I recently read an article about seeker friendly churches which basically stated that seekers are no longer seeking.
In the article the author sighted a recent Pew Research Center study that reveals that most Americans do not attend church regularly, and that more and more Americans have no religious affiliation at all. Actually, this segment has grown from 15 to 20 percent in the last five years alone. Among those ages 18-29, the unaffiliated equals 32 percent of the population, and of this group, 88 percent state that they are not looking for any religion that would be right for them.
Unfortunately, the author seemingly went on to say that churches need to continue on with pretty much more of the same, just repackaged.
I guess my question is where is this seeker sensitive, reinvention of the church leading us? As a pastor who has not embraced the seeker friendly church model I have found all this seeker sensitive emphasis to be troubling in a number of ways.
First of all let me say right off that I am not an advocate of throwing out the baby with the bath water. The knee jerk reaction is to dismiss everything about something we do not necessarily agree with, but this is not what I am suggesting.
I believe the intentions of seeker friendly pastors is sincere, and well intended, and to some degree successful in drawing people to church. This is a good thing. Especially since churches in the United States have a tendency to become introverted and neglect the reaching of the lost as time goes by. Seeker friendly churches are good at reaching out to people, and inviting them into relationships, and fellowship, and should be commended for this.
With this said let me share what I see as some of the problems with this approach to ministry.
The message can get muddied in the methods. Far too many churches that have embraced the seeker sensitive model of church have watered down the word of God. Most of their messages revolve around life enrichment themes that appeal to the egocentrism of our times. This can too easily result in a man centered message rather than a God centered one, where subjects like hell, sin an repentance are altogether avoided.
Come out and be separate. Rather than calling the believer to a life set apart from this culture, the seeker friendly church seems to at least imply that we need to make the church more attractive to the culture by creating an atmosphere more like a night club, so as to make the seeker feel more comfortable.
While I don’t really see a problem with using all the wonderful resources afforded by technology, such as lighting, and multimedia, we need to be cautious here as well that the message does not get watered down in the process. What we really need to ask ourselves is not does the sinner feel comfortable in our churches, but does God feel comfortable? Is He allowed to have His way, or has our preprogrammed event ushered His presence right out the door?
For all of our techno-gymnastics we cannot convict the heart of a sinner. This is only accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let me conclude this point by saying that I know of many wonderful churches that have seemingly managed to integrate a great deal of technology into their services without losing the moving of the Holy Spirit, or the power of God, yet this is not the case in far too many others.
Forever reinventing ourselves. While the business world is constantly studying trends, and reinventing itself to appeal to the culture around it, one has to ask themselves at what point do we reach the point of saturation? Take for instance car commercials during sporting events on TV. After awhile doesn’t it seems that if you have seen one you have seen them all?
Or consider a McDonalds commercial. While the presentation tries to convince you that their hamburgers look and taste delicious, your mind says, “this food is garbage.” (My apologies to those of you who love McDonald’s burgers)
While we can certainly learn from the business world, the church is not synonymous with that world. It seems that every time I turn around there is some so called new trendy term or emphasis that pastors supposedly need to be aware of, and embrace. After awhile this just leaves my head spinning.
Rather than asking ourselves what the multimillion dollar corporation, or for that matter mega church is doing to reach people, perhaps we simply need to go back to the basics of seeking God, and asking Him how to build His church? While we can and should maintain a spirit of excellence no matter what size our church may be, we simply cannot, nor should we change who we are.
As a pastor, God has equipped you with certain gifts, and these are the strengths that you need to operate within. As God brings you people to compliment those gifts you can release them into ministry, but you should not be overly engrossed with what everyone else is doing. Sometimes I am glad that I live in a rural area where I am too ignorant to know what the latest church fad is.
A man centered ministry. My greatest concern with the seeker friendly model of church, is that it asks the question, what do lost people want our church to look like? Remember, the term lost is in the Bible for a reason. If you are lost, the last person you want to stop and ask for directions is another lost person.
