Hugh Hewitt is host of the nationally syndicated radio show “The Hugh Hewitt Show.” He is an attorney, professor of law, author of more than a dozen books and a regular columnist for the Washington Examiner and His newest book is The Happiest Life: 7 Gifts, 7 Givers and the Secret to Genuine Success, published by Thomas Nelson. He was interviewed by Preaching Executive Editor Michael Duduit.

Preaching: In The Happiest Life, you talk about seven things we can give and receive from each other. What are the seven gifts you’re talking about?

Hewitt: I’ve been a broadcaster since 1989, so I’m in my 25th year. I’ve done five days a week, three hours a day since July 10, 2000. Before that, I did five nights a week for PBS television, and before that I did weekend radio. In the course of that, I said in the book that I’ve interviewed more than 10,000 people, but it’s actually more than 20,000 and that doesn’t include callers. It includes presidents, prime ministers, Pulitzer winners, ordinary folks, doctors and lawyers. You name it, I’ve talked to them.

I wanted to take from that list of interviews the people who struck me as the most complete, the happiest—those with a good, well-lived life—and reverse engineer from what I knew about them to what it was that created this happiness. That’s where I came up with these seven characteristics. They are enthusiasm, encouragement, empathy, energy, good humor, graciousness and gratitude.

I lay them out where they are applied differently in different situations. That was the work of a quarter century of broadcast reduced to a couple hundred-plus pages of condensed reverse engineering. That’s where that came from.

Preaching: The seventh giver you list is the church. Tell me what role the church plays in creating the happiest life.

Hewitt: This actually sparked some controversy among my readers, especially those who are not believers. I’ve got lots who are agnostics and atheists. I make the argument that you cannot be legitimately happy outside of a congregational life. You cannot actually have community if it’s not a community of faith. I encourage people who don’t believe to pick a congregation and join it, and I know some people who do that. I’m sure you do, too. They understand that if not them, then their families will be served and can serve, even if they don’t want to buy into all the theology that’s being taught that Sunday. It seems to me the happiest people in our country are those who have a fully developed faith life, which cannot be accomplished outside congregational living.

Preaching: You mention worship in the book as a place where three of the gifts—energy, enthusiasm and gratitude—should be evident. Why does worship play an important role in this path to happiness?

Hewitt: In worship, there’s the practice of not only those three gifts but also the giving within a congregational setting—that’s the hardest setting for most people to give themselves to. If you’re a parent, you’re a parent. You can walk away from your duties, but you’re a parent. If you’re a spouse, every single morning you know that’s there. Ditto. You’re going to go to work today, and I’m going to work today; and our colleagues are going to be there. We can recall our teachers, but in a congregation once a week—you practice once a week (if you’re in a good congregation)—those three gifts. There’s also the chance for graciousness and encouragement, but in any well-formed worship service, you’ll practice those three gifts.

In that practice, all of worship can be understood as practice for the rest of the week. Of course, it’s directed to God and Jesus, but it’s also a great pattern. We’re a pattern-driven people. You and I are going to do the same thing on Tuesday. At least I am, and I’m going to assume you also have a Tuesday routine. Those habits of worship carry over into the week. Those habits are great to carry out beyond the campus of the church.

Preaching: You have an interesting religious profile. You grew up Catholic, became Presbyterian, and it’s my impression you’re a living paradox of the Reformation in that you carry on a bit of both. Tell me about the role faith and worship play in your own life.

Hewitt: That’s a wonderful way of putting it. I put it as there’s one river, and I spend time on both banks. I go to mass on Saturday night or early on Sunday morning; and then I attend a Presbyterian church, of which I just finished a four-year term as an elder. So, I’m deeply involved in that, as is my wife. My wife has been Presbyterian from birth. I’m a cradle Catholic. All of our children were raised in the Presbyterian tradition.

Liturgically, I just have to have it. Like many Catholics who also deeply understand and are enriched by the preaching that comes out of the Protestant pulpit, we just learn that you have to double your time investment to get both sides of the liturgical experience, the sacramental experience and the homiletics of the Protestant tradition. Theologically, I didn’t even stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, so don’t ask!

People say, “Well, you can’t do that.” I just say, “I do it, as do many other people.” I’m doing it, so obviously I can. It might not make any sense theologically, because obviously the 16th century was riven—as have been the subsequent 500 years—in a way that cannot be pleasing to Christ by deep divisions over what is meant; but that’s way above my pay grade. I’m a mere Christian, and I love C.S. Lewis for [coining] the term.

Preaching: In fact, reading the book, I noticed you were doing a late-night show and you actually read Mere Christianity in a series of episodes, which is a book that originated as a series of radio talks.

