But first a few comments of why I really like Josh's post.
Josh's comments below touch on some of the issues of why this blog began in 2007. I had my own eyes opened up to the same sort of thing: pastors made wealthy simply BECAUSE they are pastors. Pastors who view the church as a business - THEIR business - THEIR FAMILY business. They hire marketing consultants, they use the church resources to build their own brand, to sell their own goods. They view Christians as customers, as impersonal "giving units" who generate revenue for their godly pursuits.
And good people allow it. They defend it. They encourage it. As Josh says, the mentality is that if something is good for the CEO/pastor, it is good for the church. And people who give the money are not allowed to see the details of how it is spent, especially on CEO/pastor compensation. If you scan the early days of this blog, what Josh writes about are concerns I had in my own church, and I couldn't believe that good people in a good church would allow this sort of thing to go on. I figured if more people knew, they would do something. Thus the blog.
I was wrong. And that is why Steven and Perry and Ed will keep on trucking. The consumers are brand loyal. This will be a very minor speed bump for Steven. The only question is: is this business ("church") model sustainable in the long run? As James Duncan wrote yesterday, perhaps not.
Lastly, in a strange way I might give MORE leeway to Steven Furtick and Perry Noble than I would most other celebrity mega church pastors in this: at least Steven built his OWN business ("church") from the ground up, with ZERO members. He just didn't come in behind other pastors and assume the throne and the perks, be anointed the king and get a sweet land deal and immediately build a huge house and put his family on staff and turn the church into his own family business.
Steven has built quite a successful business, and feels he is justified in making lots of money. In his response to the congregation, he emphasized how he started the church with just 4 families.
It is Steven's business, he started it, he is the CEO.
Here is Josh's post:
Josh is so right: outsiders in the media or blog may ask questions, but they won't get answers.
The problem is that Furtick and others got their money by turning the church into a business. Pastors like Furtick are obsessed with business leadership because they fashion themselves as the CEO and identify more with celebrity CEOs like Steve Jobs than with non-celebrity pastors. Decisions are made by the CEO to build the brand, to create a larger customer base, to increase the giving margin, and to expand into new opportunities. Church personnel decisions are made in the same way. Is the youth pastor growing the youth brand? Is the worship pastor stylish enough? While such decisions are constrained at some point by biblical considerations…they aren’t going to hire a guy who publicly rejects the bible…the biblical standards of Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 aren’t really considerations.
This creates two problems, though. One, churches aren’t businesses and aren’t supposed to be run as such. There is nothing wrong with Macy’s developing a non-fraudulent pricing and promotional strategy designed to extricate consumers with as many spending dollars as possible. Macy’s should offer products and services designed to produce high margin income. But churches aren’t businesses. The pastor shouldn’t spend time developing (or more likely purchasing from consultants) “offering talks,” or message series, or coaching services, or conferences with a goal of increasing the church’s income. The church shouldn’t be selling books and tshirts and lattes and bibles or anything else. God’s house is not a house of merchandise!
So when the Furticks of the Christian world stand up and talk about money (and they talk about money a lot!) it sounds a lot like Macy’s running television commercials for their two-day after Thanksgiving sale. When they preach on tithing (a subject on which bible believing Christians can easily disagree), it sounds self-serving because it is self-serving. Is it Furtick the preacher of God’s word talking, or Furtick the CEO of Elevation Church, Inc. talking? Nothing has changed in two thousand years. A pastor cannot serve two masters.
The second problem is the conflict of interest between the company (the church) and the CEO (the pastor.) Former GM CEO Charles Wilson reputedly once claimed that “What’s good for GM is good for the country.” (A misquote, but that’s not the point here.) Celebrity CEO Pastors seem to believe that what’s good for the Lead Pastor is good for the church. That’s why they freely write and promote books on “church time” and bring in other celebrity CEO pastors to “teach” (with undisclosed and sizable speaking fees). Does Furtick invite Craig Groeshel to teach for $____ because Groeshel brought in Furtick to teach at Lifechurhc for $_____? No one knows because it’s all a big, big secret. Is the five week sermon series on “Sun Stand Still Prayers” for the edification of the church, or to promote the CEO’s new book, which is conveniently for sale in the church bookstore. Building the CEO’s profile will help him sell books, increase his demand as a guest speaker, and feed his ego. But does it benefit the church? None of your business.
The clear conflict of interest is exacerbated by an utter lack of accountability. Sure, if Furtick gets caught sleeping with his cute personal assistant (which has happened in at least two smaller CEO-style churches I’m aware of), he couldn’t salvage his position. But no one from inside his inner circle is going to question his business dealings, his use of church time to work on and promote his books, his purchase of his own and friends books by the church, his speaking fee at churches with mutual relationships, or his promotional choice of message series. Anyone from the inside who did ask such impertinent questions would suddenly find themselves on the outs, and in a personality driven organization, loss of access to the leader is a dire sanction. Outsiders in the media or blog may ask questions, but they won’t get answers. And the rank and file members will stay on and keep giving.