The problem with businessmen pastors. A reader’s contribution.

A comment in the Walt White article is impressively on point that I think it deserves to be read by people who may not have made it to the end of that article. PP reader, Josh, posted the following this afternoon:

The problem with Furtick isn’t that he’s rich, or even that he’s a rich pastor. The problem is that he’s rich because he’s a pastor. If professing Christian Steven Furtick started a successful bakery, retail store or construction company in 2006 that was incredibly successful, so much so that he could buy a $3 million home, few would criticize him for enjoying his earnings. In fact, the world and people in the church generally look favorably on successful Christian businessmen. No one questions how Truett Cathy spends his Chick-fil-a money, for example.

The problem is that Furtick and others got their money by turning the church into a business. Pastors like Furtick are obsessed with business leadership because they fashion themselves as the CEO and identify more with celebrity CEOs like Steve Jobs than with non-celebrity pastors. Decisions are made by the CEO to build the brand, to create a larger customer base, to increase the giving margin, and to expand into new opportunities. Church personnel decisions are made in the same way. Is the youth pastor growing the youth brand? Is the worship pastor stylish enough? While such decisions are constrained at some point by biblical considerations…they aren’t going to hire a guy who publicly rejects the Bible…the biblical standards of Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 aren’t really considerations.

This creates two problems, though. One, churches aren’t businesses and aren’t supposed to be run as such. There is nothing wrong with Macy’s developing a non-fraudulent pricing and promotional strategy designed to extricate consumers with as many spending dollars as possible. Macy’s should offer products and services designed to produce high margin income. But churches aren’t businesses. The pastor shouldn’t spend time developing (or, more likely, purchasing from consultants) “offering talks,” or message series, or coaching services, or conferences with a goal of increasing the church’s income. The church shouldn’t be selling books and t-shirts and lattes and Bibles or anything else. God’s house is not a house of merchandise!

So when the Furticks of the Christian world stand up and talk about money (and they talk about money a lot!) it sounds a lot like Macy’s running television commercials for their two-day After-Thanksgiving sale. When they preach on tithing (a subject on which Bible-believing Christians can easily disagree), it sounds self-serving because it is self-serving. Is it Furtick the preacher of God’s Word talking, or Furtick the CEO of Elevation Church, Inc. talking? Nothing has changed in two thousand years. A pastor cannot serve two masters.

The second problem is the conflict of interest between the company (the church) and the CEO (the pastor.) Former GM CEO Charles Wilson reportedly once claimed that “What’s good for GM is good for the country.” (A misquote, but that’s not the point here.) Celebrity CEO pastors seem to believe that what’s good for the Lead Pastor is good for the church. That’s why they freely write and promote books on the church’s time and bring in other celebrity CEO pastors to “teach” (with undisclosed and sizable speaking fees). Does Furtick invite Craig Groeshel to teach for $____ because Groeshel brought in Furtick to teach at Lifechurhc for $_____? No one knows because it’s all a big, big secret. Is the five-week sermon series on “Sun Stand Still Prayers” for the edification of the church, or to promote the CEO’s new book, which is conveniently for sale in the church bookstore. Building the CEO’s profile will help him sell books, increase his demand as a guest speaker, and feed his ego. But does it benefit the church? None of your business.

The clear conflict of interest is exacerbated by an utter lack of accountability. Sure, if Furtick gets caught sleeping with his cute personal assistant (which has happened in at least two smaller CEO-style churches I’m aware of), he couldn’t salvage his position. But no one from inside his inner circle is going to question his business dealings, his use of church time to work on and promote his books, his purchase of his own and friends’ books by the church, his speaking fee at churches with mutual relationships, or his promotional choice of message series. Anyone from the inside who did ask such impertinent questions would suddenly find themselves on the outs, and in a personality-driven organization, loss of access to the leader is a dire sanction. Outsiders in the media or blog may ask questions, but they won’t get answers. And the rank and file members will stay on and keep giving.

UPDATE: FBC Jax Watchdog has also reposted this with some additional commentary. A sample:

In a strange way I might give MORE leeway to Steven Furtick and Perry Noble than I would most other celebrity mega church pastors in this: at least Steven built his OWN business (“church”) from the ground up, with ZERO members. He just didn’t come in behind other pastors and assume the throne and the perks, be anointed the king and get a sweet land deal and immediately build a huge house and put his family on staff and turn the church into his own family business.

Steven has built quite a successful business, and feels he is justified in making lots of money. In his response to the congregation, he emphasized how he started the church with just 4 families.

It is Steven’s business, he started it, he is the CEO.