What Furtick’s Millions (& the “We Serve a Lead Pastor” Mantra) Might Mean

In the heart of the Bible belt, Steven Furtick’s new-school Southern Baptist Elevation Church continues to boom – and make media waves.

The latest hits have come in the form of a leaked infographic from the church listing 30 reasons why it’s the best place to work, and yet another local news story about Furtick’s million dollar home and how that connects to his salary and book sales.

To be honest, none of this is surprising in the least, as it smacks of Southern prosperity theology and leader worship. But as is the case with the Celebrity Christianity trend that I’ve tracked here on the blog, it is a new kind of package where the prosperity practices are not put on display as blatantly as, say, the 80′s and 90′s TBN preachers were wont to do. Now, the image is less telethon-esque sow-a-seed-and-reap-money/healings/jobs/cars and more live-like-a-celebrity-for-Jesus-because-he-wants-you-blessed! Pastors are less money-grubbing and mercenary and more laid-back examples of the good life, archetypes of positive, happy, wealthy living for the congregations and fans to aspire to. Plus they are all pumped about “living for others” and “reaching the least and the lost” (and documenting all of it on Instagram while wearing a trendy leather/denim jacket).

I want to suggest, however, that Furtick’s recent hits might mean something even more than the continued flourishing of the prosperity gospel or the Celebrity Christianity trend. They might put on display the growing reality of controlling, cult-like tendencies among these younger organizations and leaders. Tendencies that are setting a trajectory for massive levels of hurt and destruction which may only be uncovered years down the road.

The book/home/money controversy indicates the kind of unethical, if not illicit, mishandling of finances that cult leaders think is completely valid and justified because of their special, important, amazing call from God. In fact, Steven’s entire ministry seems based on this self-aggrandizing self-promotion (though he seems sincerely oblivious to it). He is uniquely called to build a spectacular movement for his generation, haters be damned. Thus, he deserves the first-class perks.

But perhaps the “Best Place to Work” infographic is really the most alarming (click to enlarge). Here we see repeated, over and over again, the idea that the best thing about working at this church is the super-specialness of “serving the lead pastor.” One immediately notices the contrast with Jesus’s own words about himself – “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,” – and the logical extension of that command to us – “the servant is not above his master”, etc.

But even beyond that, the tone is just creepily cultish:

1. We serve a Lead Pastor who seeks and hears from God. The image here is a one-man, top-down leadership hierarchy claiming to have a direct line to God. This is recipe for all kinds of power abuse, and historically has led to disaster.

3. We serve a Lead Pastor we can trust. Really? If that’s true, do you have to say it? Methinks thou protesteth too much. And the subtext here is: you better not question the Lead Pastor.

7. We serve a Lead Pastor who pours into us spiritually and professionally. This reinforces the hero/guru/celebrity myth where receiving any attention from the Lead Pastor is some kind of magic and the highest privilege.

16. We serve a Lead Pastor who goes first. This means that Pastor Steven is the one who takes the risks and takes the hits. But it should become obvious that what’s really happening is that the Lead Pastor is going first in financial profit and power over people. And the celebrity life he  leads sets a (mostly unreachable) standard for his staff and congregation to aspire to.

As we are seeing more and more evangelical movements outed as actual cults (IHOP, Bill Gothard, etc.), we ought to take notice of the mega-shiny-seeker church too.

Cults of power, personality, and profit can be cults nonetheless.

What do you think? Are there signs of cultish activity here? Does Pastor Steven have too much money and power, and does he need to step back and take stock of where this is all heading? Or am I missing the boat on this? Would love to hear your thoughts.

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About Zach Hoag

Zach J. Hoag is an Author, Preacher, and Content Creator who writes and curates here at The Apocalypse Review. You can also catch him at his author blog, zhoag.com.

  • http://www.faithmeetsworld.com/ Rob Grayson

    Zack, in my humble opinion you’re on the nail as usual.

    I’m willing to believe that Furtick is absolutely sincere, but he is sincerely deceived. In my experience, control, manipulation and abuse of power in churches rarely comes about deliberately and explicitly. It usually happens more subtly at first, when leaders get a taste of “success” and begin to believe their own press. And, of course, whatever success they attain can be interpreted as a sign of God’s blessing and special favour, making it very hard to argue with. It’s an entirely self-justifying system.

    I would say that, judging by the awful “best place to work” graphic, Furtick and his church are already a long, long way down this road. My guess is that there will, at the very least, be much controversy (and probably plenty of heartbreak) ahead.

