The ICLV Story: Paul Goulet
Paul Marc Goulet was a successful Christian therapist until God spoke to him on an airplane
How did you become an expert in psychology? Not many pastors have this background.
Before I met the Lord, I had some drug problems and had been a little bit of a violent person. I was a hockey player. But I met the Lord at age 20 and walked away from my hockey career, and realized I needed to figure out the root cause of my personal problems. This led me to study psychology – this really helped me.
I started studying psychology to understand myself, and studied with a Christian psychologist named Dr. Richard Dobbins. He gave me a great foundation, and I got my Master’s Degree from Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio.
After finishing my degrees, I started counseling centers in Vermont and then California. By the age of 33, I was having quite a bit of success – I had 17 therapists working for me, was counseling pastors and churches, and had a radio show as well. We had just finished building a beautiful, brand-new counseling center as well.
That’s quite an amazing level of success at that age. Why did you then go into pastoring?
I was also writing counseling curriculum for Bible colleges in Southeast Asia, and was crazy enough to go on my very first mission trip, to Manila, Philippines. As I saw the way some of the people were living in poverty, I had an encounter with God. I looked up to heaven and told Him, “God, here I am. I have a good life. My kids are in private school. I am making so much money and helping so many people. My work is significant. But still God, I surrender. I’ll do anything you want me to do.” It was just a moment of complete surrender.
On my flight back to California, where we lived at the time, I said, “God, I’m serious about what I said in the streets of Manila, I’ll do anything for you.”
And to my surprise, I heard God speak to me as clearly as He can. “Paul, you’re going to pastor a church in Las Vegas, Nevada.”
And I literally said, “Get thee behind me!
I thought, “That can’t be God! There’s no way that God would call me to do something that I wasn’t equipped for.” God told me I would be going to a church that was in trouble, with a burned-out pastor.
The next day, my wife tells me, “Honey, you have a phone call. It’s a pastor from Las Vegas.” I was this pastor’s counselor, so I picked up the phone to talk to him.
The pastor said, “Let’s make this quick. I’m leaving my church.”
I said, “Good,” because I knew he was burned out and needed this.
Then it got crazy, because he continued, “I prayed who my successor would be.”
I said, “Great. Who is it?”
He said, “You.”
I literally still remember where I was when he spoke, as I sat down in stunned silence. The pastor continued, “I saw your face in a vision, Paul, and you’re supposed to take over the church.” And this was exactly in line with what God spoke to me on that plane.
Wow – that’s incredible. Did you transition straight into the role of pastor at that point?
I have to be honest – I wish I was more spiritual. I did not respond right away. I didn’t even tell my wife about it for a couple of months. And when I did tell her, she freaked out and said, “You’re not a pastor. You don’t have a heart of a pastor. You’re not trained.” I agreed with her!
The church invited us to come and check out the church and meet with the board. And before we went, we put a really crazy “fleece” out before the Lord – a really ridiculous test that only God could answer. I said, “We will not move to Las Vegas and take over as pastor unless someone walks up and offers us their home for free, until our home in Sacramento sells. They need to offer this without me asking or even mentioning I’m looking.”
On that weekend, the board said, “We’re going to interview you, and you can interview us. But before that, we have a small men’s Bible study group of 20 people. Would you go speak there?” So I told them of course I would do it.
As I’m speaking a man comes up to me and asks, “Hey, would you like to go see a house? We heard you’re thinking about moving here.”
I told him, “Yeah, but I’m not really interested in looking.”
“But I’ve got a house.”
He insisted, “Come see!”
I insisted, “No!”
“You don’t understand. I’m offering you a house for free until your home sells in Sacramento.”
And I thought, “Wow.” That is the exact sentence I’d set up as the fleece!
That was 20 years ago. After God spoke so clearly and met every test, we moved there and took over the church. We had 200 people in the church at the time, in an expensive rented property next to a bar. And I had no idea what I was doing – zero. I was probably the least prepared pastor out there.
That was how we started.
In the ensuing years, the church grew from those 200 people to the multi-campus, megachurch you are today. Was there steady growth? Or was it more of a sort of explosion?
My wife and I and our three kids moved to Las Vegas – not the greatest city for a family – and inherited this little church. When we just moved there, two of board members came up to me and said, “By the way, we don’t have any money to pay rent or salaries.”
That was my introduction to pastoring.
I called some leaders and asked, “What do I do?” They said, “Paul, just have faith.” I had no curriculum. I had nothing.
