Struggles with Furtick’s Message at Global Leadership Summit Today

12 Aug

I just listened to Steven Furtick‘s talk at the Global Leadership Summit simulcast.  Steven is the author of Sun Stand Still and is the pastor of Elevation Church, a very large church (10,000+) in Charlotte, NC, that is around the exact age of my church in Lansing (5 years).  I have heard Steven preach before and really appreciate his passion for God’s power and for the truth of Scripture.  I know that some of my struggle with Steven’s teaching is that he is my age and his church is my age, and there is that hidden twinge of jealousy/ego inside of me, and God makes me work through that whenever this surfaces.  But besides this, there is something theological that I really struggle with (and when I say struggle, I mean that in the very literal sense: tension, uncertainty, confusion, humble, don’t have the answers), and it happens to be the main point of Steven’s book, and in most of his keynote talks.

This theological struggle I have ties directly into my experiences as a church planter, as well as a pastor of people living in a fallen world, who encounter struggle after struggle where it often seems God is absent.  I am not quoting Furtick on this, but what I struggle with is the general teaching that is out there that if you have big audacious faith believing God will do big things, God will do them.  I have thumbed through the Sun Stand Still book and my personal experiences as a planter cause my heart to lock up and make me unable to read this teaching, and make it difficult for me to listen to.  I again acknowledge my own sin-issues here, while at the same time feel this topic really deserves both sides of the coin to be presented in order for it to be biblical, and to not cause a lot of confusion and bitterness in people’s lives.

Today Furtick spoke on 2 Kings 3:9-20.  In a nutshell this passage says: There has not been rain; there needs to be; Elisha hears from the Lord that the people need to dig ditches and the Lord will fill them with water.  Added on to this, verse 18 tells us “this is an easy thing for the Lord to do.” Furtick’s main point of his message to leaders around the world is that we need to dig ditches, with the big audacious faith that God will show up and fill them with water (all metaphorically speaking obviously –most directly applied to our ministry contexts) and he (Furtick) gives example after example of how they did this at their church and have now baptized thousands and thousands of people.  His book has a very similar pattern to this.

My struggle with Furtick’s message is that God never promises that He will do this on a regular basis.  He brought water when Elisha built ditches because He explicitly promised the water when He gave the command to build the ditches.  God never promises that He will do this on a regular basis (for us today), and I think it can be really destructive in people’s lives to teach them that He does promise this.  We should not hold God to promises He never made.  I don’t know how many people in my ministry who have either left their faith, or who have contemplated leaving their faith, because they prayed for something with all the audacious faith in the world, and it simply didn’t happen: their mom with cancer died, they never got pregnant, they lost their job, their church folded.  It’s one thing to get hyped up about this concept in a sermon and look at specific one-time examples of when this has happened, like 2 Kings 3 with the ditches, or the fire coming from heaven in 1 Kings 18, or the sun standing still in Joshua 10, but never in any of these cases did God promise that He would do this every time (that if we have this type of faith, He’ll do it for us).  I have found in my life, in my congregation’s life, and over and over again in the Bible that sometimes freshly dug ditches are met with drought, famine, and death.  It’s not that God is no longer in control of these situations, or that He doesn’t love us (2 conclusions people make when they think they are guaranteed results from God if they have audacious enough faith), but there is a simple reality that we live in a fallen world (the world is mired by the consequences of sin) and we will live in this fallen world until Jesus comes back and/or we are in Heaven–>Lazarus is raised from the dead in John 11, but the dude still dies a few years after that.  The John 11 miracle was a one-time thing, not a promise or formula we can go back to again and again (because this isn’t Heaven yet).

A main facet of my struggle with this topic is that I know I sound like I’m being pessimistic when I say this and I do wonder how the bias of my upbringing plays into this.  I want to learn and be stretched in this area and I do think there is a lot I and we can learn from Furtick and others who stretch our faith past our comfort zones.  We need to believe God can do the impossible and in faith we need to ask Him to do it on a regular basis.  I know I need to be careful not to develop the depressing attitude that this world is merely full of struggle, but also to emphasis that we can take heart because Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33), and guess what–we’re on his team!

