I recently tweeted a critique of Steven Furtick’s promo video for his current sermon series Gates of Change. Here’s what I said:
Someone asked me if I’d listened to the whole sermon for context. I explained that I’ve listened to enough of his sermons to feel justified in the critique. They challenged me to reconsider, so I decided to watch the entire “Pillow and the Promise” sermon with my wife.
I rarely do this kind of evaluation, but since I publicly critiqued his 30 second promo, I think it is worth sharing my thoughts on the entire sermon.
I plan to offer both encouragement and criticism of his sermon. This is similar to the weekly feedback I receive when our staff and interns meet every Tuesday to pray, plan, and reflect on the previous Sunday’s service and sermon. Each time, I’m helped towards growth as brothers and sisters give positive and challenging feedback to my sermon. I’ll treat this reflection as we’d handle our Tuesday review.
General Comments—Personal Preferences
- Steven is a compelling communicator.
His speaking gifts are evident and it makes sense that he’d draw a sizeable crowd. His rugged style attracts people who are fed up with traditional church. This could be a useful tool if submitted to the Lord.
- He got in the way.
I would have a challenging time sitting under his teaching for several reasons, one of which is the lack of humility I sense from him. This is subjective, but he seems to be very aware of himself when he preaches which is distracting for people who desire to see God.
- His theatrical style.
His theatrics will either be endearing or off-putting, depending on your preference. I’ll let you make your own call on that, but he certainly wins the “Most Time a Pastor Spends Preaching While Laying Down” award. I didn’t clock it, but he must have preached at least ¼ of his sermon horizontally.
- Throw Pillow Rant.
Finally, I’m in total agreement with him that throw pillows are a useless invention. My wife and I have at least a dozen on our bed and I have no idea why.
Encouragements—Areas of Agreement
- God’s determined purposes give purpose to every moment.
Steven’s point that God’s purposes are determined and that our mistakes can never thwart His purposes was encouraging. This is a wonderful truth. We have a sovereign God who works in the mist of all our messes.
- Keep your eyes open.
He taught that God has determined purposes that He is always working out in our lives. Every situation and circumstance serves as an opportunity to see Him as active in teaching us something. This overarching theme was faithful and should serve us to remain attentive at all times to God’s work.
Considerations—Areas of Concern or Disagreement
- Not an expositional sermon.
He preached from the Bible, even giving some faithful historical context at times. But the point of the passage was not the point of his sermon. Not every sermon must be expositional, but a preacher’s job is to say what God has said in a way that is clear, compelling, applicable, and honoring to His intent.
Steven captured elements of the text well, but missed the main point. His main point seemed to be something like: If we claim the promise that God has a determined purpose in every situation, it opens gateways for us to see God working in our lives. This is not only very me-centric, but just not what the text is about. If you care to, you can hear how I preached the same text a couple years ago.
- This was a gospel-less sermon.
This sermon was not even slightly affected by the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus was mentioned, but if a non-Christian were to listen to this message, they would have no idea that they are as sinner, who Jesus is, what He did for sinners, or how they could be forgiven and reconciled to God. They would simply think they need to get in tune with God, whoever that God may be. I think a Muslim or Jewish person could have said “amen” to most of the sermon.
For the Christian, there was no instruction of how to depend upon the grace of God in their failures and struggles with sin. Instead, the believer was charged to be alert and declare situations as being places God is working for their benefit. This too is true, but what happens when we do this poorly? What strength do we do this in? This Gospel-lessness seems to characterize most of the sermons I’ve heard from him.
- Where do I get God’s promises?
There was much talk about resting in God’s promises, but no talk about where to get them. We were not directed to the Scriptures as God’s all-sufficient source of promises. Yes, he grabbed his bible and used it as a pillow, and yes he quoted a few verses, but he was unclear on where we get promises from God.
This is important because Steven presented a mystical approach to hearing from God. If I didn’t know better, I would have assumed that God speaks promises to us in all sorts of different ways. Steven never cautioned his hearers about the danger of Satan’s deception and counterfeiting tactics. I know you can’t say everything in every sermon, but his handling of this seemed careless at best.
- Echoes of Word of Faith foolishness.
I’ll say this sermon had less word of faith theology than some of his other sermons, but you can still hear it come through. At 22:55 he starts the nonsense we saw in the promo video about us having the ability to declare things to be what we want them to be. You can hear more of it at 25:09 and 28:50 among other places.