  • Mark Demers

    Did you happen to hear NPR’s conversation with Mother Cecilia from the Benedictines of Mary this morning? The music is wonderful. But the last minute or two of the conversation is what really struck me. What is the impact of the popularity of their CD’s on the community? Mother Cecilia is the only one who knows about it. It’s not a topic of conversation.
    “The CDs are something that God has allowed to happen,” Mother Cecilia
    says. “It’s a wonderful thing insofar as it brings souls closer to God,
    and in the meantime helps us pay our debt, but other than that, life
    just flows along at the priory just the same way it did before. And
    that’s the way we love it; that’s the way we want. No tours, no
    concerts, you know? Just simple, monastic life.”
    Interesting contrast I would say.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    wow. very good contrast. i need to look that up.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    exactly. i don’t doubt steven’s sincerity. and perhaps it’s my own experience of a high-control, cult-like church upbringing that makes me sensitive to trajectories. but this isn’t going somewhere good, that’s for sure.

  • Bill Bass Jr

    I would never trust a wealthy Pastor, period…I’ve got primarily Wesleyan theology, and Wesley believed if he died with any money at all that he’d done it wrong. Now, that’s extreme, but the larger a church gets, the more “show” it gets by necessity, because the personal touch is impossible to maintain on such a large scale. No pastor in the world needs that kind of money…and most wouldn’t want it, if their heads are screwed on straight.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    amen – to you and JW!

  • http://henryimler.com/ Henry Imler

    Woah…. that flyer is creepy.

  • Matt Archer

    Interesting and painful read. I admit that once upon a time, for about 15 minutes, I was a fan of “Pastor Steven” and Elevation. As an artist, I loved all of the creativity and multi-sensory attention that they gave to their gatherings. At the same time, as a pastor, I was envious of his/their fame and ‘success.’ Now I just feel sick and saddened, not only by the way I used to feel (which revealed way too much about my own heart), but also for this church and for all of those who feel like this is in any way reflective of the Kingdom of Heaven.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    right?

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    yeah man. thanks for sharing that.

  • Kurt Michaelson

    It’s a bit surprising that Pastor Steven Furtick would allow points 1, 3, 7 & 16 to be communicated they way it was because he, and others would know that all pastors, as shepherds, should have the humility of John Baptist when he said, “He must increase and I must decrease.”

    Somehow, the people of Elevation Church have it a bit mixed up concerning the primary reason of serving the church and should really begin to reevaluate themselves and their ministry leaders too.

  • http://restoringpangea.com/ Nathan Smith

    Zach – it’s looking like you’re right. I can’t help but be frustrated with the people who make this kind of person possible. He’d be nowhere without them, but at the same time, they are embracing things that they may not understand. I remember my elderly Dutch wisdom literature professor from Seminary saying something I’ll never forget. He said, “Most churches have very little wisdom, very little.”

    He wasn’t slamming the local church but I’d never heard a prognosis like that before. He really thought the pursuit of wisdom and the acceptance that it is lacking to begin was, was in the top 3 reasons why we have so much trouble like what you’ve explained above. Of course, he was biased and invested in wisdom literature, but after hearing him say it, it’s stuck with me. We need wise elders who will teach us, be patient with us and help us.

    We just don’t have enough elders to help us these days, and if we do, we don’t trust them.

  • Jenn Baerg

    It makes me nervous – yes it looks cultish. Maybe this is the Anabaptist in me or the student in the middle of feeling overwhelmed in my MDiv but “ministry” to me doesn’t look like glitz or hierarchy, it is community, and it comes with the freedom rather than the fear of knowing that a person without even a high school diploma can speak prophecy in your congregation that must be heeded because I am not the only person with a relationship with God, and I’m not an isolated individual without community or without weaknesses. Yes “leadership” is important but I do not believe that leadership means I am the only one to make the decisions and no one can speak to those decisions or the errors I may (and could very well) be/am making.

  • http://jenniferluitwieler.com/ Jennifer Luitwieler

    Here’s what gets me going. if this church is so interested in the least for the lost or whatever, then what’s with the pursuit of wealth. Our little weird church meets in a wholesale market smack in the middle of subsidized housing. Children come without shoes. They do not have enough food to eat. Their parents sell their food stamps for drug money. They come to church. They come stoned. They come in rags. They come. I hardly feel like apologizing for my elevation of our weird little church but it seems to me this guy and his minions have swallowed a lie and have forgotten who the lost and the least are. It’s not doctrine people seek.