I praise God for what He has done in Charlotte through Furtick’s church and I do admire Furtick for the audacious faith He has.  I too have prayed audacious prayers and have had audacious faith over my five years, but like thousands of other church planters, am nowhere near 10,000 people in my church.  I don’t think we should take our personal experiences (one example of God at work) and then teach them to the masses as the way God works, as if there were a formula, in the same way that we shouldn’t do this with 2 Kings 3, 1 Kings 18, or Joshua 10.  Instead we should look at these one-time examples as all the more reason to praise God for his might, having faith He can do these things in our lives as well, but knowing at the end of the day that He is on the throne and He is in control, and we should not hold Him to promises He never made.  Rather, let’s hold him to the promises He did make, which are no consolation prize!  Let’s remind ourselves of God’s unfailing love for us, given to us through Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead, which conquered sin and death, and how we are promised this victory, through his grace and forgiveness, both for eternity and for every step of this life as we walk with God.  Rather than compare ourselves to other pastors (or tell others to compare themselves to us), or compare ourselves to individual characters’ experiences with God throughout the Bible, let’s take a lesson from when Jesus instructed Peter on this very issue of comparison:

John 21:20   Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”)
John 21:21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
John 21:22  Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

So let’s follow Jesus with all our heart and soul, down whatever individual path he may take each one of us.

For further thoughts on this subject, see my Miracle Myths post from a few weeks ago.


Posted by on August 12, 2011 in Books I'm Reading, Theology


Tags: , , , , , , ,

12 responses to “Struggles with Furtick’s Message at Global Leadership Summit Today

  1. Cara

    August 12, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    I think you said it best in your “like thousands of other pastors…” line. Most churches don’t have that kind of “success” (if success in ministry is even measured that way which is debatable…ver​y debatable). So does that mean that all those churches who struggle or have few people in them are somehow not as “worthy”? No. Certainly not.
    And extrapolating his point out to life gets very difficult. What do you say to the person who doesn’t get pregnant? What do you say to the person whose spouse dies of cancer leaving them a widow with two young children? Do you tell them they didn’t have “audacious enough faith”?
    I think you’re right on here, and he’s off track — probably well-meaning, but way, way off.

    After more thought the other thing that bothers me about this kind of thinking is that it puts the reason onto people. Your church is successful? Well then you must have amazing faith! Even more troublesome when you’re talking about yourself – it’s giving yourself an awful lot of credit.
    And again extrapolating it out it then logically requires blaming people who don’t get what they ask – they must not have enough faith. I think it gives people way too much credit and also is incredibly hurtful to those struggling to then pile on “Oh you must not have audacious enough faith!”

  2. Christy MacFarlane

    August 12, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    I really appreciate your thoughts on Furtick’s message. His message reminds me of the health and wealth gospel concept . . . if one is not receiving what is being prayed and/or preparing for, then they lack faith or have sin in their life. God is not a “sugar daddy”.

  3. Noah

    August 12, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    From what I can gather from Furtick, I don’t think he realizes how his message can be seen similar to the health-and-wealth message (and I agree with you Christy, it can come across this way, in fact someone else told me the same thing when we were discussing this). What I mean is, I get the sense that Furtick (unlike actual health and wealth teachers) is a very biblical guy who does not preach a consumer message, but rather teaches authentically to Jesus’ message of picking up our cross and truly following him… I don’t think Furtick realizes how his message sounds really close to H&W and needs to be better nuanced to not be heard that way. In talking with my friend James Defrees, who’s at the GLS with me, James brought up a good point… all Furtick needs to do is add a simple line to his message about digging the ditches and that is: “But you may not see the water in your lifetime” (see Heb. 11:13-16, 39 and surrounding context)–>essentially saying that God is definitely at work when we have audacious faith, it’s just that his work is often not something we see on the surface level, or is something that may bear fruit many years from now (maybe past our lifetime), or it’s just a different type of working than we were expecting (so it looks to us like He isn’t working), but He is working. We need to dig ditches, but leave the results in God’s hands, not in our expectations’ hands.

