Steve Furtick and a 1.7 Million Dollar Home

Steve Furtick, pastor of the popular Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC, made waves this week when it came out that he recently purchased a 1.7 million dollar home.

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From Steve Furtick’s Facebook page.

As one would expect, the media and blogosphere erupted with more opinions than there are square feet in Furtick’s new house. The sentiment has ranged from outrage to indifference to some defending his right to spend his money how he pleases.

Here are some of the questions being raised:

Glenn Beck’s website, The Blaze, asks: Should pastors live in extravagant homes? Others are asking, why not give the money to the poor? Why does he need such a large home? Isn’t greed the sign of a false teacher?

It’s interesting to note that he purchased the home with monies earned from his writing and speaking career, not with what his church pays him.

By the way, this type of controversy is nothing new. Years ago Bill Hybels was criticized for buying a boat with the money he earned from his books. If I recall, it was even a used boat.

Before we open this Proverbial can o’ worms, let me say that there are indeed greedy, manipulative, ministerial con artists whose only purpose is to rob people. They are evil and will face their day in court. I am not addressing them. I am addressing the legitimacy of honest, Bible-preaching pastors who happen to acquire wealth.

Consider this scenario: there are two pastors, both of whom have a 60,000 dollar a year family income. The first pastor is rather casual about money. He tithes but he doesn’t save. He gives a little bit to retirement, but not the recommended 15%. He tends to buy more little things, eat out more often, and does not really manage his money well. Because of this, by the time he’s 40, he’s renting a home, drives a used sedan, and has some debt.

The second Pastor is a hardcore Dave Ramsey fan.

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He tithes, lives far below his means, has no debt, and manages his money well. Let’s say he started this early, so that by the time he is 40 he is doing well. He owns a decent home, has a full emergency fund, and is giving not only a tithe, but also 15% to his retirement.

He also has spent his free time developing his writing career. He writes articles for various denominational publications and has raised his family income by 5,000 dollars a year. At age 45 he decides to buy a nice sports car. He saved for years. His time has now come. He pays cash for it and drives his new car home.

Of course, when he drives it into the parking lot on Sunday morning, people say ‘Why am I tithing here? I’m not giving money so this guy can buy a Porsche!’ The first pastor is not being punished for his poor stewardship, while the second pastor is being punished for doing well.

The first idea I want to examine here is the general (false) belief that if you are wealthy, somehow you did something unethical.

Rich people are rich because they got lucky
Rich people are rich because they took advantage of someone
Rich people are rich because they stole from someone
Rich people are rich because they happen to come from a rich family

Of course, some of that is true, but once again, I am addressing honest, hardworking, Gospel-preaching pastors. It is poor reasoning to assume that if a pastor amasses wealth that somehow he is a false prophet or that he’s only in it for the money.

Why are these things not included in the reasons why a person has become wealthy?

Rich people are rich because they’ve learned to manage their money
Rich people are rich because they’ve worked harder and smarter
Rich people are rich because they’ve thought outside the box
Rich people are rich because they do their jobs with excellence

I don’t know much about Steve Furtick. I’ve never listened to one of his sermons or read one of his books. Maybe Steve Furtick can buy a 1.7 million dollar home because he is excellent at his job. Maybe Bill Hybels bought a sailboat because he knows how to build and run a church.

This crazy idea that perhaps well-off people are well-off because they’ve practiced excellence is hard to swallow for a society that has 49% of its people living off of government handouts.

The second (false) idea I want to look at is that rich people ought to forgo any kind of luxury and give it to the poor.

I cannot accept this sentiment. What is the numeric cut-off for those that espouse this rule? What is the yearly income cap at which a person needs to give away his or her money? 50k? 100k? 500k? How expensive of a home should Furtick buy?

Shouldn’t people making an average income also sacrifice for the poor?

If a wealthy person should not live in extravagance, shouldn’t the middle class person do that with his Frappuccino? How dare you, the middle class single mom, take your kids to Disneyland after you saved for a year! You could have stayed home and given that to poor people! That’s extravagance!

What about your lawn?

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Much of the world does not have running water. Shouldn’t we be just as outraged over middle class people wasting money and resources on watering their lawns?

This is poor reasoning. Our culture cries out against wealthy people buying upper-class items of luxury, all the while they, themselves, purchase middle or lower class items of luxury.

Here’s a message on how Christian charity, done the wrong way, can be quite toxic:

08 Biblical Stewardship: Christian Charity

Here’s the bottom line in the Furtick case: He earned it, he has the moral, ethical, and legal right to buy a 1.7 million dollar home. I don’t think God has a problem with a Christian living in such a home, so long as he is a generous giver and his money is not an idol.

Now, let me turn the tables a bit. Although I don’t believe Furtick broke any legal or ethical rules, he did skirt the edge of a leadership rule.

I am a pastor and I have been for 15 years. I know that no matter how well I do with my money, I will never buy a sports car—even if I wanted one.

Even though it is fair, ethical and moral, it would be poorly received for me to pull into our church’s parking lot with a fancy sports car when there are so many people struggling financially. It’s my right, but because of public perception, I won’t do it.

If a pastor or other ministerial leader chooses to use his or her hard earned money to buy something that is considered unusually extravagant, he or she should expect a public outcry.

In my view, Furtick can buy a 1.7 million dollar home if he wants one; but he should also not be surprised when the blogosphere turns against him.

 

For those interested, here is Elevation Church’s 2012 report, which includes financial info.

 

Comments

  1. Nathan, you make great points! You put words to my thoughts. The rich are chastised for their luxury by people with very similar (though proportionally downsized) luxury of their own.

  2. Carol Overcash says:

    Let’s go back to the beginnings of Willow Creek while it was meeting in the theatre. His growth plan was to persuade people via free dinners to help build the new church by taking out loans using the church as collateral. I know this because I was there and my husband agreed to donate, by way of this loan
    , thousands of dollars. This is not scriptural! This is not trusting the Lord to bring the increase. Then, fast forward, he chose to be the spiritual advisor to the most immoral president this country has ever had. Bill married my ex-husband and I, was in our home at which time when asked why don’t they include traditional hymns he responded ” because they are too convicting”. I knew Bill Hybels, he was and still is on a major ego trip.

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