Yesterday, Elevation church was causing a stir around social media due to a photo that someone posted. The photo showed a children’s coloring book that is produced by Elevation. Though some people seemingly found all of the images disturbing, I personally felt that only some of them were cause for concern. I don’t have a problem with a church putting out a coloring book. I don’t think we should be freaking out that a church put out a coloring book. The issue is some of the content of the book, and that it’s directed toward children.
I’m not overly surprised by this either, given the fact that Elevation church is a run-of-the-mill purpose driven/vision casting/seeker church. So what is all the craziness about? Judge for yourself:
In teaching the children about ‘Unity’ – Elevation put out this page. Unity to what? Well, look at the passage they modify Unity with. It comes from Romans 13, a passage about being subject to government authority. But is this page about being subject to government authority? No. And if we take a look at the bottom of the page, we see the lens by which Elevation wants you to read Romans 13: “Elevation church is built on the vision God gave pastor Steven. We will protect our unity in supporting his vision.” I hate to use the term cult-like indoctrination here, but it seems like it fits. And that is the direction most people are taking this. This “Unity” point made here by Elevation comes from the church’s overall Code. You can view their Code [here]. There are other pages in the coloring book that encourage children to follow the church’s Code.
Here’s what we shouldn’t be quick to do: Accuse Steve Furtick of starting a cult. When I went to a southern Baptist Bible college years ago, we were taught that the job of the pastor was to pray for a vision from God and then ‘cast that vision.’ That is, the purpose of the church was to follow the vision God gave us. This vision isn’t a literal vision or anything, but more of an “impression” or “strong feeling” or “goal” about the purpose of our particular congregation. It’s pretty much the CEO model of leadership. It’s the way a CEO of a corporation would set a mission statement for his company, and the company would then exist to work within the confines of that statement.
This isn’t uncommon. We were taught that this is what biblically a pastor should do. It isn’t true, but we were told it was. And we believed it. It seemed legitimate. It made sense to us, especially in light of out of context passages like, “Without a vision people perish.” We didn’t know that it was so much easier than that. The Bible instructs pastors to simply open the Bible and teach it, rightly dividing it, discipling, administering Lord’s Supper and baptism. If you want to read more about vision casting, I’ve put out an article about it [here].
All that being said, let’s not be quick to say, “Steven Furtick is a cult leader! He is trying to brainwash kids!” Don’t get me wrong, I think Furtick is totally wrong here, and he may very well be a cult leader who is trying to mislead people for financial gain. But we don’t know that. And we shouldn’t be presumptuous. It’s sinful to assume the worst, and confidently spread it around without knowing for sure. I see a lot of my past self in Furtick. I genuinely believed what I was taught. I wasn’t going about innovative preaching or vision casting methodology with the intention of taking advantage of people. I sincerely believed that to be the truth because men I trusted in taught me that it was true. Everyone I associated myself within ministry (other pastors, etc) believed it to be true, and taught the same. We wanted people to love the Bible as much as we did. We saw an ignorance of the Bible that we desperately wanted to be fixed.
I’ve been listening to Furtick’s sermons, messages, video, etc for years. I’ve certainly written about the guy in the past. I don’t agree with Furtick’s message, methodology, or pretty much anything. And maybe you don’t either. But let’s not jump to accusing Furtick of things we don’t know for sure. We wouldn’t want that sort of thing done to us. Instead, let’s pray for him and his congregants. Let’s also pray that we approach this situation with kindness, patience, and gentleness.
24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:24-26