Recently, I did a little post that made a passing reference to Elevation Church and it was, basically, just a nod in the direction of an incident that occurred at one of their worship services which I read about elsewhere. It could have been one of many big entertainment-focused churches. However, someone mentioned to me that this church is located in my home town and this made me curious, so I looked up their website.
At first, I was ready to proclaim Anathema Sit! But there are some good things here and it isn’t quite fair to just proclaim the whole thing out of bounds just because I disagree with them. I feel compelled to lift these up before making note of what I really find concerning.
First, this is a Southern Baptist church (at least according to Wikipedia) even though I could not locate this fact anywhere on their website. I am not a Southern Baptist, but it is nice to know that Elevation Church is associated with a particular denomination. This is, of course, the source of some of my differences, but not all.
This is a mega-church. Unmistakably. Over 8,000 members, multiple campuses, etc. Definitely mega-church. However, it is more than this. It is a chain church. I am aware that this is a somewhat disparaging description but I can think of no other appropriate way to speak of churches that identify themselves as a single congregation with multiple ‘campuses’.These worship sites all experience the same sermon each week because it is simulcast to all locations each week. One pastor, one preacher, all these sites. Chain church. Most churches split before they get big enough to make multiple ‘campuses’, especially Baptist. (I may not be Baptist, but half my family is.) For many years, larger congregations would plant new congregations, not become a chain with branches open all around town. However, Elevation is not alone. There are many chain churches across the land.
On the plus side–and it is a big plus–they have a clearly written section on beliefs. They have quick, clear statements about scripture, the Trinity, etc. I would have worded some things differently and there are certainly things I have some qualm about but this is simply because I am Lutheran and they are Baptist. Nothing more. They seem quite orthodox in their beliefs.
Their website is super user friendly. You can watch, listen and learn. You can sign up to be a small group leader and fill out the application. Ok, some envy here! I’d love to have enough people volunteering to be able to actually say something like this. You can give on line, write and share your testimonial on line, read their history and find a nearby campus there as well. The site is slick, sharp and up to date in every way.
And, before I launch into the concern portion of this post, I must say that there are some things I wholeheartedly agree with. This post on Pr Furtick’s blog is an example. Amen, indeed.
Ok, here’s the but. The focus of this entire site and, as far as I can tell from other sources, the whole focus of this church is on the Pastor. I could not locate a single image of Jesus on their site. That’s not the end of the world, of course, but I found the image of Pastor Steven Furtick on nearly every page of the site. There’s much that makes him appear to be a celebrity with very stylish images and photography that would make any star happy to have in their portfolio. It is slick and hip and cool and so is he. And there is nothing inherently wrong about this except….
Except that Christians aren’t supposed to worship their pastors, they are supposed to worship Jesus Christ. It could be entirely unintentional on the part of Elevation Church… they may not have intentionally set up Steven Furtick as an Icon. But they have. Pr Furtick may not have intentionally put himself at the top of this steeple, but he is there all the same. Now, I don’t think there is anything wrong with a pastor having a high profile in the community and having a life and image visible to their congregations. This is probably a good thing. However, if you removed the word “Church” from beneath the word “Elevation” on their site, it would look like a promo or fan site for Steven Furtick.
The Amen Corner, which is where people can post their own personal testimonies, has a rotating header showing excerpts (presumably) from three testimonials. Two of them are primarily about what Pr Furtick did for them. Believe me when I say that I’d be glad to know I did something to help a person in a time of faith crisis, but I would never dream of allowing my congregation to use my actions as a focus point for their advertisement.
The Code section is what is actually alarming to me. This section talks about how they “get things done” at Elevation Church. Again, there are a few places here that I agree, but some I do not understand at all. “We Are a Generation of Honor”…. I don’t get it. I mean, I understand the words and their description, but I don’t understand why this church is a “Generation of Honor”.
“We Are United Under the Visionary”. Now, who are we following again? It is not the vision that unites here but the visionary. I cannot imagine the weight of this upon Pr Furtick. This entire ministry is heaped upon his back. I’ve been a pastor for only two and a half years, but I’ve known pastors my whole life; pastors of many different denominations. All have questions and doubts and even a crises of faith from time to time. But all of them know that their congregations ultimately hang upon the cross, that the people are the body of Christ and are following Him. But these 8,000 or so people are following this Visionary–Steven Furtick. Their Code, that is to say how they “get things done”, is being united under him and the Code also says that they will “aggressively defend our unity and his vision”. If he stumbles, they will fall. And he is just as human as every single pastor and faithful lay person I’ve ever met… I’m sure of it. He, like all of us humans, will stumble.
Last but not least is a phrase in the Code that left me sitting with my mouth hanging open and confessing now that I just do not understand.
“We Are Ruth’s Chris, Not Golden Corral – Simplicity enables excellence. We place a disproportionate value on creating a worship experience that boldly celebrates Jesus and attracts people far from God.”
For anyone who does not know what a Ruth’s Chris or a Golden Corral are, the first is an exclusive, expensive steakhouse and the second is a buffet. The first requires reservations and is only open to those who are in an economic group that could afford steak and lobster. The second is a place where you have all kinds of food and all kinds of people of all kinds of socio economic groups present, side by side. There are no reservations required in the second.
I cannot conceive of a church that would wish to equate itself with an exclusive, expensive steak house. Maybe there is something I’m missing. It is so far beyond my understanding that I cannot even find adequate critique. Suffice to say that if I serve a Golden Corral church, I would call that blessed.
I will not even touch upon the extremely aggressive language that is used on this site. Even the word ‘aggressive’ itself is used frequently.
Lastly, it is necessary for me to acknowledge that I am critiquing a website and not a ministry. I am critiquing what I can see, hear and read about Elevation Church and Pastor Steven Furtick and have never attended a worship service at one of their ‘campuses’ and have never met the pastor himself. It is indeed possible that I have gotten the wrong idea about them altogether. I doubt it, but it is entirely possible.
I have thought long and hard about this post, which I actually began about four days ago, and debated whether or not to post it. I decided to do so because this is disturbing to me. While I am glad that there are people who are attending church who might otherwise not be, I also know all too well the hurt and pain of spiritual abuse and deep sense of spiritual betrayal that can come from the downfall of organizations such as this. I’ve known many who have been so let down and damaged by the flaws of a true-believer organization and the inevitable stumble of the iconic leader–the stumbling to which none of us are immune. This is why the church is the body of Christ, not one person alone. An acquaintance of mine once said, “what you win people with is what you win people to.” What do we win people with? This is an important question for All Church People to consider. Do we share the proclamation of the Gospel in word and deed with others who are also called by God to do so? Do we share the burden of leadership with other members of the body of Christ? Do we spend our time pointing to the cross? Returning to the cross? Seeking the cross? THAT is what I want to spend a “disproportionate” amount of time doing.