What About “Feel Good” Churches?
What are your thoughts on the “feel good” church, and how do they get away from preaching the gospel and the studies through scripture…..!!??
From Concerned Child
Dear Concerned Child,
I assume that you are using the term “feel good” to define churches—especially today’s megachurches—which seem to water down the gospel and avoid and/or seldom us the word “sin” in order not to offend. These churches seem to prefer pop-cultural counseling sermons to Biblical ones. Some describe “feel good” churches as those which minimize the awe and holiness of God in favor of a “good-buddy” Jesus who is more friend than Lord and Savior. The music in these churches seems more “me” focused than God focused. Sermons and worship services seem shallow and close to a waste of time to Christians who long to mature in their faith.
Concerned Child, I hope I have accurately summarized to some degree what you had in mind by the term “feel good” churches.
Churches come in a variety of forms with varying values, styles, emphases and expressions of their faith. Hopefully, values remain intact while expressions of the Faith change from decade to decade and from generation to generation. I occasionally hear Christians say, “I just want a return to the first century church.”
I respond, “Which first-century church would you like to attend? Jesus wrote to seven of them in Revelation 2-3. Would you want to attend the church at Ephesus with great Bible teaching but no love? Or, perhaps you might select the persecuted church at Smyrna? Or, perhaps you might like to attend the church at Thyatira which was full both of love and of tolerance for sin? The church at Sardis is not too attractive, don’t you think; it had great form but no power? Who would want to associate with the church at Laodicea which is the church that isn’t a church?
Frankly, of the churches that received letters of evaluation from Jesus, my preference would be to attend the church at Philadelphia—the evangelism church. The members of this church were so engrossed in reaching the “Lost” for Christ that they had no time to fall into sin. Philadelphia is the only one of the seven churches which received nothing but praise from Jesus. Philadelphia is what we might call a “Kingdom Church.” A Kingdom Church confronts culture with the gospel. A Kingdom Church is sometimes mistaken for a “feel good” church.
By the way, since we will use the term “Lost” numerous times throughout my answer, we must recognize that this is Jesus’ term for people who are wandering unforgiven outside the Shepherd’s fold. Jesus told three parables in Luke 15 describing His desperate searching for lost souls. The parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son demonstrate the joy in Heaven for each one of the Lost who are found and now safely in the arms of the Good Shepherd.
As culture changes some churches modify their forms, practices, and expressions of Christianity in order to remain relevant to the changing society around them. These churches constantly rearrange their strategic and tactical plans both for how they will approach and reach the Lost, and with regards to how they are going to “do” church. Churches that adapt instigate a new generation of ministry. The other churches die out.
Early in my ministry I observed that most evangelical churches could be separated into five major categories: (1) Bible Teaching; (2) Evangelistic; (3) Charismatic; (4) Prayer; and (5) Cross-Cultural Missions. Many churches combined various aspects from several categories so that church expressions were multiplied, varied and individualistic. The church I pastored when I first entered ministry, Casas Church in Tucson, was a mixture of two categories: Bible teaching and evangelism. As the years passed Casas evolved more into a Bible Teaching church that was focused not nearly enough on evangelism. Over the last two generations Casas has morphed more into what I call a Kingdom Church.
While trying to be sensitive to over generalization, I tend to categorize today’s churches into four major categories: (1) Fortress (2) Prophetical; (3) Kingdom; and (4) Compromising. A church tends to be in one category or another. These categories are based on how a church deals with society.
The Fortress Church deals with society by withdrawing from it. The Prophetical Church (modeled after the Old Testament prophets) deals with society by pronouncing judgment upon it. The Kingdom Church deals with society by engaging with it. The Compromising Church deals with society by becoming it.
A Fortress Church deals with society by withdrawing from it. The Fortress Church focuses primarily on keeping Christians safe, secure, and separated from the evil and seductive influences of the “non Christian world.” In practical reality they are so focused on protecting themselves from cultural contamination that they seldom venture out to engage the Lost or open their doors and invite them to enter.
A Prophetical Church is modeled after the Old Testament prophets who pronounced judgment on a wicked and perverse people. (This term does not refer to churches that place great emphasis on end times prophecy teachings nor on the spiritual gift of prophecy.) This type of church focuses primarily on declaring judgment and destruction on the ungodly behaviors and sinful people who fail to live up to Biblical standards. One clearly-stated purpose of a Prophetical Church is to restore Christian principles to a godless nation.
The Prophetical Church is a triple-edged sword. On one hand, our present culture needs to hear about sin, judgment, repentance and Biblical teachings. On the other hand, it is not possible for those without Christ to make godly changes or to live by Biblical principles when they have not the spiritual power of the indwelling Christ. On the third hand, I grieve that judgmental cries of condemnation have failed, not only to change society, but they have decidedly damaged evangelistic efforts to reach the Lost.
How so? Christians were known in the first-century-Roman Empire as the people who loved God and each other. Today, surveys reveal that 78% of Americans identify the evangelical Christian church as the most judgmental segment of our society. I wonder what happened to the days when Christians were known as the people who loved God and each other? The Prophetical Church misunderstands how Jesus approached different groups. He had strong words of judgment and denunciation for the religious leaders who defined spirituality and the pathway to God as obeying and practicing outwardly focused rules and regulations.