Now, to be fair, I completely agree that God is always acting and that we need to wake up to it. But his language is very word of faith-like and explains life in a me-centric way. God seems to be on the outside of the situation either crossing His fingers hoping we’ll realize things or being at our beckon call to act when we declare something.
The problem is that Steven is not teaching the church to submit themselves to God’s purposes in their trials, but rather to speak purpose into their situations. There is a great difference. In one theology God is big and glorious and we are to trust Him. In the other we are the determiners of destiny and speak things into existence. In some ways he’s speaking out of both sides of his mouth, but his teaching is confusing at best and downright errant at worst.
After watching the whole sermon, I stand by my statement. This sermon was something, but it was not Christian. It was an amalgamation of Christian ideas mixed in with word of faith prosperity Gospel.
I am not in any way saying he is not a Christian. But in my opinion, Steven Furtick is on a dangerous trajectory. He desires to be edgy which is always dangerous because eventually most edgy pastors fall off the cliff.
My hope for Steven is that he will spend time considering the gifts that God has given him and use them to make much of God. He is young, famous, and flourishing, which are all great dangers for pastors.
Pray for him to be humbled and see himself primarily as a servant of the text. Pray also for him to develop good friendships with faithful mentors if he does not already have them. If he does, pray they would have courage to speak truth to him about his dangerous trajectory. Pray also that he would be humble enough to receive them.
And may we all be ever cautious of our own propensities toward error. Lord help us.
Or Pharisee! Your judgemental, religious, holier than thou attitude is the reason people like me refuse to step into churches. You are spending so much time dividing that you have lost focus on the true message Christians preach. It’s impossible to reach the “lost”, if you are trying so desperately to increase your twitter followers. You mentioned Furticks me attitude and then you placed a link to one of YOUR messages. How hypocritical. If you don’t like what someone says, the right thing would be to not spend your time entertaining it. I don’t like what you have to say, so I will spend my time reading stuff elsewhere. Maybe you should check your reasoning behind posting stuff like this. Sounds like jealousy and envy, not truth and lies.
I appreciate the comment and the challenge for me to examine my motives.
Critiquing others is not the most enjoyable part of ministry, but I think it is necessary from time to time. I hesitated to include the link to my own sermon, but thought it might be helpful to see my attempt at faithfulness. I’m certain many have preached it better.
Regarding envy of Steven, I don’t think that’s the case. I’m not above that, but my writing was intended to help us see more clearly what I perceive to be a dangerous trajectory in the ministry of a person many listen to. This was done out of love for God’s Word, for the church, and for Steven. My prayer is that he’d read it, reach out, and we’d be able to talk about it.
If I came off as “holier than thou” I trust it was due to a deficiency in my writing. I am many things, but better than another is not one of them. I am keenly aware of my own sin, and have no hope apart from the mercy of Christ. But in light of your words, I’ll spend some time praying Psalm 139:23-24, thank you for that.
And finally, I would encourage you to not fall into the same trap you accused me of. If you will not unite with other believers in a local church, though God clearly commands you to do so (Hebrews 10:24-25), would that not put you in the place of judging yourself to be better than hypocrites like me, and in some way wiser than God who commands you to humble yourself and love others as sinful as yourself?
If you’d like to talk more about this, I’m happy to do so. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Grace and peace.
Appreciate your hard work in the Word, and having elders about you to strengthen you, so that your calling can be edified and stay true. The Bible is our Lord’s gift to us, His Church. (2 Tim. 3:16)
I appreciate you taking time to listen to this guy’s talk, and then sharing your honest insight of how it speaks to his congregation in view of the Holy Scriptures. (Hope that makes sense.)
And whenever you, or I, or other Christians, speak up for the truth, and share the errors in others, we shall be mocked. That is a portion of the Word that will take place that hurts. “If they ridiculed the Master, who was perfect love, and speaks the truth in love. How much more His disciples.”
Thanks again. Lord bless and fill you with His joy, as you recognize the Cross where Jesus died for you personally. Amen.