  • http://henryimler.com/ Henry Imler

    It completely is.

    Thanks for creating the category of public discussion which is “damaging but earnest”, which is too often missing from public discussion.

    I have a dear friend who is starting a church plant and often goes to Stephen’s materials because of his success (particularly with regard to his communication ability) and I don’t want some of these blunders (that have vast, real, and damaging effects) to be diffused along with whatever positive s/he can learn from Stephen.

  • http://beingperfectlyhuman.blogspot.com/ Eric Fry

    I don’t trust him for one second. This video is ridiculous: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCW9-MglCsw

  • christopher cahall

    thanks for the article & no joke, this is the first thing that came to mind when i watched that video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tA7-3FKF-lE

  • Zach Kennedy

    Matt, I’m with you on this. I definitely was a fan and would have wanted to share in their earthly “success.” Admittedly, if God offered it to me tomorrow guaranteed (minus the money-grubbing and subtle prosperity theology), I’d probably gladly accept it. It’s so easy to get sucked into wanting this kind of “ministry.” It’s far more enjoyable to have large numbers coming to hear you preach, becoming a part of your church, giving to support your work (and your paycheck), than only a few. It’s more comfortable to our egos and our flesh to mainly preach and call the shots than to have to do things like personal visits, counseling, funerals, etc. Unfortunately, if we want those kinds of results for those reasons, it’s just another ugly golden calf we erect in our hearts, hoping to find fulfillment in something other than Christ.

  • SusanRogersStLaurent

    Me too!

  • SusanRogersStLaurent

    Yuck.

  • R Thomas

    Very good article. Sad for Furtick who I truly believe started out believing the need to share the Gospel. I attended for over 6 years. He is a different man now. He started out wanting to change the world but now the worldly desires and a taste of material things has changed him. Believe me only a handful of people know what he is truly like “behind the curtain”. They hide it well. The flyer above is very true, it’s a mantra for most of the staff. They blindly follow and never ask questions. What is so fascinating to observe are the truly mature Christians who have been in Charlotte for awhile, compromise their integrity to be apart of the “show”.

  • Rev. Jeff Breakfast
  • UMadBro

    Southern prosperity theology? The prosperity gospel is not confined to a particular geographical region, unfortunately. That term reeks of typical stereotypes that southerns are sheep and he rest of the country are the enlightened ones.

  • Mike Stidham

    This reminds me of what my political science professor said of the Puritans: “They didn’t come to the colonies for freedom from religious persecution, they came to set up their own brand of religious persecution.”

  • CalebHamm

    The author does a pretty terrible job at connecting the dots on this one. The infographic was obviously put together by the staff and not Furtick and could be simply read as a measure of appreciation. I do not know all the financial doings of Furtick, but this article seems to vent vague frustration at trends and then without real explanation pin it on a particular pastor. Having a million dollar home, might not even be impractical, there is a possibility that with all of his work he is able to give away a majority of his income and still afford the house. I know this is still a gray area, but then how do we categorically limit the spending of those in ministry without wading into treacherous waters ourselves? Even according to the local news report there is no direct evidence that anything wrong has been done. Not defending the guy if he is indeed in sin, bu5 our assumptions about his spending make him an automatic bad guy, when most common Christians remain in debt and don’t adjust their spending. Seems odd to me.

  • My Username..needs a new one

    Furtick would’ve signed off on it. No question there. It’s exactly the kind of mantra that a church like Elevation would give to their staff to keep them compliant and grateful.

    It’s also super creepy. The repeated “We serve the Lead Pastor”…not God?

    God is mentioned twice in that document. First, to remind them that the Lead Pastor hears from God. Now, we’re all supposed to hear from God, but Furtick’s hearing is super-special! That line is meant to shoot down any opposition to his teachings. The second time is to remind the staff that God gives them money. So that’s where God fits in..to prop up the Lead Pastor, and to supply their money. The Bank of God.

    I connected the dots just fine! Rather than declaring it a terrible job, maybe reread it without such defensiveness? I understand that maybe you don’t like what you see as an attack, but these issues need to be examined, and I think the author here displayed some excellent critical analysis.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    ah-yep.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    Not saying it’s confined to the south, but there is a certain “southernness” about the way prosperity preachers like Furtick present their gospel. It would be presented differently in the northeast, for instance.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    thanks for adding this, R.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    thanks Jennifer.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    good point Jenn.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    wow. amen.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    Yeah. I’ve heard Furtick essentially voice those same points himself from the pulpit, calling for “honor” as the Lead Pastor, etc., so he is definitely on board with it (actually, demanding it).