    Cara, I think the point you bring up about churches brings focus to significant insecurity, shame, and failure feelings I see in so many church planters I know, and ones I myself have felt often throughout my journey. We set up the exception to the rule (Elevation Church, both Mars Hill Churches, Saddleback, North Point Community Church, etc.) as the rule/formula for all other church planters to follow, which I’ve seen over and over again at church planting conferences, church planter trainings, denominational meetings, and in books, and if we (church planters) don’t achieve the same attendance as these churches, we are failures. Furtick made a comment in his GLS talk where he said, “I remember when we baptized 5 people and thought that was a lot of people” (referring to how they recently baptized ~1500 people). I don’t think he has any idea how damaging that is to church planters who up until this time have been rejoicing whenever they get the privilege of baptizing 3 people, or 1 person. It’s like saying “screw those 5 people; their souls aren’t important; and that certainly isn’t a big movement of God for only 5 hearts to be committed to Jesus, entering his Kingdom and entering eternal life, what type of loser-pastor can only get 5 people saved?” Like it’s a football game where we only scored 5 points instead of 1500. It’s a sad cycle because almost every church planter I’ve talked to (including me) has this inferiority complex to some level. There are sooo many variables for why a church gets huge and others don’t, and as you said Cara, is ‘huge’ really the correct measure in the first place? I’m grateful for some recent resources I’ve seen that are addressing the epidemic of frustrated / insecure church planters (after the line of church planters who have burnt out, quit, and/or have “fallen” over the past 10 years has grown longer and longer), and I hope and anticipate that these resources will continue to be written as the pendulum hopefully starts swinging back to a healthy equilibrium of expectations.

  4. .sg

    August 15, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    You’re a good man Flippy and I appreciate your transparency.

    I agree that contemporary church culture (esp in America) is about size and influence. I don’t track WC Leadership Summit roster closely (I attended once) but I’m certain it’s rare or never that a small church pastor was consider worthy of contributing as a speaker. Size leads to influence, which is often equated to affirmation of the Spirit’s favor.

    In this equation, Jesus himself would probably not have been invited to speak either. His ministry lasted just 3 years. He poured out to a few thousand people. Only a few hundred maybe got it. From that about 60-80 were on the inside. Of that, he discipled 12 (plus a few women), 1 totally dissed him. In the end, even those closest to him, didn’t catch the vision.

    Hardly a WC styled leader.

    • Noah

      August 16, 2011 at 12:11 am

      Thanks Simon.
      Looking at Jesus’ ministry can often be very encouraging in that sense, when you are in the trenches and just not seeing a lot of fruit. I just returned tonight from our inner-city Foster Park ministry. It’s our 5th summer and man, I wish the fruit was a bit more obvious!! The hardest part is watching kids I’ve known since they were 2 years old, now be 7 years old and with major anger issues, beating kids up, etc. I know God is at work under the surface with these kids, and the fruit will come one way or another.

      I’d also want it to be known, I’m certainly not bashing big churches or leaders of big churches. I think it’s awesome to baptize 1500 people, I think we all just get so excited in stuff like that that we don’t realize the repercussions of how it can make equally-faithful ministers feel who simply don’t see that kind of exciting fruit in their ministries, when we don’t nuance our message accordingly.

      An irony of Willow’s Leadership Summit is that the day after Furtick’s talk, they did a session called “Tough Callings”, and had Mama Maggie Gobran speak (Google her ministry in Egypt), dude that was moving!! It was a great reminder of Jesus’ upsidedown Kingdom where the humblest are the most powerful. These session also featured Compassion Intl’s president telling a story I will never forget of a pastor in Ethiopia, Pastor Tadessa, who was brutally tortured/martyred for his ministry and faith in Christ but lived through it, made me cry thinking of a warrior of our faith like that. This was interspersed with Bill Hybels sharing the story of Jeremiah, the prophet no one ever listened to and who was persecuted for his message. So I do give them props for that, but also wonder what Jeremiah would think of some of the other faith/leadership lessons that we often push in Christian circles. Maybe it is just me, but I just relate more to people like Jeremiah or Mama Maggie than I do those who have seen tremendous results and then teach from those results. Not saying they’re bad for doing so, just say I don’t relate as well.

