(Photo: Facebook/Steven Furtick)
Pastor Steven Furtick, founder of the 14,000-member Elevation Church in Charlotte, N.C., is under heavy scrutiny from critics who contend that his newly built $1.7 million, 16,000 square-foot home is "unseemly" and does not reflect the lifestyle of a servant pastor.
According to Ole Anthony, the president and one of the founders of the Trinity Foundation, a nonprofit foundation that monitors and investigates religious fraud, Furtick is just one example of a problem afflicting churches in which the pastors are creating a profit-making business that is hurting the church and their congregations.
"What happens is these pastors are on television or on radio and they write a book, and it's based on their sermons," Anthony told The Christian Post on Thursday. "But then what happens is the church is paying for the time and the place to write the book, and then the church is paying for the airtime to advertise the book. And it's just unseemly."
He continued: "There are a lot of pastors like him (Furtick), who have an assembly of like-minded pastors. They are on each other's board of directors and they all speak at each other's churches for big speakers' fees. And it's a situation in which there's no oversight, there's no transparency. And it becomes just another secret money-making option for the pastors who are supposed to be the servants."
Anthony told CP about one case in which a church had paid more than $5 million for television broadcasts, and the church only received $1 million in donations, but the pastor became a multi-millionaire through the sale of his book.
"The way this happens is they buy these books in bulk so the sales numbers are increased and it looks like they're on the New York Times best sellers list, and then they give them as gift offers, but the pastor gets the full royalties of the book," Anthony explained.
"The idea of being a servant is lost. It's just a job and they try to make more and more money, and the congregations are losing out. It just infuriates me. It's the opposite of the pastor being the servant and feeding the sheep, the pastor's eating the sheep."
Part of an NBC Charlotte investigative report, however, noted that Elevation Church has given more than $10 million to nonprofit organizations, such as Samaritans Purse and Crisis Assistance Ministry. The CP also recently reported that between April 2011 and April 2012, the church gave away more than $1 million to the city of Charlotte and 102,208 service hours as a part of its Orange Initiative, according to the church's annual report. In addition, the church also provided more than 1,000 at-risk students with mentors through its M1 Initiative last year.
In response to the WCNC-TV investigation, Furtick told his congregation that although a local investigative reporter was suspicious about his $1.7 million home, he didn't pay for it by using his salary from the church, but was instead able to pay for his home from the profits he earned through the book sales.
Anthony contends that Furtick is making the same excuse as other megachurch pastors and radio and TV evangelists.
"Well, it's the same thing that Kenneth Copeland says, it's the same thing Bishop Jakes says, it's the same thing that Benny Hinn says. The church is paying for the airtime that advertises their books, and not getting anything for it, and that's the bottom line," he said.
On Thursday afternoon, Elevation Church posted its 2012 annual report on its website, but it doesn't include information about staff salaries.
Warren Cole Smith, who writes books about Elevation Church from his home in Charlotte, told WCNC-TV that the board will not disclose Furtick's salary to the congregation.
"The real problem is there's a lack of transparency," said Smith, who added that Furtick recruited a "board of overseers" to set his salary.
The board, as Anthony noted, is comprised of other like-minded megachurch pastors, like Ed Young of Fellowship Church in Dallas, Texas.
According to Smith, "The financial well-being of those guys are intimately intertwined."
The Christian Post did not receive a response from Steven Furtick at the time of this publication.