“Some were crying, some were kneeling, some started literally shaking.“
So I started fasting and praying one day a week. I was not accustomed to that because I was a therapist and I ran counseling centers. But I just obeyed. I was brave. My wife was brave. My kids were brave. And I just obeyed and prayed and fasted.
I fell back on my therapy. I started with a very simple message – we’re all broken and God’s going to fix this. I started doing seminars on becoming healthy and started training leaders to be healthier people. Health was all I knew. I didn’t do altar calls or any of those things. I just brought a message of hope and healing. We’re going to be emotionally healthy, spiritually healthy, relationally healthy.
As I focused on this message, the church started to grow. We doubled in six months, just by focusing on health, and grew 400 people.
Doubling in size in just six months must have been encouraging.
It was, but soon things changed.
I was on one of my prayer and fasting days, alone on a mountain in the desert. Then the strangest thing happened to me – I felt the power of God touch me. I had never been involved in a lot of Pentecostal or Charismatic things, but I literally felt God that day. I started speaking in an unknown language. I danced on top of the mountain.
I stopped myself. I said, “Stop it, Paul. You’re having an emotional breakdown.” But I thought, “If this is a breakdown, it sure feels good!” I was so full of God’s presence. But at the time, I didn’t know what it was. I knew it was God, but I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe what was happening to me.
The next Sunday, as the worship started, I felt the same experience of God’s presence as I had on the mountain. I didn’t know what to do. I’ll never forget going up in front of the church and saying, “I don’t really know what’s happening right now. But I know I’m experiencing God. And if you’d like me to pray for you, please come up for prayer.”
People came up and started getting touched by God. I had never experienced this in my life. Some were crying, some were kneeling, some started literally shaking. The same thing happened in our second service – I just didn’t know what to do.
So what happened? Did our church grow after this? No! In one week, the church decreased from 400 to 300 people, as many were scared off by what was happening.
I had been leaning on a lot of church growth books. I still adore that stuff – there’s a lot of helpful information in them. But that day, when the power of the Holy Spirit came, we became presence-driven.
I wish I could say I remained brave and kept going forward even when we lost people. But after one week of people thinking I’d gone crazy, I sat in my office and said, “Holy Spirit, I know this is You. But please stop. I’m embarrassed. I’m ashamed. I don’t like people getting all super emotional or falling or shaking. I don’t understand any of this stuff. I don’t know what you’re doing. Please, stop.”
I was not brave. I wanted people’s approval. I didn’t want to be a failure. So when we lost 100 people in one week, I had a conversation with God. And you know, He’s so beautiful and so wonderful that He met me in my time of not being brave.
But I knew that I’d made a terrible mistake. I knew that I had grieved the Holy Spirit. I started begging Him for a second chance.
I was still fasting one day a week, and our church started to grow again. In about a year we grew to about 800 people, yet I knew deep down that I’d let the Holy Spirit down. I prayed, “If you ever give me a second chance God, I won’t let you down, with your help.”
About a year later, I was invited to a gathering of the top hundred churches in America. I went there, having told nobody that I’d been praying for a second chance. I went to this conference, and the speaker was Claudio Freidzon from Argentina. “I am not going to preach,” he said, “I’m not going to speak tonight. Because someone here has been begging for a second chance. If that’s you, come up!”
I said to myself, “That’s me!”
I didn’t care that I was surrounded by some of the most well-known pastors in the country – I ran up to the altar. Claudio didn’t speak English – he knew only a few words. But he prayed for me without even touching me. The presence of God hit me so hard. I literally remember lying on the ground and saying, “God, I’ll do anything for you.” It was the same prayer I had prayed in the Philippines.
God asked, “Do you really want my power again? Are you positive?”
God said, “Good. But this time you have to die.”
Not a lot of people know this story, but at that very moment I had a vision (I don’t have many) of myself on the cross. I saw a nail go through my left hand. And the Lord said, “Paul, I want you to die today.” I said, “Okay, kill me.” And he put the nail through my left hand. He started confronting all the sins of my mind, my pride, my ego, my people-pleasing. Literally one by one He confronted me with my sins, and each time I said “Yes,” to Him He would write it in blood.
This changed me. I went back to my church, I asked for forgiveness and for grieving the Holy Spirit. Since then we’ve been presence-driven and we have continued to grow.
Everywhere I’ve gone, I give Jesus every single ounce of glory, but I had to be willing to die. That’s what started it all.
Come back next week to hear of his passion for building healthy believers, and what steps believers can take to walk in emotional and relational health.