Matt Pitt was a troubled young man.
Consider his own testimony:
I was a problem child in Birmingham, Alabama. I was in and out of a lot of the schools there. I was just real hyperactive. By the time I was a senior, I got involved running with some guys that were really strong into selling drugs and doing them. In this area, not only did I do a lot of drugs, I was selling them, too.
Matt graduated high school and went to college where he eventually overdosed on drugs. His parents brought him home where he continued to struggle with addiction. Finally, fed up with the destructive patterns, his parents issued an ultimatum that forced Matt to make some hard decisions.
My mom and dad said, “Matt we love you. We love you with all our heart, but today, you’ve got to go. We’re not going to tolerate this addiction any longer. We’re tired of it destroying our family and your life.” The only option I had was to be homeless. It’s kind of like that prodigal son moment; all my friends had left me at that point. I had nobody. I squandered everything I had been given, and I knew I had to make a decision.
There in his parents’ basement, Matt surrendered to Christ. His life radically changed. The cocaine addiction was replaced with an insatiable appetite for Christ. Soon after his conversion in 2004, Matt began to invite friends, former drug clients, and anybody who would come to visit his parents’ basement. This small gathering of young people would read the Bible and sing songs of worship. The meetings, dubbed as The Basement, soon attracted overflow crowds of young people. Having outgrown their premises, the fledgling ministry moved to a small church a year later, then to a larger church, then to a church that would seat thousands. Finally, in 2012 The Basement found a home at Boutwell Auditorium in Birmingham, Alabama. The packed out crowds of about 7,000 energetic young people were drawn into an event that was part rock concert, part Bible message. (Check out this video for a sense of what happened there musically.) At the center of it all was Matt Pitt. Evangelist Scott Dawson said, “This was one of the premier outreaches to young people in the country. Not only in Birmingham, but across the country. He [Matt] was the new thing on the market.” One reporter described Pitt as preaching “like a vocal machine gun, as fast as the flashing video images on giant TV screens behind him and the thumping rock soundtrack to what may be the most popular youth-oriented worship service in Alabama.”
The Basement was having a genuine impact on the youth of the Birmingham area. Their website has some powerful testimonies from young people who have changed lives, in part through The Basement. Consider Carole Michelle’s amazing story:
In one moment, Carole Michelle’s normal life would never be the same. When she was in the eighth grade, her father stopped taking his medication and had a mental breakdown and was admitted into Bryce Mental Institution. The relationship she had with her father and mother was broken. In high school, she tried to hide all of her family problems by acting as if she still had it all together. After years of trying to fool everyone, she opened up to people about her problems but was mostly ridiculed for being fake. She felt like all she had left was God. While attending church, she was introduced to The Basement but wouldn’t come. After flooding social media with her problems, she still didn’t feel complete. When she was invited again to The Basement, she came and it was there she found a family. She learned how to love people and how to walk in the love of God every day. Since then, her relationship with her mom has recovered, and she’s slowly learned to forgive her dad.
Pitt’s influence grew beyond Birmingham. He toured with evangelist Franklin Graham. He was featured on the 700 Club. Pitt was speaking across the country two to three weekends a month. In 2009, he debuted a reality show on national television, “The Basement 360,” which aired on INSP, The Inspiration Network.
The popularity of The Basement grew to the point where it became its own brand. Whosoever Ministries, the organizational formed by Pitt to handle the logistics of The Basement, grew tremendously. ”B Gear,” basement attire such as T-shirts, brought in millions of dollars from devoted teens. In 2011, Whosoever Ministries reported income of $1.2 million according to IRS records.
Matt Pitt was no longer a troubled man.
On May 12, 2012, things changed for Matt Pitt and for The Basement. According to the Birmingham News:
Things began to unravel with a shiny honorary badge, awarded by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. Pitt had friends who had an honorary badge, and he expressed an interest in getting one himself. Law enforcement officials were impressed with his work with youth. It was not a problem.
But on May 12, 2012, Pitt was driving a sport-utility vehicle used by The Basement for security to Destin. He began flashing blue lights to speed his way to the beach. Calera police pulled him over. He flashed his badge.
