Jonathan Merritt of Religion News Service wonders why the prophet-pastor of the multi-site Elevation Church is so secretive. I mean, aren’t pastors supposed to be transparent? Well, yes. But according to Merritt, Pastor Steven won’t answer tough questions, especially about his lavish lifestyle. If you haven’t heard of Steven Furtick, he’s one of the high-profile pastors that the late Ken Silva of Apprising Ministries dubbed: Evangelical Ecumenical Magisterium. “His Furtickism is a hybrid of Seeker Driven and quasi-Word Faith mythology,” quipped Silva.
So now we have Jonathan Merritt, who leans left, reporting what he deems “Elevation’s shenanigans.” Merritt has also posted the interview questions he drafted for Furtick before he found out that there would be no interview. He also opened the comment section so that “readers can offer what they believe Furtick’s answers to my questions might (or should have) been.”
So here goes….
Too bad Robin Leach is a wobbly, 74-year-old retiree. He would have had a field day profiling Steven Furtick on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”
Furtick is pastor of Elevation Church, a megachurch in Charlotte, N.C., with a weekly attendance of about 20,000, whose ministry has generated much controversy in recent years. His publicist approached me about an interview for his recent book, ironically titled, “(Un)qualified: How God Uses Broken People to Do Big Things.”
But Furtick put the kibosh on the interview when I asked about these controversies. As it turns out, this is the modus operandi for Furtick, who has remained mostly mum as critics have raised questions.
Silence seems like a strange strategy for a pastor with nothing to hide. Some may wonder why Furtick, who makes a mint doling out answers, won’t answer tough questions.
Elevation Church’s controversies are threefold:
1. Furtick’s lavish lifestyle
The pastor came under scrutiny in 2013 when it was revealed that his new home was a 16,000-square-foot mansion on a sprawling 19-acre plot valued at approximately $1.7 million. Furtick defended his home from the pulpit, saying it was both “a gift from God” and “not that great of a house,” which “isn’t even that big a house, really.”
2. Furtick’s culture of celebrity
Furtick is an undeniably gifted communicator and charismatic leader, but he has made Elevation’s organizational culture so pastor-focused that some have called it cultlike. He autographs church members’ Bibles and name-drops that he’s friends with prominent athletes. The church website once declared that “Elevation is built on the vision God gave Pastor Steven” and charged members to “aggressively defend our unity and that vision.” The church also produced an infographic that stated the following:
- We serve a Lead Pastor who seeks and hears from God.
- We serve a Lead Pastor we can trust.
- We serve a Lead Pastor who goes first.
Perhaps the creepiest story about Furtick’s celebrity culture was a Sunday school coloring book that Elevation produced for its children’s ministry. One coloring page depicts Furtick with the caption, “Elevation Church is built on the vision God gave pastor Steven. We will protect our unity in supporting his vision.” Indoctrinating kids with images and messages that discourage dissent and encourage the, ahem, elevation of a religious leader is problematic on many levels.
Cold Hard Facts On Cults by Marsha West