In a rare media interview broadcast Tuesday night, Elevation Church Pastor Steven Furtick said revealing how much money he makes and how much of it he gives away would be unfair to his family and would violate Jesus’ call to be discreet about donations.
Furtick, 35, also told WCCB-TV anchor Morgan Fogarty that he would continue to resist calls from the media and others to be more detailed in discussing the Charlotte church’s finances.
“I would never make a decision about how the church’s finances were communicated based on the agenda of a reporter or a newspaper,” he said.
Elevation has released more financial information in the last year or two, and it has donated millions of dollars to charities, missions and new churches. But accountability questions remain. Those who attend the church contribute about $500,000 to Elevation every weekend, but money matters – including Furtick’s salary – are still decided by a board of out-of-town pastors rather than locals active in the church. Unlike most churches, where lay leaders from the congregation help govern and make decisions, Furtick’s flock does not set or even know how much the pastor is paid.
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Alluding to Furtick’s decision to build a 16,000-square-foot gated estate in Weddington, a photo of which appeared on screen, Fogarty asked about his “personal lifestyle.” Critics have called it excessive for the pastor of a church, even one that now attracts up to 20,000 people every weekend to its various sites.
“In my personal lifestyle, I know that we have to have integrity,” Furtick said. “And I know that we have to be generous and I know the extent to which that is true of me and (wife) Holly.”
But he said he planned to stay mum about his personal finances. “To go on record and say, ‘Here’s how much money we’ve given away and here’s what we do with our finances’ – to me, that would be the most arrogant thing that I could do and it would rob me of the blessing of doing what Jesus said, which is, ‘When you give, you don’t get up and tell everybody how much you’ve given.’ ... (And) I wouldn’t do that to my wife and my kids.”
Furtick preaches most weekends. But he rarely speaks with reporters. Before sitting down with WCCB, his last local interview was in 2011, for an article in Charlotte Magazine about who wields power and influence in the city. Despite repeated requests, Furtick has not done an interview with the Observer since 2008.
Since then, the Southern Baptist church has become one of the fastest-growing mega-churches in America. Elevation has gone on a spending spree, building state-of-the-art facilities in south Charlotte and beyond that have cost in the millions.
And Furtick has become a figure of controversy. Or as Fogarty put it in her Tuesday report: “He is beloved by those who say he is a messenger of God. He is criticized by others who says he’s a businessman who should be more transparent.”
Furtick was interviewed by Fogarty as part of her series of on-air interviews called “The Get.” Much of their conversation centered on the rise of Elevation and the lessons about marriage and living that Furtick learned from his grandfather, a minister who impressed him as tender in caring for his wife after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Though he’s a talented preacher, fluent in both biblical language and pop cultural references, Furtick told Fogarty he has tried to guard against using the stage as a substitute for real life and being a good father.
“I never wanted to be better at preaching than I was at living,” said Furtick, who told Fogarty that his fourth book, “Unqualified,” will be released in March.
Asked if he ever imagined that Elevation, founded in February 2006, would grow so big so fast, Furtick said, “I imagined that we would have influence. I dreamed big. ... I certainly didn’t think, in 10 years, we would be reaching 20,000 people every week.”
In a part of the interview that did not air, but is on the TV station’s website, Furtick appears to still be dreaming big. “I look forward to the day when 100,000 people are worshipping at our church,” he said.
Furtick also told Fogarty that he does not, contrary to rumors, have a personal bodyguard. “If you see me at the movies,” he said with a laugh, “there’s nobody in the shadows.”
Still, he said, at a time when churches have been targets, security at Elevation is strict. “I think it’s important that all church leaders are thinking about how to keep the congregation safe,” he said.
Fogarty’s interview with Furtick, which appeared to take place in his church rather than in his home, was shown on the 10 p.m. Tuesday newscast for WCCB (Channel 18).
An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that WCCB’s interview with Furtick was his first media interview since 2008. In 2011, he was interviewed by Sarah Crosland for part of an article – “Power & Influence in Charlotte: Who Runs Charlotte?” – for Charlotte Magazine.