  • R Vogel

    Zach! HappyHeretic here. Welcome to Patheos – good to have one fewer sites to visit for find those whose thought I respect. It probably not surprising, given my anti-institution bias, that reading #1 sent shivers up my spine. This is the perennial challenge to institutional religion – people want to be led. By and large they want to abdicate to someone else, find safety in the herd. How that can be overcome, I have no idea. Someone below said he didn’t start out like this, and they so often don’t. I grew up in a church led by a good man who turned into a monster. Absolute power coupled with a horde of sycophants is more than any human being can resist.

  • Curt Whalen

    The older I get (I’m 46) the more I’ve come to trust in systems of accountability and structure that aren’t designed and controlled by a select few “elite” men. For example, a board that serves a private company maintains a healthy level of “checks and balances” that protect the company from the harm any one powerful, greedy, unstable leader could do. And while the church is not a private business, these same principles hold true – thus elders, deacons, and church staff work together to maintain a healthy environment. Governance of the church should include people from the congregation that bring stability, balance, and longevity to the ruling body.

    Whatever you believe about SF, the facts are clear… Elevation is governed, salaries are set, and finances are controlled by a very small group of men, none of which are from the church body. (It’s been recently documented that all of the members on the board are other pastors who are friends with Steven and live out of town). And having attended Elevation from 2006 to 2010 and being actively involved, I can tell you that this article is very accurate in describing the culture of Elevation. I will never question what Steven’s motives were in the beginning, but the lack of necessary structure and accountability created the man and church (cult, sure I’ll use the word for a lot more reasons than this article brings up) we keep reading about in the press. I can’t speak for all of us who were part of Elevation during the early years, but every single one of these reports and articles reminds me how deeply grieved I feel for what Elevation and Steven Furtick could have been.

  • Maggie

    Furtick aside…What if the pastor’s wealth didn’t come from the congregation? God can call ANYBODY he wants to call. A wealthy person could be called to pastor people. The ability to trust someone ought not have much to do with $…and I am a Wesleyan and respect the heck out of Wesley. Wealthy people may be extremely benevolent as Jesus leads them.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    truth. and thanks so much for the welcome – honored to be here :).

  • Matt Stout

    Have you seen “The Code” on Elevation’s website? http://elevationchurch.org/the-code

    Similarly creepy stuff in there. Serving and defending the lead pastor’s vision. Being all about attendance numbers. About half of those items are troubling, to say the least.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    wow. thanks for the heads up.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    curt, agree 100%. and thanks for sharing your experience. honestly, this is what draws me to “institutional” churches like the UMC. there is internal accountability and governance, and external (episcopal) accountability and governance. it’s utterly necessary.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    dexter! jordan chase! you are speaking my language!

  • RichDogue

    Yukko. More religious bullshit. More of the falsehoods once delivered unto the saints–only this time without class, education, or finesse.

  • http://daniellyle.com/ Daniel Lyle

    This article is not very helpful. First, this kind of rant is not going to chance anyone’s mind. All it’s going to do is rally the troops who already agree with you and cause the other side to dig in their heels and holler back. Second, it’s coming at the issue (if there is an one) backwards. You stared off by slinging mud and although you alluded to it you never defined what a Biblical pastor and/or church should look like. Write an article on that. This is a classic case of defining who you are by pointing out who you are not.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    Actually Daniel, I made a few pretty substantial points. You might consider responding to those points rather than leaving a dismissive comment like this. Also, feel free to peruse the blog if you want to know how I define myself. Peace.

  • Kate Bell

    There is a lot of good thought that has been put into this. And I think the concerns stated are valid, but this should not be a cover all statement for all mega churches. I attend a Southern mega church, in fact I attend a mega church that Steven Furtick went to as a teenager, and it was one of his inspirations for his own church. My home church is quite large and generates a large amount of revenue, but they use it to build up the community and serve in various parts of the world. Our pastor is one of the most humble people, so much so that you would never really know the kind of influence he has in the church world. Mega churches are not the problem, being seeker friendly is not the problem, even having pastors that are well known in the world is not the problem. Do you not think the fact that our congregations are steeped in a culture with a celebrity obsesssion? Our churches are full of people looking to follow great and powerful people or “celebrities” because our world culture promotes that mentality. And this happens in churches big and small. Cultish behavior occurs in both. So instead of simply bashing a pastor, lets look at the congregations as well. You will have devoted Christ followers and Celebrity followers in every church.

