at when finding your passion.


The first component is taken from an author he admires, Marcus Buckingham. According to Carter, Buckingham—author, motivational speaker and business consultant– says you must decide if what you are doing is a hobby or a calling.  To discover this, first, write down the word sign.

S: “The S in sign is the road to success.  If you don’t get success in doing it, then it’s a hobby.”

I: “The I means intuitive. It’s a part of you.  You lose track of time doing it; it just comes natural and it feels right.  You feel comfortable in your own skin doing it.”

G: The G is that you grow. Your mind grows. You wanna learn more about it. You almost lose yourself in that idea or that profession.”

N: “It’s the word need.  It actually meets a great need in our world.”

He expounds, “If you only have three of those or two of those then it’s going to be a hobby but if you can find something that has them all, then it’s a sign that this is your calling.”

Holy Discontent

On the second component of the triangle, Carter references the Willow Creek Senior pastor, Bill Hybels.

“It’s called a Holy Discontent.  Sometimes your calling finds you because of something tragic that’s happened to you or you experienced in the world,” he said.  “It’s sacred, it’s holy, it’s so frustrating and irritating. Sometimes we don’t know what to do with that holy anger and something rises up inside of us…”

Ask Others

The third component of the triangle is to simply ask other people.

“What are the people around you saying, what do people who know you say, because sometimes we have a blind spot,” he insisted. “But people know you sometimes better than you know you.”

Dominick and Nathan’s Invitation to Steve

CarterAs stated earlier,Carter new book is called “This Invitational Life.” He chose to write this book because he’s certain that there are too many walls that separate and divides mankind from one another.

“Socioeconomically, I’d say grace, I’d say denomination,” he said passionately.  “We live in an ‘us and them’ world and not a ‘we’ [one]”. The pastor continued, “I just have profound beliefs that whether people are followers of Jesus or not, I still think they are God’s kids.  And I still think they were created in God’s image.”

He remembers his first critical invitation coming from two high school friends. The author believes that if it wasn’t for Dominick and Nathan who invited and welcomed him into the life of Christ, he doesn’t know where his life would be. That invitation is what started his spiritual journey and Carter believes a life that continues to invite others in is one that he wants to lead.

An Invitation to All

“I just always wanted a life that invited people to my table whether they were people of faith or not,” he said.  “That was kinda the dream, how do you teach a whole bunch of people how to lead an invitational life?”

The pastor’s invite to Christ and leading an invitational life himself is the foundation of his book.

He wants to force people to think hard about who they spend their time with and who they’re listening to.

“Who are we curious about, who are we engaging with and who are we inviting into our table, inviting into our story,” he said. “And that’s the premise of the book.”

Overcoming Resistance

Although Carter is now a published author and teaches thousands of people throughout his ministry he finds himself struggling at times just like everyone else.  When writing, he too is faced with a blank page.  When preaching he has to carefully think about the message he wants to relay to his audience.

“You look at a blank canvas, a blank screen and those are some of the most intimidating things ever,” he said. He continues passionately as he discusses one of many books he enjoys reading called the “War of Art” by Steven Pressfield.”

“He [Pressfield]  writes this book on writing and he says ‘the difference between amateurs and professionals is that professionals can walk through resistance.  Amateurs see resistance and they run away.’”

Carter continued with a shocking fast fact.

“Most people don’t know but Hitler was a renowned artist,” he said. “He actually got his inheritance, went to Vienna, and studied art and returned to Germany…”

“Pressfield says this line that was just genius,” he elaborated. ‘It was easier for Hitler to start world wars than to face a blank canvas.’”

Hitler as Amateur

Carter chose to reference Pressfield because, for him, the Hitler analogy explains clearly what an amateur truly looks like, as Hitler did not push through resistance. Instead he ran away and pursued maliciousness.

“It’s easier for people to do evil than step in and do what they were called to do,” he  asserted.

Steve Carter’s Journey to Find His Passion

As a man of faith, a visionary in the community and a leader in the church, Carter exudes, passion, leadership, and inspiration.  A still youthful looking Carter, his church is the one of the nation’s largest mega Churches, located in Willow Creek in suburban Chicago. His route to his life mission was by no means direct.

Growing up in Southern California, the future pastor did not grow up in a spiritual home. However, his mom and step-father sent him to a Christian school, where he’s convinced his journey began. As a student at Camarillo Christian School, a young Carter had no idea that he would be called to faith. But it all began for the future pastor when he was in the seventh grade. He was approached by two eleventh graders with whom Carter was already inspired by due to their unique nick name.

Joining the Passionate Life with Dominate

The two eleventh graders, Dominick and Nathan were two students who combined their names forming the nickname, Dominate. Of all the students who attended Camarillo Christian, Dominick and Nathan chose Carter to join them on what Carter calls their “path to righteousness.” They approached the middle schooler and asked him, “Do you want to dominate life?” Carter who was already intrigued by their spiritual discipline and cool nickname began to hang out with the pair. From there his religious path began.

For Carter, this was a new and exciting path, one that he was not used to. Although this was an important milestone in his life, it wasn’t until many years later that Carter truly realized that he wasn’t just on a spiritual journey but this was actually his calling—his passion.

Discovering His True Calling While Teaching Others

CarterCarter always had a talent for film. In fact, he went to college and majored in it. However, people didn’t see film as his only talent.  According to Carter, his mentors throughout college recognized his ability to lead. But, although he was passionate about religion, he wasn’t quite ready for the challenge until his sophomore year in college at Cal State Fullerton. During this time, his dad came to faith and, for Carter, that was a game changer. According to the teaching pastor, his mom had already come to faith but his dad was not religious at all. The task of leading him was difficult for Carter.  In truth, Carter wasn’t confident that it would ever happen.

“I never thought my dad would come to faith,” he said.

Luckily through patience, leadership, and mentorship, he eventually broke down his father’s barriers. According to the pastor, he continued to teach his parents and show them how important religion was to him.

Father Finds a Calling in Baptism

After coming to faith, Carter’s father felt like God himself had spoken to him. He felt encouraged into his next transition in life which in return also lead to Carter’s next transition.

“When he came out of the waters at baptism, he said ‘I feel like God’s calling me to move to Grand Rapids [Michigan] to restore a relationship with my folks.’

With this realization in mind, Carter’s dad sold his house, car and everything that mattered to him and moved to Michigan. Carter followed his dad to Michigan and while he was there he did volunteer work at a small local church. The pastor of the church saw his gift and offered him a position at the church. Unfortunately, Carter turned down the position. Yet he was still justly inspired by the job offering, so he continued pursuing religion and spirituality.

Refusing the Job, Finding His Calling

With his newly found confidence and inspirations, he traveled back to California. Once there, he changed his major from film to communications with an emphasis on preaching and biblical studies. At this point in his life, Carter’s entire world view changed.

“It was that moment when I felt kind of this strong impression of what I was supposed to do with my life,” he said.

His life has since been religious as he inspires thousands across the world.  He encourages others to find their calling as well.

Advice: Refuse to be an Amateur Everyday

The pastor concludes by insisting that every day is a choice and you should just schedule the time out and just do what you have to do.

“You might only come out with four ideas, one idea or you might come out with nine pages, but you just gotta keep showing up and keep being faithful,” he said. “Every day you have to decide ‘will I be a professional today or will I be an amateur?’”

Steve Carter


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