Twitter and Facebook exploded yesterday with another evangelical megachurch “scandal”. The culprit? Elevation Church and Steven Furtick. Apparently Furtick has bought a second multi-million dollar home and spray painted “Hey Haters” on it.
Okay, that would be pretty bad if it were true. But WCNC in Charlotte ran a story on Elevation’s “Spontaneous Baptism” practices. They even link you to Elevation’s “Spontaneous Baptism How-To Guide”. I’m guessing that no one under age 12 is allowed to read it. (Is that Furtick baptizing Shawn Hunter’s dad? Oh Chet, you left us too soon.)
Aside from the fact that Elevation kids don’t know how to color, people have a problem not just with 15 people non-spontaneously getting up to be baptized (Just 15? You are Elevation! You have a campus inside my church.) but also with Furtick being presented as the visionary who received a vision from God.
I don’t mind visionaries. Apparently a vision from God must include a statement that goes in the bulletin every week and ends with “to the glory of God.” Steven (is he the oppose or Urkel, and his nerdy version is named Stephan?) better know his larger catechism.
Okay, where does Slick Nick Saban come in?
Well, first, his smile is unnatural like Furtick’s. Everyone knows that Bill Belichick trained his underlings to never smile. Come on Nick!
Furby looks like he bought some of Mr. White’s blue crystal, then combined it with Frank Lucas’ blue magic.
Okay, onto my serious commentary.
I had a bit of fun with the stories yesterday. My Pastor even had some fun with it as well. Others were hyper critical of Furtick and Elevation. I really don’t care much for Elevation or Furtick, aside from the fact that Elevation (despite any criticism I have) is a true church that belongs to Jesus, and Furtick is a minister of the gospel. In fact, the one time I went to an Elevation service (fall 2011), Jesus was exalted and the gospel was faithfully proclaimed.
So, the following observations aren’t meant to be a criticism of Furtick or Elevation. Rather, the critique is against our evangelical culture.
Try a thought experiment with me. How many megachurch pastors seem “big time” and make the news a lot? Which churches are they from? Which ones are always on the speaking circuit? Who receives equal praise and venom?
You probably mentioned guys like Furtick, Perry Noble, Mark Driscoll, Rick Warren, etc. You can add some midwest guys like Bill Hybels. Lesser known churches, yet still megachurchish have pastors that produce both heat and light.
Most of the controversial yet revered pastors are located in the South or the Midwest. Throw in some Southwest since Texas contributes Joel Osteen.
Why isn’t the Northeast contributing megachurch pastors who become celebrities and earn both veneration and vitriol? How come the west coast, even with megachurch pastors, stay out of the lime light? (Or, they leave their church, sell their things, preach the gospel in India, and tick off James MacDonald and Mark Driscoll in the process. Dang you and your humility, Francis Chan!)
Tim Keller is a big name, but he isn’t as revered or controversial like Noble or Furtick (at least not in the same way). Rick Warren is identified with Saddleback, but his personality and preaching is not as identified with that church as Noble, Furtick, and others are to their churches.
In other words, this is a regional thing, and it seems to occur in the South and the Midwest.
Switch over to college football. (Sorry college basketball, but you get worse ratings than the NHL.) The veneration of head coaches and 5 star recruits occurs on a whole different level in the South. National Signing Day just a couple of weeks ago is considered by many to be an unofficial holiday where people call in sick or risk getting fired by checking Scouts, Rivals, and ESPN all day. Texas joins the South, as well as some Midwest states. The west coast doesn’t care. But Oregon Duck fans care (so they are the equivalent to Driscoll in this analogy as they should be transported to the South).
This pseudo-worship and idolatry of head coaches and star players has led to scandals and many to question the culture of college sports. Jim Tressel and Joe Pa left bad marks on their resumes, yet it took popular scandal and outside pressure for each to resign their position. Nick Saban held two prestigious football schools (Texas and Bama) hostage because he can. Faculty at UT and FSU complain about these sports cultures, but these faculty don’t produce like the Horns and Noles produce in terms of revenue.
The Northeast doesn’t give a flip about college football. They are mainly into professional sports. Boston, NYC, and D.C. are places where professional elites go, and they prefer professional sports, and these cities aren’t beholden to celebrity anything. Tom Coughlin has beaten B/B twice in the Big Game, but his job is on the line every year. Terry Francona got booted for one bad year even though he broke the curse of the Bambino…twice. If Yankees and Sox players get traded to the rival, the fans instantly turn on them. They can care less about the longevity of star power. They just want to be entertained in the moment.
The South, Midwest, Texas are different stories.
Is there something to this? Do these regions of the country make it easier for megachurch pastors to build bigger platforms for themselves and receive great praise and great critique? Do these men have the power to hold their evangelical kingdoms hostage if they choose? (I am not suggesting that any of them do.)
I don’t blame someone like Furtick for these recent stories. I think I would handle fame 10x worse than Furtick and stuff a foot in my mouth. I also am convicted about Philippians 1:15-18. If Paul can rejoice that pastors preach the gospel even out of rivalry and envy, do I need to flip over some tables because Furtick bought a nice house away from everybody else? (Smart man.)
I think the biggest challenge should go to the evangelical ghetto and subculture that still persists in the South, Texas, Midwest. Even my own tradition has mini-celebrities (including the anti-celebrity celebrity who shall remain nameless…but I think someone should check his passport over at Ref21). Presbyterians often celebritize dead theologians, confessional documents, and “golden periods” of church history.
Perhaps the big challenge is to criticize these megachurchmen less and to evaluate our hearts more. Coming to grips with our identity and union with Christ is the best antidote to this issue more than a Facebook thread.
But if people still want a fight, I think we should do a “Reformania” card and place Furtick in a steel cage with Matt Chandler. Loser has to wear orange.