Is your church "cutting edge"?
Here is a story from a "cutting edge" GigaChurch in Florida. Yes, its a story that opens with divorce, but it is much more. It is the story of money and power and prosperity gospel. It is also the story of what happens when pastors live as if the normal Christian lifestyle no longer applies to them.
These are selected paragraphs from the story found in the Tampa Tribune. If you want to read the whole mess, find it here.
Members of Without Walls International Church reacted with tears and a chorus of "Oh, no" after the the founders and co-pastors of what has been one of the nation's biggest and fastest-growing churches announced the divorce at Thursday night's service.
Randy called Paula to the podium about an hour into the service. He was somber; Paula appeared choked up.
"It's the most difficult decision I've ever had to make in my entire life," he told the congregation, describing Paula as an exceptional woman, mother and preacher.
Paula has left Tampa for New York, and Randy plans church as usual on Sunday.
She pledged to return frequently to preach.
Randy said he will file for the divorce as soon as their lawyers have worked out details.
The announcement "didn't weaken the church in anyway," one member said after the service. "I'll definitely keep going."
The Whites, who've been married nearly 18 years, said in interviews that the split is amicable and comes after visits to counselors over several years.
They blame two lives going in different directions.
Randy, however, said he takes "100 percent responsibility" for the breakup.
"I want to apologize for the poor decisions I've made in my life, to my congregation and to the body of Christ," he told The Tampa Tribune. "I think I've let a lot of people down."
Those regrets, he said, include how he has treated some people, lifestyle changes and being seen in public with women other than his wife, even if it was innocent.
Randy will stay at Without Walls as senior pastor while Paula concentrates on her ministry, which includes a TV show broadcast on several national networks including Black Entertainment Television, conferences, and book and video sales.
She'll remain based in Tampa, with satellite operations in California, New York City and San Antonio.
Church attendance "will take a hit" from the news, Randy predicted. Without Walls reports having 23,000 members.
Its finances also will be affected: Paula's ministry brings in about $50,000 to $80,000 a week, he said. An audit put total church revenues at nearly $40 million last year.
She has made many speaking trips recently to San Antonio and this month purchased a $681,000 home there. She serves as "oversight pastor" to Hawkins' son Dustin, who now leads the church.
Paula also frequently travels to New York City, where she has a Trump Tower condo and leads monthly services at her new Life by Design Empowerment Center.
Randy, 49, has spent several months commuting to Malibu, Calif., where he signed a one-year lease on a beachfront dwelling. He had told his congregation he planned to start another church there, but now says those plans are on hold.
"Too many ministries have become big business. That message is desecrating the church today," said another member, adding that he was disturbed to learn that with revenues at $40 million last year, the church was $22 million in debt.
The couple's home on Bayshore Boulevard has an assessed value of $2.22 million. They have a land trust that includes two Tampa houses with assessed values of $144,800 and $257,835. The New York condo is valued at about $3.5 million.
Their multimillion-dollar ministry includes a private jet.
As the church gained members and revenue, the pastors changed. Paula built her international television ministry and became a life coach on "The Tyra Banks Show." Randy talked of performing nuptials for Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson in Michigan (they filed for divorce a month later). He boasted that he wasn't like "religious" people, posing in 2005 for a cover story in Makes and Models magazine, a publication devoted to exotic cars, motorcycles and scantily clad models. He has tattoos, collects guns and enjoys wine.
At a Sunday service in April, he introduced his former personal trainer - an attractive ex-porn star turned Christian - from the pulpit.
"We're cutting edge," he told the Tribune that month. "We do things a little bit differently than what a typical ministry would do."
For personal growth, he now has three "accountability partners" who will help him concentrate on being a "good dad and great pastor."
"I've been preaching restoration for 15 years," he said. "Now it's time to live it."