Updated: Apr 29, 2019
The Quick Check
While appearing to be a gracious and accepting non-denominational Christian church at face value, complete with a plethora of appealing small groups, activities and events to enjoy, it doesn't take much digging to find the truth just beneath the shiny surface of this gorgeous church. RLM is a megachurch metropolis, but they are legalistic to the core.
In addition, the use of the Bible is severely lacking here, but you'll find the sermons entertaining and well spoken, if you don't mind being starved of the Word of God.
Just like the many other tithing touting churches in America today, Real Life Ministries refuses to give any transparency in regards to their church's finances, all while demanding their congregates be financially transparent with them.
The Grace Scale
The Political Scale
Keep reading for the Full Check.
The Full Check
I attended Real Life Ministries in Post Falls, Idaho all through High School, but I haven’t been there in at least a decade. I loved it there as a teenager. The Youth Group was always fun, the summer and winter activities they put together for us were always awesome, and my family and I loved how much they had to offer us.
Ultimately, however, a poor experience (or four) nudged me outta there. Today, I’m going back to see if anything has changed. Let’s Check these guys out.
About Real Life Ministries
If you'd like to read more about RLM, what they believe, their aim, and so forth, you can do your own digging on their website. I am specifically referring to the Post Falls location in my check today. That is the main location, and the biggest one.
It was started by senior pastor Jim Putman back in 1998 as a small group, and has now grown to over 8,000 members. Holy megachurch, Batman!
Once you get onto their website, the first thing you see in a beautiful, elegant font is "Love God, Love Others." Beautiful indeed. Below that there is a button that says "Learn More" with the words "ways to connect in February".
On the first page of this PDF link is a letter to the reader from Pastor Jim Putman himself, and it reads (emphasis mine):
"As a church, we seek to keep things simple. Our vision is Jesus’ vision: He came to seek and to save the lost. To do this, He made disciples who could make disciples, building a church that would be His hands and feet in the world and His mouthpiece to deliver His good news. Our methods for making disciples are Jesus’ methods. We gather in large groups to worship, teach, learn, and serve one another. We also gather in relationship groups where we encourage each other, model Jesus’ teaching for one another, hold each other accountable, and learn to use our gifts for Jesus’ glory and one another’s good. We see this in Acts 2, and it worked.
"I wrote that it’s simple, but it’s definitely not easy. Only when we remain in a relationship with Jesus, follow His word (the Bible), and allow other believers to speak into our lives, do we truly change. And only when we truly change and become Christ-like can we make a difference in our slice of history. I would like to invite you to this month’s meet and greet where I can answer any question you might have about Real Life Ministries—how we operate, how we are organized, what we believe... I would love to meet you in person."
- Jim Putman
This letter is very well put together, I must say. Very carefully worded.
I need to point out and disagree with one particular statement in this, however, and it's the one I highlighted in bold:
"Only when we remain in a relationship with Jesus, follow His word, and allow other believers to speak into our lives, do we truly change."
That is not what the Word tells us. It tells us that Christ alone, the only mediator between man and God, is what truly changes us, and when Christ changes us, we are changed. Period. We don't need to follow any laws or rules as this statement suggests in order to be a changed man or woman in Christ, and we don't need to be told what to do by other believers in order to be changed either. The Bible is clear. God alone changes us, and God alone can sustain us.
Galatians 2:20 - "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."
Romans 5:1 - "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Ephesians 2:8 - " For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."
John 5:24 - " Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life."
2 Corinthians 5:17 - "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."
Romans 8:1 - "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
So, already, we have a red flag of legalism waving right in front of us. Right here in this introductory welcome letter meant to invite first time guests to ask the pastor questions. But let's move on, or we could be here all day.
1. The Questionnaire
After about a week and a half of trying to get someone to answer my questionnaire, emailing the church, PM-ing their Facebook Page, PM-ing their pastor Jim Putman, initially getting an answer from someone but then being ignored for the following several days, I finally got a response, and just as I'd expected, I was shown the door.
