Elevation Church: Out-of-town board governs church

tfunk@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 25, 2014 

It’s the board of overseers that makes all the big decisions at Elevation.

Besides Pastor Steven Furtick, its members are:

•  Pastor Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist in Plano, Texas;

•  Pastor Kevin Gerald of Champions Centre in Seattle;

• Pastor Stovall Weems of Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Fla.;

• Pastor Perry Noble of NewSpring Church in Anderson, S.C., who’s been on the board since Elevation’s launch nearly eight years ago.

Representatives with Celebration and NewSpring spoke with the Observer, but their pastors declined to be interviewed. Champions and Prestonwood representatives did not return multiple calls.

There was, for a month, another Elevation board member. But Pastor Dino Rizzo left the panel in 2012. He also resigned from The Healing Place, his church in Baton Rouge, La., because he was “involved in … a brief but inappropriate friendship with another woman,” said Greg Surratt, president of the Association of Related Churches – a group that oversaw a recovery plan for Rizzo and made him a staff member.

Noble’s church also has had to weather controversy: A professor at Anderson University, who had written blog posts critical of NewSpring and Noble, in 2010 filed a lawsuit alleging staff members threatened him on Twitter, sent a false resignation letter to his boss and interfered with a planned adoption.

The lawsuit, filed against NewSpring, Noble and other church staff members, was settled under undisclosed terms in 2012. A spokeswoman for the church said that as soon as Noble learned of the activities, NewSpring fired a staffer, cooperated with a police investigation and – upon advice of its lawyers and insurance company – settled with the blogger.

At Elevation, each board member agrees to a one-year term, said chief financial officer James “Chunks” Corbett, who also serves as the board’s secretary-treasurer. Board members can usually stay on for successive terms, Corbett said, “if they decide they want to continue.” Since Elevation’s founding, Corbett said, about a dozen pastors have served on the board.

The church’s bylaws say board members are not to be paid for serving, Corbett said. But he added that “several of the board members” have been paid the church’s standard fee for speaking at Elevation events. Corbett would not disclose the amount , saying only that it was “generous and typical for the church.”

The board has not convened at Elevation since December 2012. But members jointly participate throughout the year in conference calls, which Corbett said are considered meetings and are “intensive.”

“We will do an on-site meeting this year,” Corbett said.

Elevation board meetings are not open to church attendees, and Corbett does not send out reports on what action was taken.

“If it’s a big-picture decision related to expansion, we’ll wait until the most opportune time,” Corbett said.

Corbett said the out-of-town pastors also offer advice to Furtick and his staff.

“They’re people the pastor has leaned on for years for ideas and sermons,” he said.

Though the board members never voted on Furtick’s big house – that was the pastor’s “personal decision,” Corbett said – it was not a surprise to them.

“They knew about it before it was built,” Corbett said. “After the headlines hit, they were the first ones on the phone, checking in, being helpful in how to respond or how we don’t respond.”

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