Discernment, Guest Posts

Guest Post: Why I Left Elevation Church

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


Disclaimer:
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

Books by John MacArthur that have helped me: Strange Fire and Charismatic Chaos

Books by Costi Hinn that have helped me: God, Greed, And The (Prosperity) Gospel and Defining Deception

A Bible chart that breaks down different translations of the Bible.

How to find a good church near you: 9Marks

Video from Fighting For The Faith (Chris Rosebrough) on Steven Furtick from Elevation Church: Steven Furtick and The Danger of a Dream

Other helpful people to watch on YouTube:

Melissa Dougherty

Doreen Virtue

Mike Winger

Justin Peters and his Website.

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.


NOTEs FROM MICHELLE:
¹I AM NOT thoroughly FAMILIAR WITH All OF THESE RESOURCES AND DO NOT ENDORSE ANY OF THEM WHICH DEVIATE FROM SCRIPTURE OR MY THEOLOGY AS OUTLINED IN THE “WELCOME” AND “STATEMENT OF FAITH” TABS AT THE TOP OF THIS PAGE. AS WITH ANY RESOURCE, PLEASE THOROUGHLY VET THE THEOLOGY OF THESE BEFORE USING THEM.
²See also the Searching for a new church? tab at the top of this page, which includes not only the 9Marks church search engine but many others, and additional resources, as well.

35 thoughts on “Guest Post: Why I Left Elevation Church”

  1. Thank you for sharing. I have been warning people here in NC for years. His message is so subtle that it’s hard for some to discern the error and I end up appearing to rain on their parade and being too critical. He preaches a man centered gospel and purposely advises people NOT to read the Bible. The women’s Bible study I am leading now has a few ladies who are very upset if anything is spoken against this church. Thank you for your willingness to speak out. God bless you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m sharing this!

      I am not surprised, he’s a wolf pretending to be a sheep. Very scary that Lysa Terkurst is a member of this church. I wonder how many other well known Christians are apart of his false teaching ring.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Would you share a link or reference where I can find Furtick saying his followers shouldn’t read the Bible? I had the misfortune of visiting last year for Inside Elevation and I felt like I was in hell…the noise was unbelievable. But my pastors love this guy and every new Elevation Worship song ends up on our song list.

      Like

    3. Glad you’re FREE!!! Puts a different perspective on the scripture… what the Son has set free is free indeed!! Stay free and stay Bold to telling the truth.

      Like

  2. I teared up reading this. Because I understand. I’m an older woman and for two years was misled by a church just like this. I am now in a Bible believing church, seek God, and study doctrine and theology— but I still struggle with my own sin and the false doctrine I followed.–and the loss of friends. My own sin is to blame. But God is a.good and I am far, far happier now no matter the struggle.

    I pray for this sister and pay she finds a good Bible based church and continues to pursue God.

    And I thank God for women like you Michelle who fight for truth in this age of deception , may He protect and guide you.

    May more sisters have their eyes opened, and the scales fall from their eyes.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for sharing your story. Happily, there are many of us who can share similar stories of how the grace of God delivered us out of various false religious systems. And yes there is a price to be paid in strained or even severed relationships with those who remain behind, but the joy that is found in the simple truth of the unfettered gospel is worth it. Blessings to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hello Michelle,

    I appreciate your honesty and convictions about your time at Elevation. I live in the Charlotte area and was wondering if you would like to attend my church?

    I did attend Bible college at Toccoa Falls college. I do hold a conservative and doctrinally sound view of the Gospel and not try to interpret what I think it says. My church is Independent Baptist, not that I care for denominations, but it’s definitely sound and a fantastic privilege to grow as a believer.

    Feel free to reach out to me: pkyang7@gmail.com
    My church is Hope Baptist Church
    101 Old Stallings Road
    Stallings, NC

    Like

    1. Hi there- Thank you so much for your very kind offer. I actually did not write this article. It is a guest post from one of my readers. I live in Louisiana, so it would be a little bit too much of a commute for me. :0)

      Like

      1. Hahaha… I saw later it was a guest post. I was like, “Oppsss…” well, Lord willing maybe I’ll find that person who left Elevation here in Charlotte.

        Like

  5. I’ve been praying for the people being wholesale deceived at Elevation for years, since I found out my family swallowed the kool aid. I looked into them to see what it was about and was met with straight up Bible twisting deception. I know it wasn’t my own prayers specifically, but reading this is wonderful. God can do all things, He can and will save His people from deception.
    Thank you for publishing.