Here's a taste of how my email conversation with one of the staff at RLM went:
Once again thank you so much for your interest in our church, but we aren't interested in filling out the questionnaire at this time. After reading through the list of questions with a few of our staff, we feel this list of questions wouldn't fully reveal enough about Real Life Ministries and our answers wouldn't completely capture all God is doing through the relationships in our church body. We hope you're able to attend a service in person or online to have the chance to experience what's happening at Real Life and in our community..."
They were eager to answer my questions, until they actually read the questions. I tried to persuade her by explaining my review does not only consist of the questionnaire answers, but a whole list of criteria which I dig and investigate to fulfill. It didn't matter. They saw the questions, my minuscule reader base, and decided the risk of looking terrible was worth it. I guess.
When I pressed the issue of financial transparency and the importance of being honest with the Body, it only became more clear that they do not care.
"...in full transparency with the Christian Church as the Church leadership should be, I hope you will reconsider answering the questionnaire. Please let me know your thoughts on this."
"I appreciate your heart Sarah, and I love your passion for helping people learn more on a church before they attend, but we are currently happy with the formats that we offer for people (both Christians and unbelievers) to discover Real Life Ministries, most of which is through the many relational environments we provide for people to connect into. We want to reach people as Jesus did, with both His message AND His method. I understand you feel your questions are important to you and your readers, but we're okay if we aren't reviewed on your blog."
I had to remind this woman in my last email that regardless of whether she answers my questions or not, I am reviewing the church. They don't care. Me, my readers (Christian churchgoers), and my blog are not important.
In a way, she's right. What's important is the truth, and adhering to the Word of God. Does Real Life Ministries tell the truth, and adhere to the Word? Let's see.
1. What is your church's official position on tithing?
Instead of labeling it ‘tithing,’ which is a word that usually scares modern day Christians away from churches at the mention of it (and rightly so!), they call it Stewardship and Generosity.
This is what their official doctrinal statement on Stewardship and Generosity says (emphasis is mine):
"At Real Life Ministries, we give generously to support the church, the body of Christ, as God’s Word commands. We recognize that giving 10% of our income is defined as a “tithe”, the Biblical starting point of giving to the local church.
But we do not stop there. We believe that our whole lives are a response to God’s grace and love for us. And so, we consider it our privilege and our challenge to live lives of extravagant generosity. We view our entire lives as an offering to the Lord, and so we live our lives in such a way that we are no longer asking the question, “God, how much are you asking me to give?” but rather, “God, how much are you asking me to keep?” In living this way, we seek to honor God through ultimate sacrifice of our time, gifts, and resources for the purposes of His Kingdom.
We encourage everyone to live obediently as it pertains to their finances, which includes tithing. If tithing has not been a part of a Church member’s life practices we encourage them to explore what God says about finances and step out on a faith journey. We believe that Church members can begin by committing to trust Him in this area and take a step of obedience to give faithfully. As we courageously walk with God in this area, we believe God will bring peace to our Church members’ lives as they grow in this worshipful response to God. Being a part of Real Life Ministries means being committed to following God as He grows and changes us into persons of generosity.
We believe that any giving over 10% is an “offering of gratitude” for the great things God does for us every day. This offering of gratitude is a privilege to give and is in addition to the tithe. We believe that the local church is the storehouse and that Church attendees should give their tithe there. Meanwhile, the offering of gratitude may be given at an attendee’s discretion to any worthwhile ministry, church or organization. We also recognize that we must be good stewards of our time and our talents—everything we have, as the Lord has blessed us with these things as well. Like any other form of obedience, tithing is a matter of the heart.
Supportive Scripture: Leviticus 27:30; Malachi 3:7-12; Acts 4:32-5:11; 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15; Mark 12:43; 2 Samuel 24:24; Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42.”
A few things to consider here.
1. God’s Word does not command Christians to pay tithing. Period. It’s that simple. Oddly enough we find the bigger a church is, the longer and more acrobatic their mental gymnastics are in defending such an easily refuted position. You’ve got SMCC handing out 40-page novels defending their preaching of tithes, and here we have RLM doing something nearly as long and ridiculous.
