Steven Furtick is rapidly becoming a mega-star among mega-star pastors, and the church he founded, Elevation, is rapidly becoming one of the fastest growing and dynamic churches in America. Much of his success is due to his unique and totally engaging in-your-face preaching style and hipster edginess. From what I hear, Elevation Church also has unbelievable music and has given away over $10 million to charities and missions in its 8 years of existence.
Now there is a controversy going around because Furtick is building a $1.6 million house. Apparently, in North Carolina, that is a big deal. (Where I currently live, condos are routinely selling for almost a $1 million… in a weak housing market).
He has been accused of being part of the prosperity gospel movement and the media (and blogosphere) is planting the seeds of scandal.
Here is a Huffington Post article about the controversy (including a news report video).
While I generally believe that, as Christ-followers, we should be “downwardly mobile in an upwardly mobile world” and that we would all benefit from living a simpler life — live with less so we can give more! — I want to defend Furtick here.
First of all, in addition to being a successful preacher and lead pastor, he also is the CEO of a massively successful organization that has grown from 14 to 14,000 in 8 years and, in addition to their regular operations and capital spending, have given away over $10 million. The guy is not just a brilliant speaker and effective pastor, he is a gifted and talented leader who would be getting top dollar in the secular world as a corporate CEO or marketing guru or whatever he wanted to be. If we want to attract the best talent to ministry, I’m not sure it is wise to begrudge a guy who is successful. It is also worth noting that most of this money is from his books, writings & speaking… not his salary from the church. I also assume, based on hearing him teach on the topic, that he is tithing (and then some) on all his earnings.
Here is what else I know from listening to him teach and from talking to people who know him personally: he is the real deal. He is as passionate for the Kingdom of God as anyone you will meet and is doing something pretty unbelievable in terms of Kingdom work. We should be thankful of people like Furtick — thankful and supportive and praying for, not tearing down.
Of course, there are multiple issues here. Is it sinful to build a house like that? I think obviously no. Is it wise? Well that is a different question.
But let’s be clear: while wealth is not and end-all-be-all in and of itself, it is also not inherently evil. It is okay to be a Christian and make lots of money… and have nice stuff. Ultimately, Furtick and his wife are accountable to God for how they steward their affluence and influence… as we all are. But some of the most Kingdom-minded and generous people I know are also some of the wealthiest people I know.
Again, from a wisdom perspective, you can question his decisions. One of the reasons I (and so many) respect a guy like Rick Warren so much is his decision to “reverse tithe” (he gives away 90% of his income every year!) Bill Hybels is another example of a super-star mega-pastor who doesn’t flaunt his money. Both of these guys are super-generous and super-wise. It is a good model for younger pastors.
In the HP article, people like Shane Claiborne are quoted criticizing Furtick and his money. I get that. Shane has essentially taken a vow of poverty and pretty much believes that all Christ-followers should. But the truth is that Shane has a gift and is following his calling… and I am deeply thankful for that and for him! And so is Steven Furtick… we need both these guys in the Church and should be deeply thankful for both… as different as they are… you know, that Big Tent thing I am always talking about.
In conclusion, there is no scandal here except one made up by media and those who (a) think “big” is a sign of “bad” in ministry and/or (b) are seriously jealous of a guy like Furtick. I am simply thankful for him and his ministry and pray for him.
[Two important disclosures/footnotes… Furtick actually preached at the church I pastored (via video) several years ago. He was awesome and well-received and I was thankful for his generosity in doing so. Secondly, while I am a big fan of Furtick and Elevation Church, he is significantly more conservative than I am on a number of non-essential and debatable issues. In all likelihood, as a gay Christian, I would not be welcomed and accepted as a full participating member exercising my gifts at his church (though I am sure I would be sincerely welcomed to worship, etc) . If I ever had the chance, I would love to have that conversation with him and challenge him on that issue. But Steven and I are both fundamentally evangelical Christians who believe that every life is better in relationship with Jesus. I can disagree with him on lots of stuff, and still enthusiastically support his ministry. That is the essence of “Big Tent” Christianity.]
OK… those are my thoughts. What are yours?