Within the last month, I have committed to a church in Houston. Although I didn’t expect to end up here, I am now attending Lakewood Church. When I tell people I’m going to Lakewood, I hear many mixed reactions.
From the non-churchgoer who lives in Houston: “That church took over the Compaq Center where the Rockets used to play! They’re taking over all of Houston!”
From the easygoing Christian: “That place is huge! I just love Joel Osteen!”
From the skeptical Christian: “Why doesn’t Joel Osteen give an altar call? He never talks about repentance! Why doesn’t he want the Cross to be on display? What’s up with the huge globe at the front of the church? Does he ever talk about anything besides prosperity?”
It seems like Lakewood is the No. 1 most controversial church in the U.S. right now, especially among people who have been in the church their whole lives. A couple weeks ago, I was attending a wedding in Pittsburgh, and a committed Christian man I met at the reception told me he doesn’t agree with Joel Osteen’s ministry at all.
“He doesn’t teach repentance. It’s just a cultural craze,” were his basic arguments.
Now, I’ve spent the last five months attending a number of churches in Houston to figure out which one I wanted to be committed to. I’m not saying I’m going to spend the rest of my life at Lakewood, but I know that for right now, it is a good fit for me. Some churches have scared me away because of their lack of friendliness. Others I was turned off to because they did not have outlets for volunteer involvement.
No church is perfect. I know this well. Lakewood is not perfect. Joel’s specialty is preaching positive, success messages; not messages of repentance or “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” He can be a little cheesy at times. How would you act if you were being broadcast all over the world? And it’s true, attending Lakewood could be a bit of a cultural trend. Parking in a cool garage on a hot summer’s day is definitely a perk in Houston. Walking into church and seeing people that you work with or go to school with is exciting. The fact that you have to wait 20 minutes just to get out of church since there are so many people exiting is just a small price to pay for attending a church that hosts 40,000 people each week.
Does Joel teach repentance? Yes, he mentions it. He doesn’t dwell on it. And he does give a salvation message at every service in which he instructs people to “repent of their sins.”
Does Lakewood value the Cross? I think so. We take Communion and give thanks to Christ for His sacrifice. It’s true; Lakewood does not have a Cross at the front of the church; instead, there is a large gold globe.
If I could personally change anything about the church, it would probably be to at least include a cross with the globe. But I’m not going to let that bother me. To me, the globe does not represent “Lakewood taking over the world,” as some people think, but the fact that this whole world is the Lord’s, and Lakewood is doing its job to bring people closer to Christ.
Paul said in Philippians 1:18 that the “important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.” Christ is being preached at Lakewood, and hundreds of people are coming to the Truth every week. It breaks my heart that some preachers have actually spoken against Lakewood from the pulpit. In my opinion, that is a waste of time and a disgrace to the Lord. Jesus wants the Body of Christ to be one; for every denomination to work together for the purpose of spreading His Truth to the world.
So I’m not telling you to go buy “Your Best Life Now.” But if you are spending time speaking against Lakewood or other churches that are mostly right in their elemental teaching, re-evaluate your words. Sometimes we spend too much time speaking out against things that are good but slightly flawed instead of speaking out against the true evil in this world.