Pitt claimed in an interview after the arrest that police nabbed the wrong guy, but later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of attempting to impersonate an officer and apologized in court. Although he has claimed in rambling TV interviews his lawyer didn’t show up, his attorney was present with him in court that day.
Pitt received a suspended 12-month sentence and two years probation. Chalk up Pitt’s action to immaturity, temporary stupidity, or maybe even arrogance. We’ve all made mistakes and done things we regret. The only difference is that most of us didn’t do so with a reality tv show or a $1 million ministry on our shoulders. That kind of attention and pressure tends to magnify everything.
As far as I’m concerned, Pitt was penalized for his mistakes. His ministry took a sizable hit, shrinking down to a few hundred students in September 2012 after he pled guilty. The legal system had passed judgment. One could only hope that Pitt would pick up the pieces and march on, utilizing his gifts for the God that he obviously loved.
In June 2013, Pitt had a second run-in with the law. He was spotted riding a four-wheeler, picking up a rifle left at the edge of the woods. He reportedly identified himself as an officer of the law to someone who had called the authorities to report suspicious activity. This report resulted in a bench warrant for Pitt’s arrest.
Impersonating an officer a second time? The story just seemed so improbable to me. Who would be foolish enough to impersonate a peace officer (a felony charge!) twice? Twice?! When I got wind of the accusation, I thought, “Someone’s got it out for this guy.” Then Matt Pitt gave this unbelievably odd interview with a Birmingham news reporter. The 30-year-old Pitt seems unclear, confused, and unstable in the interview. As if the interview itself isn’t shady enough, the police arrived on the scene to apprehend Pitt and he fled on foot. When officers finally caught him, he resisted arrest.
I think it is safe to say that Matt Pitt is indeed a troubled young man.
His story serves as a platform to remind us of the need we all have for accountability. I believe it is incorrect to assume that Pitt’s ministry began to unravel on I-65 in Calera; his ministry began to unwind when he shunned the counsel of godly men and women in his life. Three of his former board members gave statements this week indicating that he refused to submit to formal board meetings or supervision. One board member stated, “We saw him going down the wrong way. He pushed everybody away.”
Scott Dawson, a seasoned evangelist from the Birmingham area, is saddened by the latest episode with Pitt. ”We need to make sure we have accountability in our lives. No one’s a Lone Ranger.” Dawson had tried to reach out to Pitt. ”I personally tried to reach out to him, and I couldn’t get any response. You have to be humble. You have to be accountable. In order to be accountable, you have to want to be accountable. We want it to be a microwave, but in spiritual growth it has to simmer awhile. No one should be smiling [over this latest episode]. We should all be brokenhearted.” Dawson hopes that Pitt can be restored as a person, even if his platform for ministry is not.
Matt Pitt’s story reminds us of how we need to be regularly giving ourselves to godly accountability. As I wrote this post today, I began to think, “Who really knows me?” The list was short. As a pastor, I am expected by many to be the ideal, a shining example of morality in a world of godlessness. I am fully aware of those expectations. And some times, if I’m being dangerously candid, it is much easier to perpetrate a morally-manicured image than it is to deal with character flaws and real-life, messy issues.
Accountability is a great idea…. Until someone actually holds you accountable. It’s then that our rebel hearts kick into gear. ”Who are you to tell me what to do?” we think. ”You’re no better than me!” we reason. We really don’t like to be corrected, do we? Our solution to the uncomfortable conversations and frightening transparency that come with accountability is to just avoid the whole thing. We live our lives at arm’s distance from others, letting few people close. No one questions us. No one admonishes us. An argument could be made that no one really knows us. For the rebel-hearted, that is a preferred existence to real accountability.
The limitation of our thinking is that we only contemplate the benefit of avoiding accountability. If only we would do a true cost/benefit analysis! There is a real cost to avoiding accountability that we often overlook. And when we weigh out the issue on the scale of spiritual health, we will always discover that biblical accountability is the better option. Sadly, few accurately measure the situation. And many wreck their lives by not checking their blind spots.
I can tell you how the story ends for people who live with no accountability. And it isn’t pretty. Just ask Matt Pitt. He’s a troubled young man.