UPDATE 2020: Folks, I’m not sure how to make it any clearer than I already have – by labeling this a “Guest Post,” referring to the “author” in the third person, bylining the article as “Name Withheld,” and asking those with comments for the author to leave them in the comments section – that I didn’t write this, but let me try one more time. I, Michelle Lesley, DID NOT write this article. I have never set foot on an Elevation campus. The article was written by another person who wishes to remain anonymous. If you email me about this article, your email will not reach the woman who wrote it. That’s why I’ve asked you to leave your comments below in the comments section. I appreciate your supportive response to the article, but it’s only fair to you and to the author that everyone is clear on who wrote it.
If your theology pretty much matches up with mine (as outlined in the “Welcome” and “Statement of Faith” tabs) and you’d like to contribute a guest post, drop me an e-mail at MichelleLesley1@yahoo.com, and let’s chat about it.
Why I Left Elevation Church
by Name Withheld
The author’s statements about her tenure at Elevation and
what particular Elevation pastors or staff said and did should be
taken as her own personal experience and not as irrefutable fact.
As you pull up to the parking lot, you are first greeted by someone directing parking traffic decked out in all orange. In the parking lot, there is a sea of Elevation Church bumper stickers plastered on everyone’s cars. You walk up to church, and you’re then greeted by volunteer after volunteer persuading you to join their eGroup or to join a volunteer team. It almost feels like you’re walking in the shopping mall and on every side of you there are sales people bombarding you trying to get you to buy their perfumes and colognes. After you dodge them all, you’re then surrounded by all sorts of people — local people, people who traveled from a few hours away, or people who flew in from out of country to attend this particular church. As you wait in line, you see to your left a merchandise table.
You finally enter the auditorium of the church, and you’re ushered into your seat, or to what it may feel like, forced into your seat. “All the way down! Move all the way down, do not leave any empty chairs!” the usher tells you, because there can’t be any gaps where you sit for camera purposes. Suddenly, the lights dim and there’s a countdown on a giant screen letting you know when church will start. If you were new to the church, it would feel like you’re at a New Years Eve party. People all around you are excited and they start to stand up and clap and dance before the countdown even finishes. The person to your right is inserting the ear plugs that the church offers as you walk into the auditorium to help with the unbearably loud noise during worship. The lights come back on and the worship team comes on stage; there’s laser lights and fog machines and for a second, you think you’re at a concert.
After some sort of high-quality, overly produced videos, the pastor then comes on stage. He first takes about five to ten minutes trying to gauge the crowd and then work the crowd to get them pumped up for whatever he is about to butcher, oh sorry, I mean preach. He puts up 1-3 Bible verses on the screen for everyone to follow along and then amazingly enough, spends about an hour and a half convincing the crowd that his Bible twisting is true. “The reason why you’re not being blessed by God, is because you don’t have enough faith!” he tells the crowd, some of whom are wealthy, and some of whom are living paycheck to paycheck, while he is on the stage dressed from head to toe in all Gucci.
After church ends, it’s an unbelievable ordeal to exit. You’re pushed and shoved, and people are stepping on your feet as you try to find your way out of the auditorium. Oh, and you’ll most definitely spend about ten to fifteen minutes sitting in your car in the parking lot trying to leave. You pull out of the church parking lot, and congratulations, you survived a visit to Elevation.
I was part of Elevation Church for about six years. At the time, I thought it was the greatest church on Earth and if anyone spoke negative about it, I thought they were just bitter. It felt like I was in a relationship with Elevation Church. With any relationship, in the beginning, it was puppy love and you just always want to be around them 24/7 so you volunteer extra hours and join everything that they have and buy all of their t-shirts and CDs. Then the relationship slowly became the overly attached partner that you so desperately needed to break up with, but didn’t know how to.
I eventually became the lead photographer at one of Elevation’s campuses and even was on the photography team for their live album recording, Here As In Heaven, at the Spectrum Center Arena (formerly known as the Time Warner Cable Arena). I led a team of about forty people. The majority of them were older than me so it was challenging at times to be a leader figure when my team were twice my age. I pretty much lived at church, between meetings and special events they had going on, I was always working. And when you’re around a church for that long, you see and hear a lot of things.
I overheard the campus pastor telling potential new staff that they had to take a bullet for the church if it ever came to that point. I heard some staff getting fired when they were asked if they were “team Elevation” to which the staff member said, “I’m team Jesus.” So they were fired for not “bleeding orange.”
Before Steven Furtick gets on stage, the photography team at the campus that he is at immediately has to upload photos of what the crowd looks like that day so he can see how big or how small his crowd is.