CAMPUS Church rejects tithing and hates to even ask for financial support from its members while at Fellowship Bible Church they simply quote 2 Corinthians 9:7, and leave it to the individual Christian to decide in their own heart what they want to do with their money. With these big, business-oriented churches, however, they gotta sustain themselves, so they preach tithing.
2. To answer their “Scriptural Support,” the first two verses they use as supportive Scriptures are Old Testament Law, not New Testament Grace. They don’t apply to Christians today.
The reference to Acts is taken completely out of context and has nothing to do with how Christians should regard their finances in general today. Christian pastors are not Apostles, and the people who gave were giving of their own heart’s desire, willingly, not being commanded or pressured to against their will.
2 Corinthians 8 & 9 - in verse 8 of chapter 8 he actually clarifies that he is NOT commanding the Christians of the time to give, but just to consider it being that others have given so generously and cheerfully. It’s the same throughout all of the NT. It’s not a commandment for us to give. It is encouraged because of course loving Christians should and will give when the Spirit leads them to. It should not, however, ever be compelled by the church (9:7).
As for Mark 12:43, it’s also taken out of context. Read verses 38-44 and you’ll see that what Jesus is actually saying is what a shame it is that the widow gave everything she had while the rich give up very little. He complains that teachers of the law “devour widow’s houses.” Ironically, these teachers of the law are trying to change the context of that verse to mean we SHOULD devour widows’ houses.
As for Samuel 24:24, uh...1 Samuel or 2 Samuel? Regardless, if they’re referring to 2 Sam. 24:24, this is another verse that demonstrates willful, cheerful giving, not obedience to a law given of God.
Matthew 23:23 must be a joke, because here Jesus is actually ridiculing teachers of the law for focusing too much on paying tithes rather than other, more important matters of the law. So not only is he NOT talking to Christians, but to Jews, but He’s ridiculing them for caring too much about tithing, which even within the law, is apparently not as important as other laws.
Luke 11:42 is literally the same thing as Matthew 23:23. I don’t understand why RLM is trying to use these references to OT Law regarding tithing as support for their pressuring of tithes on modern day Christians. It’s pretty clear here and in the previous verses that Christ is talking to teachers of the law, not Christians, and He’s scolding them for their tithing. Scolding.
3. Christians should give, but of their own heart (2 Cor. 9:7). The 10% tithe shouldn’t even be talked about in a Christian church today. It’s antithetical to the New Covenant of grace and love we now have through Jesus Christ.
So, thumbs down for the tithe preaching.
2. Does your church have a particular set of rules or requirements that members must follow or abide by in order to retain their membership status with the church?
I found out that, yes, in fact, they must attend a class and sign an agreement before being allowed membership status to the church.
3. What is your church's official position on the doctrine of salvation? Through grace, works, both?
This is their statement regarding Salvation on their website:
“Salvation is God’s free gift to us, but we must accept it. We can never make up for our sin by self-improvement or good works. Only by trusting in Jesus Christ and God’s offer of forgiveness can anyone be saved from sin’s penalty. When we turn from our self-ruled life and turn to Jesus in faith we are saved. Eternal life begins the moment one receives Jesus Christ as Lord of their life. This is evidenced by repentance, confession, baptism by immersion, and a life committed to His service.”
Eh, I don’t care too much for the “evidenced by” language at the end. Not sure what they’re suggesting there, but it almost sounds like they’re saying IF you have in fact received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior THEN you WILL do these things, and if you don’t, then you haven’t really received Christ. I disagree. That’s a slippery slope to head down.
The church can define any of these terms however they like in making this the condition for salvation, and by doing so can put your Christianity into question because your life has not been committed to His service according to them, or you haven’t been baptized by them, or whatever else they deem as unsupported behavior to your faith.
4. Are you transparent with your church's financial information? How much does your church bring in through donations and tithing, and how is that money distributed? What do your profit on average?
Apparently they are not. They pressure their members to pay tithing, then refuse to disclose where that money is going, like so many other Christian churches. Not right.
5. Which denomination does your church align with the most, if any?
They are non-denominational.