  • Brandon Eloy

    I find discomfort in this, and I don’t know if it’s with you, Zach, or Pastor Steven. It could be that I’ve been such a “fan” of the ministry that having things like this come to light make me question so much.

    The first “Code Orange Revival” helped save my life; Pastor Matt Chandler preached a message on Justification and God’s purpose of being for God. The conviction that such a harsh and beautiful message brought took me out of alot of struggle.

    I’ve read Steven’s books which I never found to be SPECTACULAR but they were easy reads that had some good punchlines I’ve used since. Up till I’d say about a year ago, I listened to his sermons pretty regularly while at the gym and didn’t feel much tension against them; they seemed pretty theologically sound in my eyes.
    However, over the past year (with big influence from your writings on Celeb Culture, thank you for all of that) I’ve been really conflicted with how I view these ministries.

    Being part of a church plant in Massachusetts (consistently containing the “least Bible-minded cities in the nation, along with Burlington) we modeled much of our structure after ministries like Elevation, Hillsong, etc. Throughout this time, I’ve challenged a lot of our intentions and philosophies in regards to certain things and have received heavy criticism for it. But, as Carl Lentz said in his HuffPost interview about Zach, criticism is always good because it either makes you examine yourself or it further convicts you of your Truth.

    I definitely feel called to pastoral ministry, but I no longer want to subscribe to this life of fame and fortune. I feel called because I love people, and they seem to be comfortable with sharing true struggle with me without my prompting. I know that comfort is a gift from God, and I am thankful for it.

    However, I don’t feel like God woke me up one day and told me I’d pastor a church of thousands. I see how businessy certain ministries look at their people. People have boiled down to numbers. “Oh you’re a pastor? How many members do you have?” This seems like the new measure of success, and it breaks my heart.

    I also believe that Steven’s intention is sincere and heartfelt, but somewhere along the line the lens was fogged. I pray for him often, I hope others do too. I believe he was gifted with many talents and knowledge, I hope that wisdom is applied to those.

    Or maybe I’m completely wrong. In that case, please disregard this soapbox.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    I agree that what is true here is not true of all megachurches.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    brandon thanks so much for thinking through this deeply. i think it’s interesting that chandler’s sermon had that effect on you. i watched the code orange stuff, and i think it was clear that matt came with a prophetic correction to what was going on. the contrast with the other preachers’ messages (including steven’s) was stark. i don’t think he’ll be invited back. that said, your heart in how to pursue pastoral ministry is right on, so be encouraged. there is a way that looks like the way of Jesus, no matter what context we find ourselves in. we just need to follow that way, by God’s grace. thanks again man.

  • TJ

    Brandon, I appreciate your passion and desire to see people come to Christ, particularly in Massachusetts where I used to minister. I’d encourage you to pray hard and search the scripture for what true success in ministry is, though. Look at those who ministered faithfully in the bible and what their ministry looked like. If you do, you will see that success in ministry can take many forms. Peter had thousands believe and join the church in Jerusalem. Paul planted dozens of churches. Jeremiah preached faithfully and was utterly rejected and ignored. Stephen preached and was killed on the spot. Many, like Timothy and Titus, had a mixture of failures and success. Some had huge churches, others had no followers at all. They were all faithful to God and served him as He called them to. The one thing you can say they all had in common is that none of them received fame or fortune for their ministries. Many of them were killed. The thing that has concerned me about Steven since I lived in Charlotte is that any time wealth and numbers becomes the standard for success in ministry, you have abandoned the scriptures. If Steven is the model for success then nearly every minister of God in the bible was a failure.

  • Alan Christensen

    “Whoever would be great among you must serve the Lead Pastor.” Yeah, that’s what Jesus meant.

  • $25021989

    “[I]t is a new kind of package where the prosperity practices are not put on display as blatantly as, say, the 80′s and 90′s TBN preachers were wont to do.”

    Furtick reportedly now has his own show on TBN.
    You forgot to mention that members of Furtick’s organization must submit to a Führereid-like oath, known as “The Code.”

    Section 4 of “The Code” states:

    “Elevation is built on the vision God gave Pastor Steven. We will aggressively defend our unity and that vision.”

    http://elevationchurch.org/the-code

    Creepy. Cultish.

