Megachurch Pastor's Mansion Scrutinized for Connection to Bestselling Books
Update (Oct. 28): This weekend, Steven Furtick explained to his multisite congregation why he doesn't view the wave of media attention regarding his "big house" as "an attack," reports The Charlotte Observer. He also apologized for any affect the news had on church members, and told them that they can have access to audited financial statements.
Steven Furtick is commonly associated with big numbers.
The megachurch pastor and bestselling author started North Carolina's Elevation Church with 14 members. It grew to 14,000 attendees within eight years and has been on Outreach Magazine's list of the Fastest Growing Churches in America for the past six years.
But now, the Charlotte-area pastor is drawing scrutiny for plans to build a home reportedly worth approximately $1.6 million, based on the building permit and contract value.
The house, with a total square footage reported at 16,000 feet (8,400 of it heated), is bigger than the home of the owner of the NFL's Carolina Panthers, as well as the home of North Carolina's wealthiest man, according to The Charlotte Observer.
Furtick addressed the scrutiny in a recent sermon:
"I didn't even build that house with money from the church. I built it with money from my books and I gave money to the church from the books."
Elevation's chief financial officer, Chunks Corbett, explained to the Observer how Furtick only paid $325,000 for the 19-acre property, as well as some of the details of how Furtick's role as both author and pastor intersect.
Corbett said the house is "not tied to the church in any way," and explained how sales of Furtick's bestselling book, Greater, benefited Elevation. "He's building this house on his book advances, while allowing the church to be a beneficiary of the sales," Corbett told the Observer.
But that hasn't stopped criticism over Furtick's home and salary. Warren Cole Smith, who writes books criticizing evangelical churches and lives in Charlotte, is concerned about what he calls a "lack of transparency" surrounding Furtick's salary, which remains undisclosed. In addition, fellow megapastors—including Perry Noble and Jack Graham—determine the salary vs. the more-traditional arrangement of a board of elected elders or deacons.
Furtick is not the first prominent evangelical to draw such scrutiny for their home or salary. Franklin Graham was scrutinized for the size of the dual salaries he once received from Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelical Association. A dispute over the size of Rick Warren's home went all the way to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. CCM star Phil Driscoll challenged the IRS on his two parsonages—and won.
CT has noted how debate over increasingly large houses for successful pastors has prompted debate on whether Congress should change clergy housing allowances. CT also noted how a judge recently revived an atheist challenge to the tax break, leading to an interesting defense by the federal government that atheists are "ministers of the gospel."