  5. Katie Scarlett

    August 23, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    As a part of a small church plant that’s been around for 6 years and currently has 100 regular attendees and 40 members, I find this discussion so encouraging! It’s easy to hear those big “success” stories and wonder if we are doing something wrong because we are small.
    Essentially, I think you said it: “we should not hold Him to promises He never made.”

    In the Kings passage, He promised at that time that He would fill the ditches with water if the Isrealites dug them. So, we formula-ically dig ditches expecting them to fill with water. Then we sit by our ditches all year long and wonder why God is not filling them, when the whole time God is looking to lead us just around the corner where there is a rushing river, or in some cases a tiny bubbling spring.

    We do not get to decide what God’s promises will look like in our lives (eg. my water filled ditches will look like our little By Grace Community Church overflowing with 1500 people, and He filled the Isrealites ditches, so He will fill mine). And then expect that He will – magically – deliver.

    Instead, audacious faith looks like believing that He leads us – whether we see it clearly or not, and holding to the promises He has made to us (He will never forsake us, no one can snatch us out of His hand, we will always have what we need). It’s easy to claim we have faith when everything goes right. But it’s crazy, some may even say “audacious,” to trust He will never forsake me or my family, even when my dad suddenly dies in a plane crash when I’m young. Or trusting that I will always have what I need, even when my husband loses his job. Or trusting He has called you to plant a church that only ever has 50 people in it. Audacious faith is believing no matter my circumstances.
    For some communities, God shows His might by filling churches with 1500 people, and in some communities He shows His might by allowing communist leaders into power who try to illegalize faith (think of eastern Europe earlier in the 20th century) and yet people still come to believe in Him despite the threats on their lives.
    My God is mighty to save, and He will save how He pleases. And He will sanctify each of us as He pleases as well – whether by teaching us to trust Him while leading thousands, or trusting Him while leading dozens.

    • Noah

      August 23, 2011 at 7:18 pm

      well said Katie, thank you.

      “But it’s crazy, some may even say “audacious,” to trust He will never forsake me or my family, even when my dad suddenly dies in a plane crash when I’m young. Or trusting that I will always have what I need, even when my husband loses his job. Or trusting He has called you to plant a church that only ever has 50 people in it. Audacious faith is believing no matter my circumstances.”

      I have found in ministry that SO many people’s faith is dependent on their circumstances. That is really the root of the health & wealth gospel: “if things are going good, God loves you; if they aren’t, you are bad and/or God doesn’t care about you anymore.” While i don’t meet many in my circles or in my church who would ever want the H&W category associated with them, i still see people falling into this trap…. when bad things happen to them, they ditch out on God because they feel like He didn’t hold up to His end of the deal.

  6. Mute Efe

    February 2, 2012 at 1:39 am

    Hi Noah,
    I am a Nigerian who participated in the video cast of the summit here in Nigeria. And I have watched all the sessions a number of times because I bought the DVD so I really do get the struggle you are talking about and I am quite sure that Steven will identify with it too. However, he had a limited time to speak and I think if I were in his shoes I will speak in the direction he chose. If you remember, also, during the Tough Call session, Bill Hybels balanced it out when he spoke about Jeremiah. That it’s not always that the line moves up and to the right. Sometimes we do all we can and nothing happens. I think that placed the balance you are looking for. It may not have come from Steven but it was spoke about in that same summit.