  • Claudia Garrett

    We serve a lead pastor??? I thought a Christian served Christ…all the glory always, and only for Jesus Christ!

  • Rob Reece

    Where is Christ in any of this? This man is a wolf in sheeps clothes. It breaks my heart to know people, especially in my family who follow this charlatan. I pray that God breaks his soul to repentance.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    see today’s post!

  • Joe

    poorly written article that judges a man’s character off a list probably written by an intern.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    joe that would only be a good defense of steven if he didn’t embody all of these points in his sermons, books, etc., and isn’t the driving force behind the list itself. but he does, and he is.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    Both Jesus and Paul ended up completely rejected, abandoned, and alone. They are the most successful leaders of all time.

  • Karen Steiner

    We attend elevation right now and we are struggling with some of the same issues that have been mentioned in these writings. It is definitely something that we have been seeking God’s direction on. I was very concerned at the last comment you made saying you prefer UMC and Episcopal. We were United Methodist for 37 years and would never go back because of false teaching. They baptise babies which is unscriptural and teaches parents that there child is on the way to heaven. The don’t preach being saved through receiving Christ(at least in the Northern States they don’t). people feel they are saved because they Ttend church. The “conference” where the collection goes, suppports the pro- choice movements among other liberal ajendas. There is no encouragement for tithing. Extra funds are raised from fund raising activities which is unscriptual. The episcopal church is the same only more- so with additional ritual. I am pleased that people striving to follow Christ more closely by examining where they are attending church I just don’t feel that UMC and Episopal churches are a good alternative to ELEVATION. I would stay at Elevation my whole life rather than those two choices.

  • Joshua Conn

    OK, I don’t think I would post a silly thing like that about my
    church regarding the “best place to work” topic. BUT – Would you rather
    serve a lead pastor who…

    #1 DOESN’T hear from God? whatever happened to authority and mutual
    submission in the church? Do you not think that it is possible for a
    “pastor” to be served and hear from God? There is a mutual serving that happens right?

    #3 You CAN’T trust? maybe they just love the guy. And YES i have worked
    on staff and other places where I didn’t trust people I worked with and
    even didn’t trust people in my missional community. maybe they trust
    him. good for them.

    #5 Who IGNORES them spiritually and professionally? This isn’t hero
    worship! Maybe it’s actually scriptural to have a “follow someone who pours
    into you?” This isn’t heretical! since when is following with honor heretical? What do you want it to say? And why is it wrong to serve your pastor?
    shouldn’t you? Are all big churches bad?

    #11 Who doesn’t go first? This one is a bit more vague and I’m not sure what
    it really means. But why did you bring finances into this particular
    point? I don’t know exactly what his financial status is, he has money, so
    what? but you have jumped to an easy criticism of someone. heck, I bet
    you “waste money” on fancy coffee and eating out that could go to feed
    the hungry in your neighborhood and city. So you have taken a vow of
    poverty right? Ever been in debt? Do you overeat? Are you fat? A
    glutton? Once you start down the path it’s hard to draw a line because
    its is so easy to criticize someone and almost impossible to correct
    yourself.

    I don’t know you or your ministry, but I would say
    we don’t have time to write blogs about some dude in NC. Too much real work to do. This was a waste of my time…

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    Joshua, by all means, don’t waste your time.

  • Joe

    Thanks for your input, friend. The media strongly exaggerates the truth as is their style. If you would like to do some searching on your own, why don’t you browse some of his sermons yourself or perhaps come to Blakeney on a Sunday? Most of the criticisms come from people that have never stepped foot inside his church. It is sad that some want to demoralize his character based on inconclusive and inaccurate presumptions based on a bloggers point of view.

  • Agni Ashwin

    Have you defined ‘cult’ in an earlier post?

  • Lauren

    The problem with articles like this is that the “Are they a cult?”discussion isn’t a yes or no conversation. All of the criteria lead to a spectrum approach. Some groups can strongly identify with half of the criteria but wouldn’t be called a cult by professionals.

    I spent 7 years at IHOP. There are definitely characteristics of that church that fall on the criteria. Do those things need to be addressed and adjusted? Most certainly. But it isn’t a cult. It’s far less black and white than we would like it to be.

