Feel Good Church (by Will Hignett)

As you know there are many denominations and “flavors” of Christianity. In 2012 Christianity Today estimated there are “approximately 38,000” Christian denominations. Wow, that’s a lot of different human viewpoints of what it means to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. So I wonder with all of these various ways of being church, and with church attendance in general declining over the last several decades, what type of Christian focus might allow a church to grow membership?

Church leadership over the years has given much thought to the decline of worshippers, the expansion of the secular world and reduced numbers of members. One popular and successful approach was started by Norman Vincent Peale and his power of positive thinking message that was continued or refined by Rev. Robert Harold Schuller, the pastor of the Crystal Cathedral. Schuller in the 1970s and 1980s developed a huge following, regular radio show and super-sized church years ago by focusing on the positive aspects of the Christian faith. He deliberately avoided condemning people for sin, and encouraged Christians and non-Christians to achieve great things through God and to believe in their dreams. Schuller wrote, "If you can dream it, you can do it!"

The idea of dreaming it and doing it has been championed again by Joel Osteen, pastor and televangelist. He is the Senior Pastor of Lakewood Church, the largest Protestant church in the United States, where he preaches the prosperity gospel. Obviously Osteen’s message draws many followers. Positivity is part of the good news, but I wonder what happens when we forget the part about sin and our constant need of God’s grace. The “feel good” churches seem to make God small, and focus a great deal on what God can do for us. Church, as a community of faith committed to bringing people to Christ and developing their faith through worshiping God together, seems like it should be more robust than just positive.

Now at this point I would like to critique what has been written above to this point. Is it a fair reflection of the different human viewpoints of what it means to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ expressed in having so many denominations? Or was it judgmental and negative related to Joel Osteen’s and the Crystal Palace’s manner of worship? Was my assessment and title of this blog a judgmental assessment or a truthful analysis without condescension? Why am I asking this? It is because this week I have read Luke 18:9-14 and it challenged me:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, "God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."

Jesus' parable calls us out on comparing ourselves or our “tribe” with others. This is done almost unconsciously by most of us, yet this scripture focuses our attention on this behavior and helps us realize what we are doing and how we are viewing others. This passage can lead us to see our unconscious critical and judgmental thoughts of others, so our actions and thoughts can be more for the glory of God. Soli Deo Gloria.

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