Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Questions and Answers for Steven

Recently, Pastor Steven Furtick was asked the following questions for an email interview.  He declined to answer.  So, in the interest of helping a guy out, I offer my answers which he is very welcome to borrow…

1) You say you were inspired to write (Un)Qualified after being called out by a critic on YouTube. Tell us that story and how it shaped your definition of what it means to be qualified?

Obviously I can’t help with the story but I can tell you what it means to me to be “qualified.”
Honestly, I feel like I’m the most inadequate person to be doing what I do – not just as a pastor but as a husband, a dad, a neighbor and, well, a human being. What qualifies me, I believe, in all these areas is the love of God that is manifest in Jesus Christ. To borrow from Paul – if God is for us, who can be against us? And one more line – God’s strength is perfected in my weakness. To boil that down – I guess what I think qualifies me is that I am aware of my own limitations, shortcomings and sin and have confidence that in His love, God equips me with all I need to live the life to which he has called me. I’m qualified to live my story, not yours, not Steven’s, not anyone else’s, by the love of God, the grace of God meeting my willingness to acknowledge my weakness and my need.
p.s. I probably should have read Steven’s book before answer that…

2) You point out that the Bible is filled with stories of broken people that God has used to do big things. What is an area of brokenness in your life that outsiders would be surprised to learn about?

I try to be pretty transparent about my stuff, my wife thinks I may be too transparent. The brokenness that I am most keenly aware of is how selfish I can be.  My primary addiction is to myself and whenever someone tells me to “take care of yourself” I almost respond, “get behind me Satan!” because nobody takes better care of me than me. (I know God takes better care of me as His child but I look after – to use an old Bible word – “my flesh” like a boss.) That means I wrestle with pride and judging my best against other people’s worst a lot and I wrestle with keeping my eyes and thoughts where they ought to be. And writing this I am realizing that I also struggle with what you think of me too because after my previous sentence I’m now worried about it.

3) Some of your critics will undoubtedly say that you writing a book about being qualified is ironic because they don’t think you are qualified to lead in ministry. They claim you are arrogant and that your church operates on a cult of personality. How do you respond to such things?

Well, all I can think of is to apologize to my critics and those I have hurt or let down and ask them to forgive me.  I suppose my response is to spend some time in prayer and introspection, listening to the Spirit’s voice on this. I can definitely be arrogant, so I need to own that and make amends where I can.  Making sure other leaders are released and recognized in their ministries will hopefully defuse any sense of spotlight that might land on me.  A cult of my personality would be so incredibly boring that I don’t think we’d draw much of a crowd.

4) Some are uncomfortable with the size of your house and the level of personal luxury you’ve achieved. They say this proves you are unqualified to lead. You’ve publicly thanked God for your house, saying you live in line with Jesus’ teachings. In a world of poverty and prosperity preaching, does a pastor’s personal wealth reflect on his or her qualification for ministry, in your mind?

I think my use of my wealth definitely reflects on my qualification for ministry.  I live in the tension of being part of the 1% while part of a world where brothers and sisters of mine are going to bed hungry regularly.  Daily. I think greed is a pervasive and acceptable sin in our western world, though we typically don’t preach or teach on it.  I sometimes feel bad about the amount of stuff I have, not based on merit, simply based on the needs of my family.  These things have to create tension in our lives and we must live lives that reflect that tension or we can hardly say we’re being influenced by Jesus.

5) You say, “God can’t bless who you pretend to be.”  What do you mean by that?

I can’t say what Steven means but I can say that the masks we wear insulate us from God’s transformative love and isolate us from each other.  I think a big part of the work the Spirit does in our lives is to restore who we were made to be rather than who we would like to be and definitely freeing us from who we pretend to be.

6) How have you pretended to be something you are not in your own life and ministry?

I’ve tried on so many other pastors and their ministries over the last 30 years that it makes my head hurt to think about it.  I’ve read books, attended conferences and seminars and then tried to be these other people and live their story in my context or particularity.  It doesn’t work. Not really.  In fact, I’d say it poisons the soul.  I’m conscious today that I live under the influence of others and I’m cool with that, but I also like me and who God created me to be.  I embrace my introverted self, my quirks and weirdness and the awkwardness that is part of being who I am.  If I’m honest though, I have to admit that pretending comes easy but hopefully between the Holy Spirit and my wife I get called out enough to break the habit.  Getting older has given me the gift of feeling this need to pretend become smaller and smaller.

7) How do you distinguish between what it means to be qualified in God’s eyes versus the world’s eyes? Does one’s reputation among outsiders matter?

In my experience, it comes down to the voice of the Holy Spirit talking to me, convicting me, encouraging me, guiding me to know what counts with God.  I’ve seen way too many “qualified” leaders in the Church crash and burn or their families and marriages implode or their hubris get the better of them.  The problem, of course, is that we’ve built an evangelical machine that feeds this and rewards it until they crash.  (And even then we can offer a great contract for a book on how they rebounded.) No one in the Church gets there alone, we’ve fueled it, fed it and applauded it – we drink the Kool-Aid and then ask for more.  We can’t blame these men and women alone; we bear the weight of this with them.  Does reputation among outsiders matter?  Absolutely.  But “reputation” in the sense that we live like Jesus, a man of “no reputation.” We don’t want to be jerks for Jesus but if the world is applauding us and calling us successful, we need to double check our lives. To some we’re going to smell like death, to others we’ll smell like fresh air – we should always be evaluating how we smell and to whom we stink.

That's it, I hope that's helpful Steven and I appreciate Jonathan Merritt asking these questions and giving me a nudge for some time with the Spirit today to clean out some closets. Are there questions that are too scary for you to answer? Which of these 7 would you rather not think about?  Should leaders expect to be accountable for the way they live and choices they make?

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