  • Ryan Hite

    This is the inherent problem of religion in the world. People think that we need to have religion as a foundation but religion should really be an extension of what your personal beliefs are. It is important for us to understand that and it is unfortunate that many people do not. http://www.amazon.com/Virtues-Vices-Ryan-Hite-ebook/dp/B00IFRF9RY/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1392344503&sr=1-2&keywords=virtues+and+vices http://hitemagazine.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/scams-and-deceptions/

  • SDK

    Joe, I’m not basing my presumptions about this pastor and his church on “a
    blogger’s point of view”. I’m basing it on the content of this very same church’s
    own infographic, which is damning enough and (thank God) does not necessitate me having to step foot in that place.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    I haven’t, though I’m working on something that may act as a narrative definition of sorts. Stay tuned.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    Lauren, I agree that there’s a spectrum, though I’d say that the presence of strong cultish elements renders it more or less a cult. Iow, there has to be a point at which the word has meaning and can be applied. I disagree with your assessment of IHOP, though I’m not going to attempt to expound on that in the comments.

  • Levedi

    Yup, it’s a personality cult. (Aren’t they all, really?) Okay, I could be pedantic and talk about how the term cult is at best fuzzy in definition, but I think the bottom line with this group, with Gothard, with Calvary Chapel, probably with John McArthur’s ministries is that the obsessive loyalty of the membership is directed at the leader who becomes the Voice of God (™) and replaces Christ as the focal point of obedience and imitation. Sure, they may speak in the name of Christ, but the followers are really following the earthly leader at the expense of following Christ.

  • Levedi

    Seriously!. That right there is damning enough. I work in an evangelical institution, but our president has never once spoken of his faculty and staff as serving him. He talks about serving our students, our community, each other, and God. I have never heard him speak of us serving him.

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

    So I take it you have no problem with paying for someone else’s multi million dollar house, paid for by his salary (supplied by his congregation) and by his book sales (also mostly supplied by his congregation)

  • redwingdb

    Good comments.

  • redwingdb

    Honestly, I’ve never heard a prosperity gospel message from Steven Furtick. And I’ve listened to tons of them. Maybe something is changing, but I certainly won’t believe the media spin as truth. I can honestly say that I have benefited a great deal from many sermons of Steven’s. I hope I am wise enough to attribute that to God and not to a man.

    I’m not a mega-church guy, and probably wouldn’t be a member there, although I have visited in person and went to school with their CFO… but as a foreign missionary isolated in a lonely and absent culture of Christ’s love, I am grateful for how God used many of Steven’s sermons to encourage and strengthen my faith and family. I’ve always appreciated his gospel-driven sermons that never shy away from hard questions nor gloss over difficult passages. I have thought many times that most preachers in his position wouldn’t talk like this. It was refreshing.

    He has his own style. Nobody says it has to be my style. I don’t get the big house, the fog machines and ear plugs… but being there and seeing the MASSIVE amount of volunteers giving their best to serve the city of Charlotte was inspiring. The ministry here is truly being ushered through the hands of the church, not a “showman on stage.”

    Maybe we should pray for Steve, instead of ripping him apart here?

  • Guest

    I believe he wrote episcopal (small e) meaning under the oversight of a Bishop, not the Anglican Church Episcopal.

  • Tom Quaid

    Why don’t you spend less time going after others and more time doing something of value with your own life

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    Thanks for the advice, “Tom Quaid.”

  • Joe

    You think he’s sincere? He rehearses all the time and he’s still a bad actor. He’s a showman. He’s in show business. Gimme a break people. http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=FFCM2CNU

    Edit: Eric Fry down in the comments beat me to the video, I see.

  • Joe

    You don’t doubt his sincerity. That’s hilarious. What the heck is wrong with people.

  • http://www.faithmeetsworld.com/ Rob Grayson

    Joe, I guess I was just trying to, you know, be charitable. My point is that even if he is sincere, he’s sincerely wrong.

  • Albert Mohler

    Cult is a strong word. However, this style of top-down, rock star celebrity pastor, consumeristic Christianity needs to go. It is a far cry from the early church or the book of Acts. To be fair, I don’t know this pastor or this church and I don’t know his heart. I have heard – firsthand – from locals that this church does amazing things in the community.

    Even if a pastor makes his money honesty, through hard work, book sales, or whatever, any pastor who builds a mansion sends out the wrong message.

  • Joe

    Oh okay. I guess you don’t want to swear by that guy even though you have seen him and you know he exists. Other people see the same guy and they swear by him like he’s the best thing ever. I guess maybe that’s because they WANT to believe it. You wouldn’t ever swear by something, especially if you’ve never even seen it and you don’t even have the first clue if anything about it is even true or not, simply just because you WANT to believe it, right? Yeah didn’t think so.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    I hear you. Btw, is this THE Albert Mohler?

