Pastor Ed Young, who leads one of the largest churches in the country, is preparing to get creative as thousands of pastors converge on Wednesday for the annual C3 Conference.
The conference at Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas, that seeks to inspire new ideas and creativity in reaching this generation, however, comes with a bit of a shadow cast over it.
Recently, a local news report painted the megachurch pastor in a negative light after individuals who used to be close to Young accused him of a lavish lifestyle and lack of accountability.
A private jet, a 10,000-square foot home, and a $1 million yearly salary are some of the allegations News 8 sources have made. The local news station accused the pastor not of breaking laws but of keeping secrets from his congregation.
But Young's nearly 20,000-member congregation isn't buying it.
During a weekend worship service earlier this month, attendees stood from their seats applauding and cheering their pastor in a show of support. Young had also received encouraging texts and e-mails from members since the media report came out Feb. 5.
"I've tried ... to stay above the fray," Young, who grew up in a pastor's home and endured years of criticism, told his congregation as he tried to set the record straight.
Young did not see the news report, refusing to "give credence to it" by watching it. But he's heard the rumors alleging him and his wife, Lisa, of dishonesty and using Fellowship Church as a means of obtaining personal wealth.
"The reporter sent an email request for information, but refused to give us any details or information that he obtained from an anonymous source," Young recently wrote in his blog. "He only said that he has spoken with former staff members about us.
"What we do know is that this report was made based on fragments of information gathered out of context and anonymously, and that it disregarded documented information that the Board of Directors for Fellowship Church is privy to and that is known by legal counsel and accounting audits."
Young made it plain: "Lisa and I have no secrets."
"My life is lived in an aquarium, and I am not ashamed of that fact," he said.
Backing the popular pastor, Dr. John Cross, president of the Florida Baptist Convention and a member of Fellowship's board of directors, assured the congregation of Young's integrity.
"I just want you as a church family to know that I have never ever had the honor of being part of a ministry with such integrity, such authenticity, vulnerability and accountability. That's the facts," he stressed.
"We as a board take our responsibility very seriously. As a board we've always sought wise counsel," he added. "Ed doesn't make a decision without seeking out that wise counsel. He is a very transparent person."
Addressing the allegation that Young is "jetting around the country in a French-made Falcon 50 private jet [with an] estimated value [of] $8.4 million," the charismatic pastor said, "Fellowship Church does not own an airplane."
Young has traveled commercially, on chartered planes and on a leased private aircraft, he clarified.
"Many times because of the wear and tear on me, obviously for the family ... I do that," he said, noting that he travels around the world to address thousands of other pastors.
Cross explained that the board came to the decision to utilize a leased aircraft after consulting "a number of wise counsels" and other church leaders who use private planes.
"That was a wise decision because we believe that we need to take care of him, his marriage, [and] family ... and [we] want him to be here and be at his very best on the weekends," Cross said.
And any time Young does "anything personally" on a commercial or chartered aircraft, he said, "I always pay for it."
"I have teams of accountants watching every single penny. I would never ever do such a thing," he said to applause.
Regarding the supposed 10,000-square foot house, Young said he bought land from a friend and built a house that's "seven thousand eight hundred twenty something" square feet. And the house is not paid for, he added.
Putting it all out there, he also told his congregation he has a retirement fund at Guidestone, some stocks, a condo (that's not paid for either); and he is part owner of a bass boat and a partner in a publishing company.
His salary is not $1 million, not near that, he said. "I am paid well," he added, but said he believes his salary is well under what other megachurch pastors make.
He emphasized, "This is my number one investment, the church, financially for me."
Fellowship Church was founded in 1990 and grew from 150 people to some 20,000 today. The church has grown in its international influence as he began to equip pastors and leaders around the globe through C3 Conferences and other resources.
Young believes the "scathing" media story tips the church off to "what God is going to do over this next year."
"I truly believe that the best is yet to be for Fellowship Church."