    Like

  6. You said that you lost alot of friends!But know this….THEY WERE NOT REAL FRIENDS!Real friends would stick closer than a brother…and the friends that Christ gives you…you will never lose!

    Like

  7. Michelle, thank you for allowing her to speak her thoughts on this. I used to go to Elevation too, and experienced a similar situation, and would like to connect with the writer of this story, if possible. And if she would be open to it.

    Like

  8. Wow, did I need to read this today. My family is in the process of searching for a new church, after we realized the one we were in for 9 years was not doctrinally sound. I am dealing with some pretty tough feelings right now. I really feel like I let my kids down by not realizing we were in the wrong place. Thankfully, after praying for more wisdom, God was able to get through to us. I just wanted to add, we did visit an Elevation Church, and it is as you described. We have family that attends, and loves Steven. I pray that God will open their eyes to see the truth. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Like

    1. Jennifer- I praise God with you that He opened your eyes and brought you out! If you need any help finding a new church, there are lots of good resources (church search engines, what to look for in a solid church, etc.) at the “Searching for a new church?” tab at the top of this page.

      Like

  9. I grew up in a Baptist home and I have been to Elevation a few times. I do have some pro’s and con’s to the Church. I do love the worship music and actually stopped going to Church for a VERY long time. I discovered the worship music and now love it and have started going back to Church actually. Now visiting the Church is different. I don’t understand why they have to have a fog machine and colored lights? I have been to the one in Winston a few times and have felt pushed to join an e group. When you walk in yes you are bombarded like a sales team is approaching you. I have stopped going for different reasons. I am also not 100% sold on Pastor Stevens sermons. Does anyone recommend a Church in Winston Salem on here?

    Like

    1. Hi Corissa- This might sound a little weird, but I’m glad you’re not totally comfortable at Elevation. I would encourage you to read John 10 and prayerfully consider that, if you’re truly a Believer, your discomfort is most likely the Holy Spirit leading you away from Elevation to seek out a biblical, doctrinally sound church (which Elevation is not – for more info on that, click on the “Popular False Teachers & Unbiblical Trends” tab at the top of this page and scroll down to the section on Steven Furtick and Elevation).

      For help finding a good solid church in your area, click on the “Searching for a new church?” tab at the top of this page. There are lots of church search engines you can check out, and please also take some time to carefully examine the resources in the “What to look for in a church” section of that page.

      A good, Bible-believing, Bible-teaching church is so important to the life of the Believer. I hope this info helps. (Let me know if you need further help. :0))

      Like

    2. Woodland Baptist Church with Pastor Tim Gammons is an awesome church in Winston Salem. You won’t be disappointed. If I didn’t live and hour away my family and I would call that our home church!

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  10. Thank you for being so brave and writing this. I am currently attending a church that is part of the ARC family for 5 years. I have been feeling a pull on my heart to pursue a different church and this helped me come to the truth I needed. God bless you for bringing his truth to light.

    Like

    1. Becca- I praise God for the work God is doing in your life. If you need help getting started finding a new church, go to the blue menu bar at the top of the page and click on “Searching for a new church?”. Lots of great resources there. :0)

      Like

  11. Thank you for sharing. I never attended the church in person but online and was in egroups with them. It all started to rub me the wrong way and while I do think Steven has recently started pointing more toward Jesus in his message, I never know If he is for real or not. Glad I found this old post so I know I’m not alone in questioning things.

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  12. I am saddened to read this and even more sad because I know, firsthand, that it is true. A member of our family worked for Elevation for two years as a worship leader, and it was mostly a nightmare. The author’s experiences about the cult-like atmosphere are 100 percent true. To even be on the worship teams, you MUST look and sound a certain way. (Campus pastors are often young, handsome guys with fake tans and mostly shaved heads who have barely been saved a year or so and have zero seminary training, but they look good and have beautiful wives and children so they get the job.) The battery of tests/interviews potential employees are put through is mind-blowing. I’m talking about things like the Wonderlic test, which is an intelligence test given to potential NFL players. Apparently, you have to have a certain IQ to be deemed worthy of working for Elevation. There are constant “fitness” and “health” challenges among the employees. Different teams at different campuses compete against each other to see who can lose the most weight or exercise the most. Lavish prizes are given to the winners. Employees sign agreements not to be in places alone with members of the opposite sex and not to “speak ill” against Steven Furtick or others in leadership. Furtick has a personal stylist who purchases his clothing and dresses him. His hair is cut every Saturday so he looks good on camera. He has people who are constantly on “style watch” for him so he can snag shoes worth thousands of dollars as soon as they’re released. Massage therapists come to the Elevation offices on a regular basis for Furtick and other employees. He lives in a fortress and is always accompanied by bodyguards who are in each church service and proudly “guard” his wife, Holly.