    • Noah

      February 14, 2012 at 11:52 pm

      Hi Mute, thanks for the post. I didn’t come away with the impression that the two conflicting messages balanced each other out, I actually came away thinking how poor timing it was. You have someone sharing about how difficult ministry is to the poorest of the poor, a story about someone beaten mercilessly for their faith, then you have Furtick preaching about how God will “fill up” the ditches we dig and shares his stories about how God answered his prayers and will answer ours too if we have audacious enough faith. If I’m the guy who got beat to near-death and I heard Furtick’s message, I’d be thinking “Hey God, did you run out of water? (to fill up my ditch)” I loved Hybels’ talk on Jeremiah, but again Jeremiah essentially did say to God on several occasions, “Hey God, did you run out of water?” and I thought the proximity to Furtick’s talk to Jeremiah only showed how contradictory the messages are. That’s my problem with Furtick’s message, is that God doesn’t always respond that way and we don’t always know why, it isn’t always a lack of audacious faith or lack of prayer. But even beside all that, I still think it’s simply incorrect hermeneutics to pull out 1 story from the Old Testament and say because it happened that way once, it will always happen that way. That’s setting God up for promises He never made.

  7. Andrew

    February 5, 2012 at 3:33 am

    Good article and am glad that there are other people who are discerning and thinking and struggling with these issues.

  8. jrogerw

    February 26, 2012 at 6:15 am

    I’m not familiar with the Furtick, but neither the concept nor the struggle are new. First, I don’t see this principle in Scripture either; God says that it’s not the size of our faith but the size of our God. I understand your struggle because every ministry I’ve served was small and none of them became large. However, I’ve noted that around half of all American churches are 75 or less, and I suspect many of them remain small because men have chosen to move on for their own egos and futures rather than be faithful with the small investment God has entrusted to them. A church of 100 in a small agricultural community is never going to grow to 10,000! Furthermore, though I don’t have the date to prove this, I will bet that few of the churches that those self-serving pastors moved to ever grew to 10,000 either.

    Church-planting is a funny business here in the States. Lansing has several hundred congregations, so what is the indication that the city needs more? Grand Rapids is even larger, yet there’s Mars Hill (although at least Bell is from GR), along with how many others since I was a student there in the 70’s? If I recall correctly, Hybels targetted a largely unchurched area, then tried to determine how to suit a Biblical ministry to that area; then, when he was hugely successful, he specifically told others NOT to copy what he did, as in style of ministry, but rather do the hard work of getting to know your community. I admire him for that, more than for the outward success of his church.

    The idea that a blessed pastor or missionary can turn around an tell others to copy him to achieve his kind of success is insulting. Paul said, “Follow me AS I FOLLOW CHRIST.” Each man is unique; each situation is unique. The only constants are, as you say Noah, the promises we have from God, the person of God and his spirit present with us, Paul also said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God provided the increase,” meaning it was NOT the greatness of Paul’s or Apollos’ faith.

    One of the reasons I’ve moved to Crossroads is your emphasis on love, service, and community. I don’t necessarily believe that is the formula for a congregation of 10,000. I’ve been part of 2 of the larger churches–though nowhere near 10,000–and I prefer your emphasis.

    Not to impugn a man I know nothing about, but I think the devil loves to use successful leaders to discourage ordinary folks. I much prefer a Steve Brown who reminds us that God accepts us despite our weaknesses. Noah, I believe God will bless you and your ministry, despite your shortcomings, which he knew about beforehand, and he will use you, your gifts, and your growing wisdom to get his work done. to whatever size he determines is appropriate.

    In I Corinthians 3:19-4: , Paul wrote, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness’; and again, ‘The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile’. So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” I think this should be your guide.

    First, beware of the lure of human wisdom, even from Christian successes. Second, stewards are to be faithful, not big faith-ers. We humans may make our judgments based on numbers or budgets, but God’s judgment is far more important, to be made in due time…no comparisons, not even self-judgment.

    You’re a good man, Noah. You’ve been very transparent about not being perfect, but you know that his grace is sufficient to cover all that. I firmly believe that God doesn’t play games with us, so that we remain clueless until the right messenger comes along. Follow what you know, and when you need to know more, God will provide as long as you’re willing to hear. He wants you to “succeed” even more than you desire success, that is, to do God’s will. What we all should want, more than anything else, is his “Well done my good and faithful servant,” when our time is complete.

    • Noah

      February 28, 2012 at 12:56 pm

      Thanks Roger, I appreciate the encouragement. I love Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 1-3 as it pertains to Christian leaders (myself). Thank you for this reminder!


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