Richard, with all due respect, is it not completely hypocritical based on your own expressed standards to call someone a “pharisee, judgemental, holier than thou” etc when you don’t actually know the heart of the person whom you are criticizing? I mean, at least the author of this post offered a mix of praise and criticism, whereas your comment was nothing but self-righteous condemnation. Not to mention the fact that you also hypocritically blamed another person for your own disobedience. It’s your fault that you refuse to step into churches, not his, and you will have to give an account to God for that.
And what are you criticizing him for other than exercising the standards laid out by Jesus and the Apostles in regards to false teaching? That’s really it. You just don’t seem to like what the Bible says in regards to false teachers, and it’s very clear to anyone with an ounce of spiritual discernment that Steven Furtick sadly falls into that camp. Be a Berean, search the scriptures and submit to Christ.
I think it’s silly that you blame man for your refusal to worship God. If you knew who God is, man would never stand in your way.
Whatever Richard might say, I appreciate your critique of Furtick’s sermon. You kept your personal reflections of his personal style brief and mild and dealt with the content of his preaching. It’s what every pastor is commanded to do in Titus 1:9.
Richard claimed that “you have lost focus on the true message Christians preach.” Such a claim requires that sermons be evaluated in light of Scripture to ensure that they are true.
You’re an encouragement to me and others, keep on.
Garrett, you are gracious and I enjoy the things you post. Jesus gave us clear warnings of false teachers, and scripture provides the signs that we are to look for (greedy for gain being a primary one).
No one wants to call it what it is, but I simply think that you only need to imagine the apostle Paul, bruised and covered in the wounds inflicted from lashing, declaring a message of weakness and power in the cross… it would be humbling and extremely challenging for any of our worship services! But it would make many religious showmen look outright ridiculous in their charades. May we all have our eyes toward heaven and flee from error (as you’ve said).
I have occasionally watched Furtick’s sermons on line from the UK. I am deeply envious of his gift for communication, but deeply concerned about his theology. What a waste of talent! He entertains rather than preaches.
With regard to criticizing another’s preaching I am mindful of St. Paul’s meeting with Peter, (Gal.2, 11-13). “When Peter came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” What would have happened to the early church if Paul had not taken such a strong line?
i’ve never heard of you or your ministry until this morning (via Challies). all I can say is that your top gif image at twitter is very off-putting to me. Using the unfortunate experience of a senior citizen to try to make some point does not at all sit well with me. “All things for Good?” Hmmm, I’m a senior. It’s not always easy. I don’t appreciate ridicule, nor my failings made light of. Posting that clip seems like at attempt at cuteness, maybe even not unlike someone lying down on a pillow during a sermon?! Anyway, that’s my reaction. Blessings, Mark
Mark, I’m a senior citizen with balance issues. I see nothing wrong with the gif image. Sometimes our failures ARE funny, and the point of that post is that we’d never become holy apart from God’s grace.
I’m also reminded of my grandmother. When she was very old, we visited her with our children, including our toddler son. In the morning, she decided that she should help him use the bathroom. Then she realized that she was trying to put her miniature poodle on the toilet instead of our son. She told us the story, because she thought it was hilarious.
Interesting, Jim. Your reaction, that is, so different from mine.
I guess if the clip had continued, and the guy when he reached the top had turned around, smiled, and put his arms up in a victory salute, I would have reacted very differently, too. But for me, I saw it and imagined falling myself, and getting bruised, and having those bruises take months to heal – the pain going away much more slowly than when I was younger.
In such a situation I would not be pleased to hear of someone – especially a minister presenting the gospel – making light of my predicament. I would not respect a minister using my predicament to attempt a sermon illustration, unless I myself had acknowledged it as “a trial with learning attached.”
My view is that my default position towards someone with limited abilities should be one of humility, compassion, respect, and a desire to help. I think it is disrespectful to suggest that someone else’s physical limitations always carry with them a learning experience. That is not for me to assume, but for the other to first offer.
I respect your perspective, and am pleased for you and your grandmother that your, and her, failings so quickly fall into the humour category, or at least into the ‘momentary light afflictions” folder. Thanks for posting your thoughts on it. My reaction was clearly not the only reaction.
I do appreciate your critique of this as prosperity gospel is a very dangerous gospel to teach. It’s not biblical (I’d argue that it’s completely backwards to what the bible teaches), and it’s very seductive. It’s very easy for people to fall in love with a gospel that preaches this sort of message especially here in a America where we can’t seem to get enough comfort and easy life mentality.
