Shenanigans by megachurch pastors

There have been a spate of reports of pastors of megachurches getting caught doing things that Jesus would not do. Consider Mark Driscoll, head of the Mars Hill Church, that is actually (if you can believe it) franchised out like McDonalds to 15 different locations. He has got into trouble because of revelations about his shady behavior and he has advised his followers to not believe what they read about him on the internet.

It’s not easy being a celebrity pastor these days with that pesky Internet around.

Consider the struggles of Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Faced with mounting accusations circulating online –plagiarism, misusing church funds to prop book sales, silencing anyone in his church with the temerity to question him — Driscoll has urged his followers to stay off the Web. “It’s all shenanigans anyway,” he explains.

Driscoll has admitted to using more than $200,000 in church funds to hire a consultant to game the system, boost sales and add that magical reference — No. 1 best-selling author — to his glittering resume. This questionable allocation of church money is indicative of a wider problem that rankles those in Driscoll’s growing flock of critics: the lack of transparency around Driscoll and church funds.

His salary? Unknown. Who controls church funds? Good luck finding that out. And because of the non-disclosure agreements that Mars Hill pastors and staff members must sign when they depart, little is known about who holds Driscoll accountable on money or any other issue.

Or there’s another hot new star named Steven Furtick who has been engaging in some shady practices too.

A Southern Baptist megachurch pastor in North Carolina, already under fire for buying a $1.6 million house, is in the spotlight again for “spontaneous baptisms” that turn out to be not nearly so spontaneous.

Steven Furtick, 34, routinely draws about 14,000 worshippers to several campuses of Elevation Church in and around Charlotte. The church, launched in 2006, have been listed by Outreach magazine as one of the top 100 fastest-growing churches in the country.

But a new report from NBC Charlotte suggests that Elevation’s supposedly spontaneous baptisms are carefully planned ahead of time, with people planted in the congregation to start the walk down the aisle.

What surprises me is that people haven’t cottoned on to the fact that ‘spontaneous’ events such as these, speaking in tongues, and faith healings are carefully choreographed events. This kind of thing is likely to increase as people drift away from institutionalized religions and they need gimmicks to bring them back in.

But maybe people are catching on after all. The good news is that the internet may signal the end of such pastors because disgruntled former followers can reveal their tricks and wrongdoings, as Driscoll has discovered.

Now, however, there’s a wild card that older-school religious celebrities did not have to contend with. Thanks to the Internet, any disgruntled current or former follower can write a scathing blog post, add nasty comments to reader forums or, as creator of @FakeDriscoll does, voice a spoof Twitter account in the target’s name. This can take a toll — as demonstrated by Driscoll’s church, which has had to lay off staff due to declining attendance and giving.

Because of the Internet, “the audience is now at least as much of a celebrity as the pastor, if not more,” says Jim Henderson, a Christian author and producer in the Seattle area who is convinced that the era of the celebrity pastor as spiritual paragon is waning. Henderson produces a live show called Where’s God When … featuring a very different kind of “celebrity” Christian — William Paul Young, author of the megaselling faith-themed novel The Shack.

Given the merging of real life and fiction in what is called ‘reality TV’, we may be soon see an enterprising pastor of a megachurch market it as a reality TV show, with all the fake drama and contrived stories that characterize the genre. It could well be a hit.


  1. says

    A “Christian” church is named “Mars Hill?” Mars Hill was a hill in the city of Rome, named after their god of war. How much more bellicose and un-Christian can a church’s name get?

  2. dean says

    As my grandfather said about Billy Graham (mostly to aggravate my grandmother, but when you’re married for 70+ years as they were I guess you’ve earned it)

    “These guys are like the missionaries who went to Hawaii to do good and ended up doing very well.”

  3. doublereed says

    I thought Mars Hill was an insular cult. I didn’t think it was a megachurch or that it franchised…

  4. doublereed says

    Oh wow, I guess it is a megachurch. It has thousands of congregants. How strange. I thought it was smaller because it can be difficult for some cults to function as a large organization because of competing egos.

  5. Holms says

    Isn’t ‘franchising’ basically what every religious denomination tries to do? Catholicism especially has thousands of branches; it’s the McDonalds of religion.

  6. Chiroptera says

    Holms, #6:

    Catholicism is more like a “chain store”: each church is owned and operated by the central organization or its delegates.

    A franchise is owned by an individual or individuals independent of the central owner of the “trademark.” The independent owners basically pay to use the logos and agree to a certain amount of “standarization” of their products and business practices. Often there may be some business services and training provided by the central organization they can take advantage of. Southern Baptist churches are closer to the franchise idea.

    I have no idea if the article correctly used the word franchise with this more precise technical meaning in regards to those other churches related to Mars Hill.

  7. busterggi says

    Won’t make much of a difference – they’ll do the Jim Bakker traditional cry before the cameras begging Jesus for forgiveness and the rubes will start supporting them all over again.

  8. otrame says

    You know, Chiroptera, I seriously don’t mind “pedantry”. I like learning new things and, should the pedantry in question be aimed at correcting me (and assuming that I am actually wrong–rare, sure, but it does happen 😎 ), I appreciate being corrected.

    That said, I don’t like pedantry used as an excuse to avoid talking about what ever the argument is. You know, like concentrating on misspellings or typos or bad grammar instead of addressing the point the author was trying to make. But that is pretty much not at all what you did in #7. So pendant away. I like it.

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