When a church creates an atmosphere that never confronts the darkness of the culture for fear of offending the lost then we are in trouble. At this point the truth of Scripture no longer serves as our compass, but culture takes the wheel. We had better be careful or eventually the church may turn into something other than the church altogether, at which point we may as well write Ichabod, “The Glory has departed,” over our doors.
What is the gospel? The root of this problem could be traced to a misunderstanding of our modern concept of what the gospel actually is. While the term gospel means ‘good news,’ we need to be clear as to just exactly why is it good news?
The good news is that Christ came to save sinners. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 1 Timothy 1:15 (NIV)
But just exactly what did He come to save us from? He came to save us from the wrath and judgment of God, because of our sin. …Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. He is the one who has rescued us from the terrors of the coming judgment. 1 Thessalonians 1:10 (NLT); Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…2 Corinthians 5:11 (NKJV)
Because the seeker friendly church presents a life enhancement message, the gospel is presented without a call for repentance. This type of preaching is creating a weak church with a lack of conviction. There simply is no salvation apart from repentance. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Luke 5:32 (NKJV; So they went out and preached that people should repent. Mark 6:12 (NKJV); I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:5 (NKJV)
What is the church? In the New Testament the word for church is the translation of the Greek word ecclesia, which is synonymous with the Hebrew kahal of the Old Testament, both words meaning simply an assembly. It is very obvious from the context of Scripture that the church consists of believers only. In order to be a member of the body of Christ or the church you must be born again (John 3), and if you are not born again you are not saved from your sins. Thus you are not actually a part of the church. You may attend a church, but you are actually a weed among the wheat.
While we certainly want to invite the lost to our church worship gatherings, we must clearly understand that these assemblies are first and foremost for the church, not the lost. We come together to worship God, and strengthen the body of Christ. In the process we certainly give the lost an opportunity to respond to the gospel, but our foremost purpose in gathering together for what we call church, is for the strengthening, and edification of the believer.
Seeker friendly churches that meet for an hour on Sunday, and have a 15 minute life enhancement pep talk are in my estimation not following this biblical model. How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 1 Corinthians 14:26 (NKJV)
Winning the battle, while losing the war. Finally, I think we can obviously see that in spite of our best efforts to appeal to the culture through relational, seeker sensitive church services we are for the most part still losing this generation.
Could it be that the real issue is that we live in a culture that has been steeped in Postmodernism? That pop culture junkies imagine that they can have eternal life completely on their terms, and that no amount of our so called seeker friendly attempts will actually catch their attention?
Let’s face it, we live in a culture that doesn’t really have much of a stomach for truth today. So why do we imagine that we should try to take the teeth out of the word of God by removing anything that confronts people and their sin? It is quite obvious from the afore mentioned research that the seeker friendly model of the church is not really doing any better of a job of stopping this cultural hemorrhaging than the traditional church.
“The message of the cross cannot be finances into easy payments.” Mario Murillo
What is the solution? I am not sure there is an easy answer to this question, or at least an answer most American really want to hear. However I do believe that we would do well to heed the following message from K.P. Yohannan, founder of Gospel for Asia, from his book Revolution in World Missions.
“Churches today are not experiencing the power and anointing of God in their ministries because they do not have the humility to wait on Him. Because of that sin the world remains largely unreached.
So little evangelical Christian work is done in total dependence upon the living God. Like our brothers and sisters in that big church, we have devised methods, plans and techniques to “do” God’s work. Those involved apparently sense no need to pray or be filled with the Holy Spirit to do the work of Jesus.
How far we have drifted from the faith of the apostles and the prophets! What a tragedy when the techniques of the world and its agents are brought into the sanctuary of God. Only when we are emptied of our own self-sufficiency can God use us. When a church or mission board spend more time in consultation, planning and committee meetings than in prayer, it is a clear indication the members have lost touch with the supernatural and have ended up , in Watchman Nee’s words, “serving the house of God, and forgetting the Lord Himself.”