I'm suspicious of big churches.
It may be simple cynicism, but I have to guess it's pretty hard to get 5,000 people into a single building by telling them they are sinners who need to be saved by God. There are exceptions to this. But I think it's worth looking into.
Today I'm considering a local church whose pastor does lots of radio spots. Every single one of them are full of friendly music and nice words about (presumably) what God wants for your life and how welcome you are at his church. I say "presumably" because I can't actually remember a spot where he talks about God.
Anyway, this gentleman is also a book writer, and his most recent book is geared toward men--showing them how to win. At what? At life, I guess. I don't know.
I went to the website for the church, and they have the typical statement of faith and beliefs--nothing I would look at and say "woah, big fella--we need to talk." In fact, it sounds like a pretty ok place--trying to bring the Jesus of Scriptures to people where they are.
And let's face it, if there is one thing that a lot of good churches don't do very well, it's welcome people where they are. I think we've somehow arrived at this notion that people need to be somewhat together before they get together with God, and we seem to lose track of the reality that broken people will have busted up lives.
We need to extend our grace and love to them while at the same time reserving our judgement for our own lives. We need to stop expecting sinners to act like saints, and realize that sometimes those who have it together externally are by far the worst off, because they don't recognize their need for a savior. Or, to quote Jesus,"Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5:31-32, ESV).
That said, I still have a problem with Mr. Motivational's church. I'll admit that it took me awhile to boil it down. It's actually kinda subtle--and I probably wouldn't have found it if I hadn't gone to website knowing what I know about this guy. The problem is this: there's no "sin" anywhere.
Oh, yeah, it's in the statement of faith mentioned above, but when you look at the actual messages, it's pretty hard to find. (I would say impossible, but maybe I just didn't look hard enough).
Trying to give them a fair (if somewhat biased) shake, I went to the blog of the pastor and his two associates. Between the three, I found lots of sports anecdotes, motivational statements about being or becoming a winner, blurbs on leadership, and a list of the top 5 hamburger places in Little Rock, but only 1 reference to sin, and none to holiness. (I tested my own blog with the same search, BTW, and I only got 2 references to holiness--the last one was in May of 2006--yikes!).
In the history section of the website, it says the church was founded because the head pastor found other churches "boring and irrelevant." I got no problem with that. The problem is that the Gospel is neither boring or irrelevant. How could it be, except to those who don't understand what sin is, and why it is so bad. Who don't understand the message that they are saved from the sin that so dominated their lives that they were prisoners with no hope of escape.
What has my brief jaunt yielded? Just this: if a church never spends time talking about God's justice and man's sin, and people never grasp God's holiness, then they have a skewed view of God. Before too long "sin" becomes a meaningless word--it means addictions, imperfections, mistakes--anything you want it to mean but never what God says it means: "Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness." (1 John 3:4, ESV).
God doesn't want us to be "winners;" He wants us to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, which will more than likely make most of us losers--as if we weren't already. But God loves losers, because it is through them that He is most glorified. Why? So that no flesh might boast in the presence of God," but that "he who boasts would boast in the Lord," Jesus Christ our savior. (1 Cor 1:29, 31)