I’m like you, I do hope that he can see an error and work to resolve it. I do pray for you as you continue to preach the gospel as well.
I thought this was a wonderfully moderate, dispassionate and fair evaluation of this sermon. You write with the confidence of someone who stands for the truth, but does not mind being corrected or critiqued yourself, because your worth is found in Christ, not your own opinions.
I thought this was spot on, and kindly worded to boot. Well done.
Garrett, I’m sorry but this guy is a false teacher. He preached a different gospel. There’s nothing good from this or any of his “sermons.” He is leading many astray. Other than that I don’t have an opinion.
Amen, like Joel Osteen, Perry Noble, et al. SF is a wolf in sheep’s clothing! The Charlotte Observer has questioned their business model, and expensive lifestyle on several occasions! He brings in heretics to these confabs also!!
I understand that everyone has their own opinions and we all have to respect that. But there is a fine line between opinion and judgement. I actually attend Elevation Church and I am on The Welcome Team and it brings so much joy to my heart when I get to talk with others as they have just begun their walk with God. We are all called, God uses people to deliver his teachings. What Pastor Steven is doing is just that. Just in a way that maybe you are just not used to. People are often afraid of what is different. Just because something is different doesn’t mean it’s any less Christian then what is tradition. We are no better than others and we are to love others in Christ. We are not to criticize others, especially when they are trying to do what we all are trying to do as well. Which is to spread the word of God. My opinion is that I Elevation Church and Pastor Furtick teachings. I know it has truly changed my life and I see him and the church change the lives of others every week. Remember opinion, not judgement:)
Olivia, thank you for dropping a line here. I’m thankful to hear that you’re actively serving in your local church, and in such an important role (Romans 15:7)! I have no doubt that many people who are just beginning their walks with God are coming to Elevation. I pray God will help them to grow in their relationship with Him. The vast influence Steven has is the very reason I felt that such a reflection would be helpful. I agree we all have different gifts and styles, and I have no issue with Steven using his. My critique is primarily about content. What we say is very important. I don’t really care about tradition, I’m talking about what is biblical, which is what my primary criticisms were focused on. I am grateful your life has been changed and I trust that God will continue to work in and through you for His glory.
Thank you for your feedback. As someone being an active member in that church, I’m sure you can imagine why I commented. No one wants to see anything even close to negative when it comes to their Pastor. Everyone is different and we do have to respect that. Thank you and have a blessed evening
I personally do not think as a pastor , it’s very polite to criticize another pastor. There is no reason to criticize anyone actually. He is a very good pastor! He is just a preacher trying to preach a sermon he is not trying to be better than anyone. And you should not act as if you are better than him either. Next time you decide to post negative things about another preacher, just imagine someone else calling you a bad preacher. I am a proud member of elevation Have a blessed day.
Thanks Bella for taking a moment to comment. As I mentioned in the post, this sort of critique is something we do each week in our own church as a way of sharpening each other so that we can better honor God in our ministries. Over the years I have been greatly helped by godly criticism I have received. My hope is that my critiques would help us all discern how to be more faithful to the Lord in our ministries. I am not personally attacking Stephen, rather I’m giving my evaluation, which is a regular pattern in the New Testament. Thanks again for sharing, I pray the Lord blesses you and yours.
“There is no reason to criticize anyone actually…”
Oh, the irony of an indeed critical reply.
Plus – This illogical, opposes Christ’s own examples, and ignores much of the NT texts.
Thank you for taking the time to respond to me! That was just my personal opinion!
Dude preaches a prosperity sermon lying on a futon? And people don’t want us to judge that? I watched one Furtick sermon online, and as he yelled “I coming to the back of Blakeney” and then walked back through the auditorium high fiving his flock (most of whom had a happy deer in the headights look) , I literally was sick to my stomach. Elevation friends, life is about our growing in humility and our glorifying a majestic God, not about how “proud” you are of your church. You all need to read A Model of Christian Maturity: An Exposition of 2 Corinthians 10-13 by DA Carson.
Thank you for taking the time to write this. I was just made aware of this pastor and have been looking into his teachings. The body needs other believers to help point out false teachers and false doctrines so we can be warned away. This is not criticism but following the instructions given to us in the Word of God. Be blessed, brother, and thanks again.