6. Is your church's pastor available for other questions or comments regarding the church, its doctrines, etc.?
Guess not! In fact, no one seems to be. Unless you're a first time visitor and you physically show up at one of their services to meet the pastor. I guess I could have done that, but I'm not really willing to drive 8 hours to be shown the door in person.
7. How is your church's doctrinal flexibility and tolerance? If a member has a disagreement with the pastor or leadership on a certain doctrine, how is it handled?
Well, being that they must attend a class and sign an agreement to become a member, I don’t imagine they have many disagreements to begin with, but in the event that they do, I found this statement on their website on the Who We Are page:
“We have designated doctrinal issues as salvation issues and non-salvation issues. Salvation issues are doctrinal beliefs that we believe we all must be on agreement on because these doctrines are critical for salvation. The non-salvation doctrines are the set of doctrine that people may hold a differing perspective as long as they respect other positions. We do not see them essential for salvation. With both classes of doctrine we have written what we consider non-negotiable in the approach to these doctrinal areas. By that we mean, this is how the entity Real Life Ministries will approach these doctrinal areas and those who represent Real Life Ministries will reflect that approach. We seek to have unity through agreement on the essential salvation doctrines and a commitment to be respectful of differing perspectives on non-salvation doctrines as we communicate how we as a body will approach handling differing perspectives.”
Some of their non-negotiable issues include tithing, marriage, gender, and sexuality issues that may be difficult for some Christians to accept. Read their full doctrinal statement here: http://www.reallifeministries.com/page/1952.
8. Does your church require that its members be baptized? What is your church's official position on baptism?
In their doctrinal statement they make it clear that they believe a Christian must be baptized, and very shortly after confessing Christ as their Lord and Savior. So even though they would clearly state that they believe baptism is not necessary for salvation, they will strongly insist that all Christians be baptized, as if it were.
9. Please describe what a typical service and/or meeting looks like in your church.
I’ll skip this one, since I’m about to do that with the rest of this review.
10. How many people do you have on staff at your church, both paid and volunteer?
God knows. They do have a page with what appears to be paid staff though. http://www.reallifeministries.com/post-falls/staff
11. What is the pastor's educational history?
In a section dedicated to Pastor Jim Putman on the RLM website, it says Jim holds degrees from Boise State University and Boise Bible College.
12. How does the church discipline its members with their sin?
This is the closest thing I found on their website to an answer to this (emphasis is mine):
“We believe that any form of sexual immorality (including adultery, fornication, homosexual behavior, bisexual behavior, transgenderism, bestiality, incest, and use of pornography) is sinful and offensive to God (Matt. 15:18-20; 1 Cor. 6:9-10). When we become aware of such practices, within the staff and membership of the church, we follow the Matthew 18 process to seek repentance, reconciliation and restoration. Our heart is always to restore people to God and the body of Christ. But if repentance is not attained, employment and/or membership will be denied or revoked. Any person who practices such behavior will no longer be eligible for the benefits of membership and/or employment. Therefore, those known to be habitual and unrepentant in the practice of these behaviors will be denied membership as well as revocation of employment, together with the benefits that accrue there from.
"We believe that in order to preserve the function and integrity of Real Life Ministries as the local Body of Christ, and to provide a Biblical role model to Real Life Ministries’ members and the community, it is imperative that all persons employed by Real Life Ministries in any capacity, or who serve as volunteers, agree to and abide by Real Life Ministries Doctrinal Statement on Marriage, Gender, and Sexuality (Matt. 5:16; Phil. 2:14-16; 1 Thess. 5:22).”
So, if you practice in something they find to be unacceptable in some way, repent (openly, to them), and you will be forgiven, but refuse, and you will be given the boot. Not that I necessarily believe any of these behaviors is acceptable, but this seems very legalistic in nature to me. Why must everyone that works for, volunteers for, or is a member of RLM agree to so many non-salvation issues? Why not let Christians have their own beliefs on some of these issues?
13. How is the pastor compensated (income, benefits, bonuses, etc.)?
I’m betting it is a LOT. But, they won’t tell us.