Eventually, I decided to quit after what I was witnessing didn’t feel like a church to me. On top of that, I was absolutely exhausted every time I got home and was starting to lose passion for photography.
And boy oh boy, the day I told my supervisor that I was quitting was not fun. I lost all of my friends. And I’m not being dramatic when I say that I lost all my friends. Everyone I worked with and thought were my friends shunned me and ignored all my text messages and blocked me on social media. I was a total outcast. It was a pretty lonely year. I’m not going to lie. It was rough.
I kept praying to God to give me discernment and to open up my eyes if I’m doing something wrong, to bring clarity. And God sure did answer my prayer, in a major way.
About four months ago, my mom came into my room to where I was and all excited she tells me, “Guess who I heard on the radio?!”. I shrug my shoulders and say, “Who?” She says, “Costi Hinn, Benny Hinn’s nephew! He was saying how everything that Benny Hinn says and does, as well as other false teachers is fake, he was essentially exposing him.” My mom and I were pretty big Benny Hinn fans. When I was younger and lived in Florida, we went to his crusade and we managed to get floor seats because we thought the closer we got to Benny Hinn, the closer we got to a healing or a miracle. I was absolutely shocked when she told me. So the millennial in me started to look him up on Twitter and I found a tweet he posted about Bethel Church in Redding, California. I was intrigued, because I was accepted to Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM) but I ended up getting scammed seven thousand dollars that someone was supposed to give me and then I couldn’t go. Naturally, I was frustrated but I prayed to God to show me why I couldn’t go. This felt like an answered prayer. I replied to Costi’s tweet about Bethel and about two minutes later he replied to me, he gave me his email and out of the kindness of his heart, sent me his two books for free as well as an email full of information. I’m still trying to process all of it.
When I read Costi’s book, God, Greed, And The (Prosperity) Gospel, I read it so quick because I couldn’t put it down. It was three in the morning when I did finally finish it. I put the book down and just kept saying, “Wow.” I’ve been a Christian since I was three years old, and it felt like everything that I knew was one giant lie.
After that, I began to research more people and found so many good pastors and teachers that have shed a ton of light and information for me. Between what type of worship music you should and shouldn’t listen to, the type of church that you should attend, pastors you should stay away from, even down to the translation of the Bible that is good and which ones are bad.
So what does my life look like now after I left Elevation? Well, I’m still in process mode. I keep doing my research and make sure that what I’m doing is biblically correct. I got rid of any books from false teachers that I had, got a different translation of the Bible, and deleted my old worship music playlist that was full of Elevation Worship, Hillsong Worship, and Bethel Music. I continue to pray for God to reveal to me what is the truth and little by little, I get new information.
This has most definitely been a journey of rediscovering Jesus, the true Jesus. It’s deconstructing everything that I was taught from false teachers and filling myself up with the true Gospel. And I am so grateful for God revealing to me the truth about Bethel Church before I got filled with even more deception by attending their school.
I share my story of leaving Elevation, because I want to help others who are being deceived by false teachers, like I once was, to be brought out so they can understand the true Gospel. I’ve seen – firsthand – false doctrine damage people so deep that they leave Christianity completely. When church becomes more about entertainment and theatrics, you have to ask yourself if it’s even a church. If you talk to anyone who goes to Elevation Church, you can tell that the focus is not centered on God, because the conversation always points to Steven Furtick and on his performance, not the actual word of God.
I fully realize that not everyone is going to agree with me on this, especially those who I went with to Elevation Church. I love the people I worked with at Elevation Church, and it is because I love them that I am writing this because I want them to be brought out of deception. This has been no easy task, but it makes it all worth it to obey Christ.
Because good theology and sound doctrine matters.
Linked below¹ are resources that have helped me on this journey of finding the truth. I am forever grateful for their knowledge and for pouring into me and sharing with me the true Gospel.
An incredible documentary that shows how important it is to spread the true Gospel and how dangerous the word of faith movement is: American Gospel
A Bible chart that breaks down different translations of the Bible.
How to find a good church near you: 9Marks.²
Other helpful people to watch on YouTube:
Lindsay Davis who was an ex-Bethel student (BSSM) sharing her testimony: Ex Bethel Student Tells All: Lindsay Davis Testimony from Melissa Dougherty and Doreen Virtue
And Michelle Lesley who was kind enough to give me an opportunity to share my story.
The author of this guest post wished to remain anonymous. She is a resident of North Carolina and a former member of Elevation Church.
If you have a question for the author of this article, please comment below. I will leave it up to her to check the comments from time to time and reply as she feels appropriate.