Steven Furtick is the lead pastor of Elevation Church, based near Charlotte, North Carolina. Elevation Church was founded by Furtick in 2006 with just fourteen members. The church has now grown to a weekly attendance over 27,000 (as of 2019). The stated purpose of the church is “that people far from God will be raised to life in Christ” (from their official website). Besides being a pastor, Furtick is a songwriter and best-selling author.
Steven Furtick is a talented performer and a personable, charismatic speaker. Under his leadership Elevation Church has grown into one of the ten largest churches in America (as of 2020). The church now has at least twenty-one campuses in the United States and Canada and a growing international outreach through television and online.
Steven Furtick and Elevation Church have done much good in the world: the church has donated nearly $100 million to charitable causes around the world. In partnership with the city of Charlotte, Elevation Church has donated $750,000 and 100,000 hours of service to community projects such as mentoring in the public schools, organizing blood drives, feeding the homeless, building soccer fields, expanding a local free clinic, etc.
Doctrinally, Elevation Church is evangelical, and their “Our Beliefs” page on their official website posts a complete set of accurate Christian teachings. Steven Furtick has a master’s degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and, for the most part, his preaching is in sync with that background.
But there are some problems. One example of a serious doctrinal error came in a sermon titled “It Works Both Ways” (delivered July 26, 2015) in which Furtick claimed that “God broke the law for love. I say it to every sinner: God broke the law for love.” The “law” to which Furtick alludes is the Old Testament law of God, his point being that God loved us so much that, in order to save us, He broke His own law. Not only is this illogical (how could God become a lawbreaker to save lawbreakers?), but it is unbiblical. For God to break the law, which is perfect, would be for Him to become a sinner. Scripture says that Christ came to save us by fulfilling the law, not by breaking it. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets,” Jesus said; “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17; cf. Luke 24:44; Romans 3:31).
Furtick also strays dangerously near the false prosperity gospel. He has shared the stage with Joel Osteen (August 29, 2012); Bishop T.D. Jakes (October 26, 2017); Brian and Bobbie Houston (September 4, 2011); Joyce Meyer, whom Furtick called “the greatest Bible teacher alive today” (January 15, 2012); and others. Furtick’s own Bible teaching relies heavily on pop psychology, motivational platitudes, and feel-good directions for building one’s self-esteem:
“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”
“If you want to change the direction of your life, change the declaration of your lips.”
“You can’t fulfill your calling in your comfort zone!”
“Many people never reach greater because they don’t leave good enough behind.”
“Today’s excuses are tomorrow’s regrets dressed in disguise.” (All from https://quotefancy.com/steven-furtick-quotes, accessed 3/30/2021.)
By any worldly measure, Steven Furtick is quite successful. According to Money Inc., as of January 2021, his estimated net worth is $55 million (https://moneyinc.com/steven-furtick-net-worth/, accessed 3/30/2021). He lives in a 16,000-square-foot mansion situated on nineteen acres of wooded land, valued at approximately $1.7 million in 2013. Furtick said his home was “a gift from God” (www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2478378/Megachurch-pastor-tells-congregation-newly-built-16-000-square-foot-house-gift-God.html, accessed 3/30/2021) and downplayed its worth, saying it is “not that great of a house” (www.charlotteobserver.com/latest-news/article9092012.html, accessed 3/30/2021).
Some critics of Steven Furtick charge that, rather than making disciples for Christ, Furtick is making fans for himself and that Elevation Church is guilty of elevating Furtick and fostering a cult of celebrity. Also, Furtick’s promotion of “spontaneous baptisms” has come under scrutiny, and there’s evidence that some of the decisions made during the calls to baptism are orchestrated and not so “spontaneous,” after all (www.wcnc.com/article/news/investigations/i-team/how-elevation-church-pastor-furtick-produce-spontaneous-baptisms/275-292975851, accessed 3/30/2021).
Steven Furtick is guilty of doing and saying some questionable things, forging unwise alliances that muddle doctrine, and possibly promoting show over substance. But if Furtick’s audience is regularly hearing the true gospel of God’s grace—salvation is by faith, not by works, paid in full by the blood of Jesus Christ (John 3:16; Romans 3:21–24; Ephesians 2:8–9)—then, for that we would be grateful.
We praise the Lord for every soul saved and every life transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, we must practice discernment and cultivate the ability to test everything we hear, including what Steven Furtick says, by the Word of God (see Acts 17:11).