14. What is the size of your church and any other space the church owns for meetings and church services?
According to the website, they have over 8,000 members.
Their main building is ginormous, but I couldn’t tell you how big, and their website won’t either, unless I missed that somehow. I would compare it to a Walmart. They have a smaller, more normal sized building in which they expanded to initially before exploding into the giant warehouse.
They also have other locations in Coeur d’ Alene and Spirit Lake as well as several groups all over the Coeur d' Alene, Post Falls and surrounding areas. How many buildings they have in total, however, I do not know.
In conclusion to the questionnaire, it's obviously going to be thumbs down, since they refused to answer them, and many of the answers I did find are troubling, specifically regarding tithing, their lack of financial transparency, and the legalistic positions that they hold, even in our salvation.
2. The Worship Service
Like most non-denominational or Evangelical Christian churches today, Real Life Ministries spends a lot of money to make their worship services akin to attending a Christian rock concert. It’s a lot more about your experience, how it makes you feel, and what you think of the performance than actually worshiping God. The focus is on people and their experience rather than on the object of worship.
3. The Sermon
Okay, if I try to comment on every little thing, I’ll write a novel, so I’ll focus on the fundamentals here. I watched the sermon from Sunday, February 10th. If you want to watch the sermon and see what I’m talking about, you can watch it here: http://www.reallifeministries.com/page/1788?Item=249.
Is the sermon Verse by Verse or Topical?
It’s topical. This series is called Game Changers, which is conveniently beginning just after the Superbowl.
If topical, is the topic at least centered on God, Jesus Christ, The Gospel, or the Bible? What’s at the heart of the sermon? God, or You?
It’s about you, and how this series applies to you, your life, your marriage, your family, etc...they’re relational principles, in Pastor Jim’s own words. It’s not preaching of the Word or a study of the Word. It’s Jim Putman teaching you how to apply certain principles of this series to your relationships.
It’s a relationship seminar. Using the Word occasionally. So a topical sermon using cherry picked verses to support the pastor’s ideas.
Pastor Jim is adamant in reminding his audience that relationships are God’s idea. And that Jesus said that our love for one another will show the world that we are His. So our relationships need to look different. This is a seminar on how to have a Christian relationship.
At one point, he zeroes in on marriage, and the sermon seems to become completely about marriage and relationships.
I won’t get into his particular lesson about marriage, because it doesn’t matter. It has nothing to do with the Word, or Christ, or the glory of God. It’s a lesson in human relationships, complete with props and funny anecdotes. God and the Bible are mentioned and used, but they are not at the heart. I am. Me and my relationships with others. Particularly, marriage.
How often is the Bible used? Is it used in context to stand on its own, or cherry picked to support the pastor’s message?
He briefly mentions Matthew 24 at the beginning of the sermon where Christ talks about wicked ways causing love to grow cold, but only in order to support the theme of marriage and relationships. Not contextually, but out of context to use as a support for the topical sermon.
He doesn’t touch on another piece of Scripture until halfway through the sermon at 20 minutes in.
He references Ephesians 5 really quick to tell husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, then uses that comparison to make Revelation 2 all about marriage, instead of what it’s actually about.
Then he jumps to 1 Corinthians 13 to recite the famous and popular love passage, which has nothing to do with Revelation 2 in context either, but since it’s about love, and marriage is about love, I guess it works with the topic at hand.
He uses Christ and His relationship to the church as a metaphor for our relationships with each other rather than focusing on what the Word actually says, which is all about the Church in its relationship to Christ. Why change it to something different? Why not read it and teach what it says rather than pick a different topic completely?
It’s not that what he’s saying is factually incorrect outside of his cherry picked Bible verses. The lesson itself isn't false. It’s actually very helpful in the topic of marriage, but the point is that’s not what church is for.
I need to be fed the Word of God at church. This is the words of a man who wants to help people with their marriages. A noble task, but it's not the job of one of God's shepherds. "Feed my flock," He said. We need the Word, not lessons in life that make us feel better about ourselves and our lives. The Word, no matter what it says, whether it applies to us right now or not. In season or out of season. Remember?
"Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry."
The icing on the cake: Having a good relationship with Christ will help you have a good relationship with others. Okay. Great. Why not just have a relationship with Christ for His sake? He alone is worthy of it. I don't need anyone to sell it to me. It just sounds like a sales pitch.
Lastly in the sermon, Pastor Jim invokes another verse out of context about being unequally yoked to insist that no one marry a non-Christian because non-Christians won’t love you properly since they don’t have the Holy Spirit. And, because it's hard to be married to a non-Christian.
For a church obsessed with making disciples, this kind of shocks me. For a church obsessed with making laws and rules for everyone to follow, it doesn't. But what happened to that 1 Corinthians love?
And since when does God tell us not to do something because it’s hard? Hard?! Ha! Jesus Christ loved the angry mobs that beat and crucified Him, and forgave them with no apology. And we are called to do the SAME. We aren’t called to only love those who love us properly. We are to love our ENEMIES. There is nothing in the Word that says we shouldn’t love non-Christians. Christians love everyone, not just people who claim to be Christians. Love God and love others, remember?
Does the sermon glorify God, or man? Does it preach the Word, or the words of man? Does it preach grace and love through Christ, or the law?
There are definitely points wherein which the pastor glorifies Christ and what He's done for us. There are points where grace is preached through the methods he suggests in improving your marriage, but...
It wasn't about God. It wasn't about Jesus, or the Word. They were used to support the real star of the show: the Game Changer.
Sorry, RLM. Thumbs down for the sermon.
4. The Grace Scale
In determining where Real Life Ministries measures on the Grace Scale, I had to consider a lot of things I haven't had to consider for other churches. Other churches preach grace but then preach tithing. One law alone is enough to tip the scale in favor of legalism, but RLM preaches grace and then preaches several legalistic things to contradict it.
Tithing: Mostly Legalistic
Baptism - Semi-Legalistic
Church Leadership - Legalistic
Ordination - Legalistic
Marriage, Gender, & Sexuality - Legalistic
Salvation - Incognito Legalism (preach grace, then heap on the works you must do in order to be worthy of it)
This makes the Grace Scale tip as far as it will go into the Legalism side without making it 100%, because ultimately, they do at least claim salvation is by grace alone. Actions speak louder than words though, and unfortunately, their actions show that they believe otherwise.
5. The Political Scale
Definitely Conservative. Politics are mentioned during services occasionally, by the Pastor on his personal Facebook page, and socially political issues are touched on in the Doctrinal Statement regarding abortion, gender, marriage, and sexuality as well.
6. Church History, Scandals, & Controversies
After a little bit of research, I found one scandal of note.
In spite of their stringent rules and requirements for membership and employment, it didn’t seem to prevent a youth leader from getting arrested in 2010 for statutory rape.
Just goes to show you that the law makes us sinners and does nothing to change our hearts. Only Christ Jesus can change us, and the more you try to earn His love, the farther you will fall from it.
While Real Life Ministries appears to be the typical nondenominational, grace touting Christian church we all want to love so much, in its heart sits a novel of laws, rules, and requirements for its members to follow, or risk the boot.
There is no competing with Real Life Ministries as far as activities, small groups, and the long list of any other type of social group you could possibly think of. If we're all being honest, it's tempting to join RLM for that benefit alone, but it's not what church is for. We need to remember what's important, for the sake of Christ and the truth of God.
The Word of God is seriously lacking here. The glory and worship of God is missing from the worship services in favor of glorifying our emotions and experiences. Christian liberty is virtually unheard of here, unless being used to support the topical sermon series of the month. And any Bible verses used are cherry picked and taken out of context simply for the use of supporting the topical sermon's main message, which isn't about God or Jesus or the Bible. It's about you.
Last but not least, my questionnaire was rejected, and yet another church that demands money from its congregation refuses to be honest about how that money is being spent.
So at the end of the day, I can't recommend Real Life Ministries, and in case you didn't already figure it out, the final verdict is in: