Alright folks, settle in for a l-o-n-g one. Hope your chairs are comfy.
I like Joel Olsteen
You'll need to read this full post to understand what I mean by that, because it is a qualified statement. For those of you who've been too busy working or something, Joel is the pastor of the mega-huge Lakewood Church
in Houston and author of a popular 'christian' book, Your Best Life Now
I came across ol' Pastor Joel one night when I was up too late. TBN was broadcasting the opening service of Lakewood's new sanctua-staduim
and Israel Houghton
was leading worship. I happen to be a big musical admirer of Israel, so I watched... Having never seen or heard of Olsteen before then, I had no preconceptions. I discovered that he is a charming, personable guy who is (according to the tagline he was given on Larry King Live) possibly the next Billy Graham.
Joel starts out every message with a funny little joke or story. If I notice it's coming on, I usually tune into the first couple minutes of the show to catch his little joke... Always good to have another witty thing in your pocket, right?
Then, I turn the channel. No more P-Joel for me 'til next week.
Why? I'll tell you why.
I happen to think that, while Pastor Olsteen is a nice guy and a successful businessman, he's not much of a Pastor. To me, the image of a pastor calls to mind a shepherd who is watching the sheep: guarding them, challenging them, and building them up for the future. With all due respect, I personally have issues with how well Joel is really pulling this off.
This blog entry is being prompted by a friend, with whom I've been emailing for some time. She stated that she recently started attending church again after having gotten 'fed with up with Christianity' in the past (objections to Xtian 'exclusivity claims'). While I was excited to hear this, I wasn't as thrilled when she started to liken her Pastor to smilin' Joel.
Personally, I have an intellectual bent and perhaps that motivates me towards a headier-type of faith than your average American. I've been accused of such, and I'm willing to admit it's possible. However, I would say that a huge danger in the church today centers around 'jazzing up' the Gospel to make it more palatable for people. A while ago, BusinessWeek ran an article
about the mega-church phenomenon which included this telling quote:
"To make newcomers feel at home, some do away with standard religious symbolism -- even basics like crosses and pews -- and design churches to look more like modern entertainment halls than traditional places of worship... The reason? Market research suggested that such traditional symbols would scare away non-churchgoers."
While I personally am not a big fan of pews (not fat-man friendly) or stained glass, I think taking the cross out of a church is a big deal. What is the Gospel a church is preaching if it isn't centered on who Jesus is and what He did on the cross?Monergism.com
to the rescue - I knew this little web resource (permanently linked to the right) would have something... Check out this excellent article, "The Mega Church and the Mini Gospel"
. The author, Dan Storms, puts it better than I ever could. He says:"On the one hand, let’s not forget that the preaching of the cross scared, scandalized, and offended virtually everyone in the first century, both Jews and Gentiles. The market research conducted by these churches is right on target. But they could have saved themselves a lot of money by simply reading 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. Yet Paul loudly and unashamedly and boldly proclaimed the gospel of a crucified Messiah! Indeed, when in Corinth he resolved not to know “anything among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). That message did more than scare people away, it led to persecution and stoning and imprisonment for those who dared preach it."
[as an aside, the Gospel of John has an interesting v 18-25 passage
of its own]
One of the coolest things is when you find other smart ppl who agree with you... Makes you think you might actually be right for once.
I love all kinds of music, though I tend towards the modern. I like the ol' fashioned, country church feel, though I gravitate towards the idea of something a little more 'hip' and culturally appropriate. I think we *should* be encouraging people that God loves them and wants the best for them.
However, all of those things need to be in the proper context. The modern music should seek to express the same truths and depths of worship that the hymn-writers set out so well. The schweet building (with optional Starbucks) should always be seen as the gathering place rather than part of, or all of, the message. After all, the actual temples of God are those people walking in and out
And while God does love us, we need to understand that love and how it stands in contrast to our complete sinfulness and rejection of God. As Christians we live under grace, secured for us by and in Christ, that ensures God has our best in mind even when times are hard (which they will inevitably be).
I took a long pause from writing to finish reading Dr. Storms' article
... To give him propers, here's a great finisher:"So, no, I’m not overly concerned that you leave church feeling good about yourself... I would rather know how you feel about God. Are you fascinated and enthralled with him, or with the state of your own psyche? Are you captivated and consumed with his beauty, or yours? ... Do what is absolutely and infinitely and incomparably the greatest, most loving, most fulfilling thing you can do for your soul: fixate and rivet your heart on the all-satisfying splendor and glory of God as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ."
One of the things I am most thankful for is the church
that Eva and I stumbled into over 4 years ago. I am thankful that, in an area that is rather spiritually dark, we found such a vibrant Body into which we could knit ourselves. Interestingly, we're growing and building a new facility
to accommodate that growth. As a musician and congregant, I'm thrilled that we'll have a better place to worship... I'm most thankful, however, that our Pastors and Elders would rather flatten the curve and stay in 'our frumpy building' than compromise on the message the world needs.
So, I won't be buying Smilin' Joel's book. And I won't be attending Lakewood anytime soon...
And to my friend - I certainly think that you can 'be saved' in a pop-culture mega church... No doubt about it. What worries me is if you're getting fed something Sunday in and Sunday out that will really help you weather life... Will it really help you understand the depth of who Christ is and what He did for you/me?
When asked by Larry King, (paraphrasing) 'Are people who don't believe your way wrong?', PJ Olsteen responded:"Well, yes. Well, I don't know if I look at it like that. I would present my way, but I'm just going to let God be the judge of that. I don't know. I don't know."
[emphasis mine - transcript here
As a pastor of a church, he *should* know. And the world he is called to, and the Gospel he serves, deserves a better presentation of truth than that.
But he *did* tell me a good joke one week...