Hewitt: That was way back in 1991 or ’92 when I was doing Sunday night radio. Nobody listens to Sunday night radio except thousands of people who can’t sleep. It came to my attention that Mere Christianity had been delivered originally by Lewis as a series of radio broadcasts during the war, so I simply read them. I didn’t have access in those days—prior to the Internet making everything available—to the recorded audio of the Lewis BBC broadcasts, or I might have just played them; but I read them to an extraordinary reaction among listeners.

In those days, a 50,000-watt clear channel radio station on a Sunday night actually could be heard regularly to the Mississippi line and beyond, although it originated in Los Angeles. People were calling in from all over the country. Now, they were people who couldn’t sleep. I got a whole bunch of Wiccans who would call from the mountains of Southern California—there’s quite a community of them—but it was bracing, and it certainly does prove the Word never goes out without something coming back.

Preaching: Isn’t it something that Lewis wrote radio talks in the 1940s that still are sold widely and read in 2014?

Hewitt: He was a genius. There aren’t many. His passing on the same day as President Kennedy and Aldous Huxley obscured that genius title for a while, but I doubt that anyone else who died 50 years ago is still having the impact on a daily basis that C.S. Lewis is having. I don’t know anyone who is remotely close.

Preaching: I think you’re right. Hugh, as you know, the majority of those reading this right now are pastors and church leaders. Pastors are among the loneliest people in our culture. They tend to live hectic, high-demand lives. Many of them are isolated; statistics show they have few, if any, close friends. What counsel would you offer to pastors to help them in this journey toward seeking happiness?

Hewitt: Having just finished those four years as an elder—it’s my second tour in that job (and I have many good pastor friends)—I think they have to be very intentional about appointing the encouragers-in-chief in their church. They don’t get any encouragement. It’s my experience they, more than any other job, stand in the middle of rivers of criticism every week. Everybody feels as if it’s up to them to critique the pastor.

I live in a world of credit and critique every day on the radio. The people who hate you tell you they hate you. The people who love you tell you they love you. I get hate mail from left wingers who generally don’t like my position on tax credits. It doesn’t matter; I just live in the middle.

Pastors, everyone assumes they’re spirit-filled and absolutely in need of nothing, when actually they need encouragement as much or more than any other person, especially if you believe in the spiritual battle; and I do. Therefore, when they put together their board of elders, board of trustees or board of advisors, I think they’ve got to look consciously at that man or woman and say, “‘You are the encourager-in-chief of me.’ That sounds horribly selfish, but your job is to see to it that I’m hearing the good as well as the bad.”

That might sound vain. That might sound self-serving, but in being self-serving, they actually are serving their congregation. It’s a wearisome job. Anyone who knows a pastor knows what I’m talking about. I would not do it. It requires way too much patience; suffering; small, petty attacks; and an indifference to the small and petty on a daily basis—and I haven’t got it. I’ve had too many close friends, and I see this stuff go on…

I give a big speech, and people will line up after the speech and come up to me and say how much they enjoyed it. Rarely will someone come up to me and say, “That was horrible.” I’m not sure that’s ever happened. [However,] on a routine basis, I’ll stand next to a pastor on the patio, and people will come up and tell him how bad his sermon was. I’m just amazed. They smile and nod, and on they go.

Preaching: You’re not only a radio host, but you’re also an attorney. You’re very plugged into political and cultural trends and what’s happening in government on the social side. What do you think are some of the most significant issues churches are going to face in the next few years?

Hewitt: Oh, boy. It’s important that preachers and pastors listen very carefully, especially to the extent that they are unaware. The Hobby Lobby case is going to line out some of our religious freedoms in great relief. It’s being argued by Paul Clement, who is arguably the country’s greatest Supreme Court litigator along with Ken Starr, the president of Baylor University, and Gibson Dunn. These are the three greatest Supreme Court litigants.

The government is pressing hard on religious organizations, religious corporations and churches, and they are especially pressing hard on universities. I have been out—in fact, I talked to a Christian university board of trustees last week—telling them this is not the end game. This is the beginning of secular society’s demand for absolute allegiance to a naked public square, to the privatization of belief, to the withdrawal of anyone from a faith-based position in the public square.

There are a lot of allies out there; but be ready, because this is the beginning. The left of this country is anti-belief. They are not pro freedom of worship, but they’re anti-belief. They’re coming. They’re coming into the religious school world trying to dictate who can and can’t be fired. They’re coming into the university world of Wheaton and Biola, and everyone else who has been sued or feels they have to take action against the HHS mandate under the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. They are everywhere, demanding compliance to a secular standard, which most believers reject. That means it’s going to be a long period of trouble and trial.

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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