    If you express any disagreement or discomfort with anyone in leadership, you are asked to leave. “If Steven Furtick isn’t good enough for you, then you shouldn’t be here.” “If you can’t buy in to the ‘Elevation Way”, then this isn’t the place for you.” Employees are worked to the bone for little pay and/or appreciation. It’s all about appearances and how things look. There is little to no regard for one’s feelings or personal struggles.They aren’t allowed. And if your struggle happens to reflect poorly on the church, you’re done. When our family member left, they were removed from group chats and texts within minutes of resigning. Some people who they had been very close to will not speak to them. They’ve lost friendships they thought were real with people they thought were Christians. I’m actually surprised that people haven’t wondered more about the goings-on at Elevation after London Gatch and Mack Brock left suddenly in 2017. There have got to be more things going on behind the scenes. I’m just waiting for a “tell all”. Sadly, Elevation is not thought of highly in the Charlotte area,which means that God and His church are also barely tolerated.

    Like

  13. What a glorious and beautiful God we have!! He is SO FAITHFUL to bring those who are TRULY seeking Him out of the darkness and into His marvelous light!! The highest praise to HIM!!

    Like

  14. Hi, been looking into this recently. Im from the uk so furtick is just one of those names you hear. I think though most modern churches are similar in this way, lights, sounds, overzealous ‘welcome’ teams, etc. A bit manufactured. It is sad. But equally ive been to dry, doctrinally sound churches with no youth and a slowly dying congregation. I tjink moder churches fall victim yo their oqn success and gradually move towards more emphasis on image. Its sad and just something to watch out for and even pray for people like Steven. Don’t under estimate the power of intercession. No one is untouchable.
    I have listened to a bunch of Steves talks and have actually enjoyed and we have been blessed by what we (me and my wife) have heard. I think God can use people in different seasons and ive not heard him say anything specifically theologically incorrect so far. Although no one is perfect.
    I think one issue is mixing pastors with teachers, they are not always the same. If teaching is missing, details get missed. Pastors have leadership abilities but not always good teaching. Ideally we would have both. It is hard and im sorry to hear of these accounts. Sadly churches always struggle to create good cultures. I don’t think people have quite got the gist of that well yet.

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  15. The person who left Elevation didn’t clearly say if they were shunned for quitting the photo team or the the church. It’s very common to be ostracized for leaving a cultish religious group but not for leaving a position. Ear plugs, light show, fog machine ect… how worldly! The pure word of God, true praise and worship that brings the Lord’s presence is what we need and long for.

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    1. I do believe things can be used inappropriately e. g. Light shows. Ive been to a couple of uk churches that create a showy atmosphere which i disagree with. However, we also need to remember that lights, fog machines, HD screens can be used to glorify God too. It depends on the heart and purpose in using them. Afterall, they all belong to God. He invented yhe various laws of physics that allowed them to be created. He madr many wonderful and glorious things in nature/the universe that can astound his creation. Natural fog, the Northern lights etc. So i don’t think they are intrinsically wrong in themselves. Like all of our gifts and abilities, we can use them to glorify God or ourselves/our ministries. God looks at the heart.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Here’s the top clue that you’re in a business and not a church: there are leaders. When you ‘lead a team of photographers’ or of anything else; you’ve stepped outside scripture.
    We have but one leader: our Lord. We are all servants…or the older word ‘ministers’. We all have various gifts and we all contribute in the way we are gifted. We serve. We are all ministers of the gospel in different ways. Paul has the full kit on this in 1 Corinthians 12:12 and following.
    In the church as we minister in our various relationships we might organise ministry groups, or convene a mission activity, or serve an outreach team, or support a discipleship group or coordinate a service: get those words: organise, convene, support, serve, coordinate. We are mutually part of the church; not spectators at a show.

    Like

    1. David- While I agree with much of what you’re saying, am I understanding you correctly to say that the concept of leadership – even leadership by doctrinally sound pastors and elders – is unbiblical? Because that’s just not true, starting with Hebrews 13:17:

      Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

      Maybe I’m just misunderstanding you?

      Like

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