The following is a response to the recent news story by Stuart Watson of NBC Charlotte and wcnc.com entitled How Elevation Church, Pastor Furtick produce ‘spontaneous’ baptisms.
WCNC writes: The spontaneous baptism how-to guide describes its purpose as to “pull off our part in God’s miracle.” Church leaders have repeatedly referred to the mass response as a “miracle.” But the guide reveals plenty of human staging.
My response: Spontaneous baptism doesn’t mean that it is spontaneous for the church leaders (that includes volunteer leaders as well as staff leaders), it’s spontaneous for those attending. Elevation Church is extremely prepared in all that they do. If you’ve ever stepped foot in the church, it is evident that they have invested a lot of time to make sure they do everything with excellence. The miracle is not in the preparation and purposeful planning (which I describe later), the miracle is that many people willingly choose to be baptized in obedience to the Word of God.
WCNC writes: Elevation Church keeps an exact count of its thousands of baptisms, all part of its laser like focus on numbers.
My response: Every church associated with the Southern Baptist Convention keeps record of baptisms, it’s not just an Elevation Church thing.
WCNC writes: Page one shows that the first people instructed to respond to Pastor Steven’s call to baptism were not converts suddenly inspired but Elevation volunteers carefully planted in the crowd. The guide instructs, “Fifteen people will sit in the worship experience and be the first ones to move when Pastor gives the call. Move intentionally through the highest visibility areas and the longest walk.” “They had people in the crowd stand up who never intended to be baptized,” said James Duncan, a communications professor at Anderson University and critic of Furtick. “They were shilling for Steven and the intent was these shills stand up and everybody else follows.”
My response: The reason there are selected volunteers to stand up at the invitation and start walking is SO THAT those who are responding to the Gospel message in obedience in baptism will not be walking alone. I was one who walked with several, even though I wasn’t being baptized. One of the gentlemen that I walked with was a recovering drug addict and had lost everyone close to him. He told me after he was baptized that me being there with him and walking to the water with him helped him realize that God has an extended family (the church) for him who would be there for him and walk beside him the rest of his life. I wouldn’t call that manipulation, I would call it planning with a purpose.
WCNC writes: More stage instructions tell volunteers to go to staging rooms outfitted with towels, pre-printed t-shirts, sports bras, boxers, makeup remover, hair-dryers and flip-flops. Volunteers are instructed to “pick young energetic people” to go on stage first to be baptized and “not necessarily those who are there first.”
My response: Concerning the church having changing rooms prepared with towels, flip-flops, shorts, shirts, etc., I think that’s incredible. This leaves people with no excuse to avoid the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Think about it, without a change of clothes, most people would not step into the baptismal pool because they would not want to drive home soaking wet. The reason they pick “young energetic people” to go first is because they will change clothes the quickest, thus not making the congregation wait an extensive amount of time for the baptisms to begin. If those in the front of the line are changed first, they are the first ones to be baptized.
WCNC writes: More volunteers are told, “You are looking for one or two great stories in your group. When you ID those individuals, place a ‘black wrist band’ on them so that the video crew can interview them….” The guide then tells the “media team” to be “mining great stories and pushing them up to the video crew.” James Duncan calls it “marketing for God and because it’s for God it’s OK.”
My response: The black wristbands are a way for the media team to be able to capture stories on video SO THAT the church can celebrate together the lives that are being changed. While some people are certainly skeptical stating things like “who are we to judge whose story is better than someone else’s”, I think you’re missing the point. Every number is a story and each baptism represents someone who is now raised to life in Christ. Those with the black wristband are more often common stories that we hear that resonate with a majority of people in which we potentially share with the congregation in the future. If you have ever been a part (whether baptized or just watching), you would notice that the staff, the volunteers, and the congregation are intentional about celebrating EVERY individual that is baptized.
My conclusion: I understand that there are some individuals who are angry because Pastor Steven Furtick isn’t your stereotypical Southern Baptist preacher in terms of his methodology. Pastor Steven preaches the Word of God every week. There are two ways to read the Bible: eisegesis (it means we take our own preconceived notions, presuppositions, agendas, and biases and find Scripture to fit our idea.) The second way is exegesis (which means a critical or explanation of the text). Eisegesis causes us to take Scripture out of context because we are finding certain verses to fit our ideology. Exegesis helps us understand the content in the correct context. I say all that to say this: many people (often media and bloggers) make inaccurate statements about Pastors (not just Pastor Steven) and churches (not just Elevation) because they take partial truths (like what the serpent did in the garden) and twist it into a lie (see Genesis 3:1). I am not coming across with an agenda to attack anyone with differing views, I’m simply suggesting that you get the full context before making your opinions known.
In closing, I would like to share a few thoughts to the supporters and critics of Pastor Steven and Elevation Church. During the most difficult times in my life, Pastor Steven and Elevation Church did something for me that I could never repay them for, they pointed me back to Jesus. Through Pastor Steven’s preaching, God convicted me of the sin in my life and I was made known that I needed to repent of my sins and trust in the only name that saves, Jesus. Not only has my life been changed by Jesus through Elevation and Pastor Steven, but my wife’s life has been changed as well. Elevation Church is not for everyone as we all have our own preferred styles, but let me make one thing clear: The Gospel of Jesus Christ is presented every week and lives are being changed.
“Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” – Acts 5:38-39