He demonstrated warm-hearted love and acceptance for Lost Sheep. While describing the abundant life He had to offer, He was not easy on their sin. As the word got out, thousands flocked to experience the reality of His life and love. Obviously, love is a better tool than judgment for attracting and leading the Lost into the kingdom.
A Kingdom Church deals with society by engaging with a lost culture for the purpose of leading people to Christ. The Kingdom Church focuses on using whatever tools are necessary to bring the Lost into the Kingdom (Matthew 6:10 and Luke 19:10). A Kingdom Church attempts to emulate the lifestyle of Jesus who was known as the One who spent most of His time with prostitutes and tax-collecting cheaters (Matthew 11:19; Mark 2:15-16).
I define a Kingdom Church as one which moves out into society to seek the Lost wherever they are—even at the risk of “cultural condemnation.” A Kingdom Church functions as a spiritual hospital for sin-sick souls.
In my opinion the Kingdom Church walks a thin line between staying true to the Gospel without compromising the necessities of facing the damning power of sin with repentance and for receiving Christ as Savior and Lord. The temptation is to become Pergamum (Revelation 2:14-16) or Thyatira (Revelation 2:19-23). The church at Pergamum compromised with the world while the church at Thyatira tolerated sin.
The Kingdom Church reminds me most of the Philadelphian Church that advanced through open doors into a totally pagan culture in order to share the gospel with the Lost. Despite the obvious temptations, this churched walked the thin line and remained properly focused and balanced as they resisted compromise and contamination and received special commendation from Jesus.
Now, Concerned Christian, my observation is that many Christians view the Kingdom Church as compromising and “shallow”—and some churches certainly are compromising and shallow! On the other hand, what may seem like shallow, “feel good” sermons may well be directed more at reaching the Lost on Sunday morning than at providing “deeper” Bible teachings for hungry Christians. This is all right with me as long as the church provides for “deeper” Bible studies in other settings. Seldom using the term “sin” on Sunday morning may seem compromising; on the other hand, not utilizing the term may be tactically designed to keep from alienating the Lost during their initial exposures to church. Nevertheless, a Kingdom Church will assure that the Lost will confront their sin, and their need for repentance and forgiveness at the proper time in their spiritual journeys.
Let me share a short Biblical checklist of values which may help in evaluating the spiritual soundness of the Kingdom Church.
First, a Kingdom Church presents the Gospel to today’s culture in a meaningful and relevant way. This presentation is effected by the evangelistic heart of its members as they interact with people in society—especially with their friends. The Kingdom Church may use the Sunday Morning Worship Service as their primary tool for making the gospel simple, inviting, and easy to understand. The driving value here is 1 Corinthians 9:22-23: “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
Second, care must be taken to preach from the Bible the “whole doctrine of truth”. The Bible must be treated with holy integrity and its Words not compromised in any way. Very few come to church desiring to hear politics and/or pop-psychology. Every one comes eager to know, “Does God have a word for me, today?”
Third, a Kingdom Church does not shy away from the sin issue. Sin may not make a good Sunday morning topic for the Lost; but, the problem of sin and the need for a Savior must be dealt with at the proper time and place. The operative verses here are Romans 3:23: “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”, and Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Fourth, a Kingdom Church is careful to provide small groups for Bible study, prayer, fellowship, mentoring and discipleship. Acts 2:42 outlines the process: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” If Bible exposition is not the focus of the traditional Sunday morning service, then Bible teaching for maturing Christians must occur in carefully planned settings. This is often accomplished in small groups led by spiritual Christians and good Bible teachers. By the way, sermons alone can never fully disciple anyone. Discipleship only occurs in close knit fellowship with other Christians. Paul outlined the process in 2 Timothy 2:22: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”
Finally, a Kingdom Church provides opportunities for true worship. Sunday morning is not the only time for engaging in heart-felt worship. The morning-service music should not be the only place believers are led into the throne room of Christ. Other opportunities must be carefully planned and provided. The guideline here is from Ephesians 5:19-20: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In my mind, churches face many challenges in transitioning into Kingdom Churches. One of the biggest challenges is providing fulfilling and meaningful worship and Bible sermons for Christians who are conditioned for having those needs met in a Sunday morning worship setting.
Another challenge is to provide enough healthy small groups to accommodate the Christians already in the church and all the new people coming into the fold.
Another challenge is to keep the gospel pure and unadulterated without sacrificing it on the altar of tolerance and compromise.
Another challenge is to present a proper view of God. While His is intimately and caringly involved in our lives (Psalms 103 and 131), He is also a God who judges sin. While He gives His children total love and acceptance, He is at times deeply disappointed in them.
Another challenge is to ensure that Jesus is uplifted in public to His proper place as Savior of the world (John 3:14-16 and 11:32). Jesus is worthy to be worshiped publically and openly (Revelation 4:11; 5:9-15) in order that all may see our total and complete surrender to Him as Lord (Philippians 2:10-11).
Well, Concerned Child, I hope some of my thoughts will help as you personally evaluate the changes of church models in our generation. Thank you for the thoughtful and relevant question.
P.S. Read Julie’s comment. I’ll look forward to reading yours as well!