  • http://www.faithmeetsworld.com/ Rob Grayson

    Joe, I would reply if I understood what point you were making…?

  • Joe

    Yeah I give up then have a nice day. :D

  • bingle
  • John Hodges

    “He who does not renounce all that he has, cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:33

  • John Hodges

    More chapter and verse about what Jesus told his followers to DO at

    http://www.atheistnexus.org/profiles/blogs/the-ethics-of-jesus

  • wanderer

    Yes, I think I’d rathe be part of a group where:

    1.people admit they’re human. sometimes they think they have divine inspiration about stuff and they’re wrong. Sometimes it is a great idea. But they aren’t going to take themselves that seriously.

    3. The leader admits he lets people down from time to time and encourages people only to trust him or her once they feel he or she has earned it.

    5. Respects me spiritually and professionally. That includes acknowledging the leader isn’t better than me and so I don’t need him/her to “pour” anywhere.

    11. Makes room for others to go first whenever they are best suited.

    So yeah, I would say I would like the list you described better than Furtick’s.

  • Ecclesiastes

    “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” The apostles gave and sacrificed themselves for the church. How far we have fallen!

  • Jackie Heaton

    How do you know that he doesn’t?

  • Jackie Heaton

    Whoops. If he had me, he’d lose me right there. Where is the Protestant teaching that we all, that’s right all of us, have the right to seek God to the best of our abilities and follow the leading of the spirit without it being filtered through another person? Which I admit is very scary stuff. From a little baby Quaker.

  • Jackie Heaton

    Sure doesn’t read like the Gospel I learned at the Methodist church in my little logging town.

  • Jackie Heaton

    My experience is that nothing on policy goes out without the boss signing off on it.

  • Jackie Heaton

    Your weird little church sounds like just the place that itinerant rabbi would have showed up at. And most folks don’t come looking for doctrine they come looking for that hand held out in the dark.

  • LifeisCrazyGood

    Couldn’t agree more. My husband and I grew up in the Southern Baptist church – with parents on both sides who were very active in church leadership. Elevation and churches like it, in my opinion, have wandered far, far away from the historical church. I am incredibly uncomfortable reading “The Code” and watching SF’s “Hey, Haters!” video. I am filled with an emotion welling up inside of me that is cynical, sad, and has brought a lot of pain and confusion to my life as we raise our children in the love of Christ. The Southern Baptist church, in its efforts to become more “relevant” to a culture, has become more irrelevant to the lives of those of us seeking the true church. We finally left – after listening to our “intuition” – the Holy Spirit – leading us towards what is more pure. We have searched for a long time – almost every Methodist/Presbyterian/Baptist/community/Bible church in our part of the country are essentially the same and follows the “let’s be the cool/hip church and have a praise band and wear cool purple shirts” mantra of the Southern Baptist church. Interestingly…we are finding ourselves drawn to the holiness of the Anglican community. Watching/hearing SF preach/speak fills me with an incredibly “icky” feeling that I’ve needed to get away from for a long time now.

  • http://readingscripture.org Ron Henzel

    Elevation Church is turning itself into the North Korea of evangelical congregations. Disneyesque propaganda on the outside, spiritual starvation on the inside, propelled by contemptible arrogance and bluster on the topside.

  • noexcuses

    You miss the point entirely. The Biblical example set forth repeatedly is that the pastor/shepherd SERVES the people, the flock, the congregation. Jesus did not have servants, in fact he washed the feet of his disciples.

  • Sarah

    These are definitely not the only two choices. Though I have my own reservations about these criteria for churches, there are definitely countless options between the two. Elevation is honestly in the minority. It loud and flashy, but it is one church. There are plenty of other churches, just as “evangelical,” that don’t have the red flags that Elevation does.

  • Paul_R_Dunham

    I think there is a HUGE difference between calling someone to re-examine their ministry & their motives to calling for their deaths- even in hyperbole. Words matter. The tone of this article was one of “we’re all Christians, but here’s a problem I have with this approach. A deep problem.”
    Your words do not bear the marks of the Master.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    Hey there, just wanted to let you know that I deleted those comments from “Doug”. Definitely unacceptable. I’ll leave yours here unless you choose to delete it. Thanks for your good words.


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