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More Pastor Problems – Driscoll, Furtick and South Korea

“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18

Unfortunately, dubious behavior by prominent pastors has again been in the news recently. Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle apparently went to questionable lengths to have a recent book of his make the New York Times best sellers list. World Magazine details the situation in this article. According to documents obtained by World, Driscoll spent over $200,000 to hire and fund a firm that arranged a complex plan to make it appear that Driscoll’s book sales were large enough to merit a one week inclusion on the New York Times Bestseller List. It is not clear where the money to pay for this distortion came from (Mars Hill will not answer that question) but at least Driscoll is said to give all royalties from his book sales to his church. Of course, Driscoll’s compensation is also not disclosed by Mars Hill. The church claims the royalties offset the costs incurred in force-feeding Driscoll’s books through the sales reporting system, but without the relevant financial information being released by Mars Hill, it is impossible to verify this claim. As best we can tell, this effort to produce misleading book sales was undertaken simply to increase Driscoll’s notoriety. And it worked. Driscoll’s book ended up on the New York Times Best Seller list for one whole week while this unseemly effort to produce bogus sales took place and his official biography now refers to him being a “New York Times Best Selling author”. Unfortunately, that claim can only be made because he effectively paid for it rather than earned it. And some other author, who should be able to legitimately make that claim, cannot because Driscoll’s concocted sales pushed them off the best sellers list. Needless to say, this is not a great Christian witness. The book in question is also the same one that Driscoll has had to revise due to plagiarism. Additionally, obtaining the documents to support the manipulation of book sales by Driscoll was hindered by a non-disclosure agreement Mars Hill makes employees sign. Why should a church need employees to sign such a document unless they had something to hide?

We previously reported on Elevation Church Pastor Steven Furtick’s own attempt to concoct book sales and get on the best sellers list for at least one week so he could also make the claim he was a New York Times best-selling author. Apparently, book sales is not the only thing Furtick is willing to distort. Now Furtick is being criticized for his church’s attempts to manipulate people into going forward to be baptized. According to a report by Stuart Watson of NBC affiliate WCNC in Charlotte, NC, Furtick strategically places already believing Christian volunteers from his congregation in pews who are the first to respond to Furtick’s call to receive Christ as their Savior and be baptized. With fifteen or so of these volunteers going forward, the expectation is that others will feel it is safer to go forward. A booklet describing the process also instructs leaders to pick “young energetic” people to be baptized first. They are also to look for compelling stories and place a black wristband on such individuals so the video crew can know who to interview. Clearly, Furtick believes, both in book sales and baptisms, the Lord needs him to distort reality in order to achieve His objectives. He may want to rethink that. Moreover, it raises the question of what is real at Elevation Church. If the pastor is willing to distort something as sacred as baptisms, what else might he be willing to misrepresent? Click here to read Stuart Watson’s article.

Sadly, US pastors are not the only ones in trouble recently. In South Korea, the pastor of one of the largest Pentecostal churches in the world, was sentenced to three years in jail for $12 million in church funds. Apparently, Pastor Emeritus David Younggi Cho, 78, of a more than 1 million member denomination affiliated with the Assemblies of God, used church money to pay for stock owned by his son. Unfortunately, he paid more than three times what the stock was worth. Many have come to his defense saying that Pastor Cho lived a simple life and gave much to social welfare projects. Many blame his prodigal son for the crime but Pastor Cho refused to implicate him in court.

His son also received a three year prison term and was also convicted of tax evasion. Pastor Cho sentence was suspended but he is required to pay a $4.7 million fine. Church elders had previously accused Cho of embezzling $20 million in church assets. Situations such as these reflect the poor church governance that is too often found in many independent and Pentecostal churches. Sadly, as we have seen in the cases of Pastor Furtick and Pastor Driscoll, poor church governance can occur anywhere and almost always leads to bad results. In the end, those bad outcomes cause some to fall away from their faith and harm the church generally. It is never a bad time to ask questions about how your church is governed and whether the rules that are in place are biblically based and transparent. Inevitably, some pastors will falter regardless of whether proper church governance procedures are in place, but problems can often be discovered and resolved quickly when a concerted effort is made to put in place strong church governance procedures. Find more about the Pastor Cho situation here.