What's up with Bieber and his Hillsong Church pastor pal?

NEW YORK (AP) - The pastor who pals around with Justin Bieber and a bevy of A-list athletes while ministering to thousands of lesser-knowns at his megachurch says he's ready to speak truth to all those tabloid headlines.

Like reports, for instance, about that time Pastor Carl Lentz of HillsongNYC moved the pop star into his suburban New York house for 18 months a couple years back. It wasn't 18 months. It was about a month, at a time when Bieber sorely needed some downtime, Lentz told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

"Yeah, there was a period where he just needed to get out of dodge, his regular life, and lived with us," Lentz said ahead of Tuesday's release of his inspirational "Own the Moment," the pastor's first book. "He's got an amazing mom and dad but in this regard we thought maybe it would be cool for a little bit just to check out of the grind that you're in as one of the biggest stars in the world and just be normal."

Why this alarmed some people is beyond Lentz.

For the record: Lentz is the Bieb's friend, not his pastor. Bieber had one of those already - Judah Smith, based in Seattle. Also: Bieber was playing Uno with Lentz's kids when the tabs had him trashing a New York City nightclub, Lentz said.

How does Lentz counsel the reformed bad boy on how to maintain his cool in the face of all that TMZ and paparazzi attention, especially after alarm bells rang when Bieber recently cut short his latest world tour to rededicate himself to God?

"It's the same way I would try to handle criticism in my own life. You never want to get to the point where you're so callous that it doesn't register but you do want to get to a place where you can control what it does to your spirit," Lentz said.

"For him, he's so used to that kind of thing that we try to change what kind of reaction he had. On his own accord, he just said, 'Look, I don't like stuff like this but there's absolutely nothing I can do about it. It's not going to rule me so I'm not going to think about it.'"

Bieber has infamously mixed it up on occasion with the photographers who stalk him. He has left fans waiting at concerts for a couple of hours. He has been caught in a slew of other, less than sterling activities and brushes with the law, including egging his neighbor's house and urinating in a bucket. So forgive him if he wanted to chill privately in Montclair, New Jersey, with Lentz, the pastor's co church planter and wife, Laura Lentz, and their three children.

"We pulled it off for like two days and then the word got out and it was kind of annoying, but overall it was like a pretty special time," Lentz recalled. "Yeah. Uno, card games, Bible studies and just sneaking into coffee shops in Jersey, just hanging out."

Bieber's publicist declined an AP request for an interview with the star.

Lentz and his wife established the U.S. arm of the Sydney, Australia-based Hillsong seven years ago. Globally, about 100,000 people attend weekly services in about 20 countries, including 9,000 to 10,000 at several locations in the United States.

Hillsong is known for its Christian rock style of music, tattooed leaders (like Lentz) and the hipster duds they wear. Bieber isn't the only young star to embrace Hillsong. Vanessa Hudgens is an attendee, as is the occasional Kardashian (Kourtney) and Baldwin (Hailey).

"I feel like evil is rising in a very significant way, whether you want to think about it as someone with horns or just purely the voice in your mind that tells you, 'You can't do that.' And I think that's really important to get involved in a community that can help you realize everything's going to be OK, and to choose love at the end of the day is, I think, just the way," Hudgens told the AP recently of her faith and Hillsong attendance.

Lentz, an affable Virginia Beach, Virginia, native, scoffs at his frequent moniker of "pastor to the stars" and his church's reputation as the cool church, a magnet for celebrities.

"I think everybody's a star in their own right, and I think that's immediately where I differ, because I think God has created everybody with really special unique things about their life and about who they are, but I know why our world says that because they don't expect people that are famous to be in church at all," Lentz said.

"So Hillsong Church is 99.9 percent filled with amazing people who are not famous. Those are the people that build it, that serve, that sacrifice, that give, and we get notoriety for that small little sliver because people know them."

Lentz and Smith baptized Bieber three or four years ago in the custom extra-long bathtub of basketball star Tyson Chandler after the singer declared at 2 a.m. one frigid New York night that he was ready. NOW. They couldn't find a place to get it done until Lentz called his buddy Chandler.

"That man got out of bed. His wife, Kim, they opened up their house and we went in there and we just made it happen, and it was awesome," Lentz said. "It was a credit to Justin for being so passionate and relentless in his pursuit that that night to him was a must. It wasn't a maybe."

Over the years, there have many brushes with criticism. Of Bieber. Of Lentz. Of Bieber and Lentz.

A photographer caught the two earlier this year doing shots while at a private gathering at a New Zealand bar, where they were attending a Hillsong conference. Shots of what? Lentz wouldn't say, noting that he's a grown man at 38. And Bieber? Well, he's 23.

"There's context to that, and I enjoy not giving it," Lentz said of the incident. "I would say the bigger question for people to ask is, 'What's the issue?' Is the issue drinking alcohol? That's one topic. Is the issue me drinking with Justin? That's another issue, so I always say which issue are you mad about? Is this about me? Is this about Justin?"

Says Justin Bieber's friend: "Believe the best, believe the worst. I'm gonna leave it with you."


Associated Press writers Rob Maaddi in Philadelphia and Michael Cidoni Lennox in Los Angeles contributed to this report