April 10, 2020

The Evangelical Untouchables 2: Seeker Sensitivity

untouchUPDATE: Darrell Young’s post is now included. Read it!

The Evangelical Untouchables are seven diverse evangelicals who will give us a window into what’s happening in evangelicalism today.

Who are the Evangelical Untouchables?

Michael Patton is the director of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries and is one of the teachers on The Theology Program.
Tony Kummer is on staff at a Southern Baptist Church in the midwest and blogs at SBC Voices.
Ryan Couch is a Calvary Chapel pastor in Oregon, and blogs at Small Town Preacher.
Kirk Cowell pastors a Church of Christ in North Carolina. He blogs at A Soul In Training.
Lindsey Williams is planting a PCA Church in North Carolina, and blogs at From Acorns to Oaks.
Matt Edwards is a small groups pastor in a Non-denominational/Bible church in Washington, and blogs at Awaiting Redemption.
Darrell Young pastors a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church near Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

This episode’s question: “How has the “seeker” emphasis affected your perception of your congregation’s worship services? Are there changes you have made to accommodate and bring back seekers? Are there changes you would never consider, even if it would put more non-Christians in your service?”.

Michael Patton (Independent/Bible Church): How has the “seeker” emphasis affected your perception of your congregation’s worship services?

I am from a tradition (Dallas Seminary-type Bible/Community Church) that is not too friendly toward the idea of “seeker friendly.” When Rick Warren’s book Purpose Driven Church first came out, it was critiqued very heavily in these parts (boarding on anathema!), and it was very moderately seeker sensitive compared to much of what is now going on in Evangelicalism! My tradition believes that the actual church service on Sunday Morning is for the believer, not so much for the unbeliever (this is key). Believers are to go out into the world with the message of Jesus Christ. Therefore, our purpose is not to attract the world to the church building or Sunday Service. For example, the church service itself is not the church, it is a particular function of the church. Christians do not go to church, we are the church. People themselves are to be seeker friendly, not the church service. Church service is to perform a particular function of covenant renewal among believers. This comes through discipleship, fellowship, and worship. To make the church service seeker friendly is like trying to make a court room seeker friendly in order to attract the outside world. There is a particular purpose of the court. Outsiders are welcome, but their presence will not detract or manipulate the main objective. The ultimate evangelistic goal is not to make people come to church, but for the church to be salt and light as the people of God in every situation. Yet, at the same time, we are not naïve enough to think that all those who come to the church or are members of the church are all truly Christian. The church is filled with non-Christian members. As well, we welcome anyone to come, therefore there will be seekers in attendance. For this reason, the essence of the Gospel will often be communicated during every church service.

This is not to say that we want the church to be “seeker repulsive” by any means. We desire to welcome the outsider and be salt and light as the outsider comes into the church. With open arms we will help the seeker to understand what we are doing and why. But we don’t want to accommodate our service for the sake of the seeker at the expense of the purpose.

Are there changes you have made to accommodate and bring back seekers?

Over the last decade, while our spoken attitude toward the seeker friendly “movement” has generally stayed the same, you can see many changes and adaptations. Most Dallas Seminary type Bible/Community churches have placed more emphasis on changing the type of worship that is offered. I am not too sure that this could be called seeker friendly since this is actually a change in preference from the church body itself. As well, “christianese” is not spoken quite as much. But, again, this is not so much because of the seeker, but from a desire to speak in a way that is understandable and less traditionalistic. The language of tradition is good, the language brought about by traditionalism is deterring to both the believer and the seeker.

Are there changes you would never consider, even if it would put more non-Christians in your service?

Yes, accommodating truth. For example, because the culture is much less tolerant of the doctrine of Hell, this does not mean we don’t teach it. We may be more sensitive toward people’s feelings and change the way we approach it, but this will amount to an empathy toward society in general, knowing that the body of Christ may be affected by the same feelings.

Having said this, whatever means can be used to make the Gospel and discipleship more effective will be used. Whether it is using air conditioners, electric lights, holding Saturday services, using PowerPoint screens, changing the name “Sunday School” to “Fellowship” or making home groups available, and the like, these are all accommodations to the effectiveness of the Gospel. While there are many Bible churches that have become Fundamentalistic, believing that the way they conduct church service on Sunday morning is also part of the Gospel, the spirit of my tradition does not promote such. This would be more in line with Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox expressed theology (i.e. they believe that the way church is done is part of the Gospel). However, all traditions are susceptible to the temptation to become traditionalistic. Our tradition must continually assess ourselves, asking if those methods that we hold on to are the way things are supposed to be done or simply the way we have done them for a really long time. Change is good for the church in this sense. I know a Dallas Seminary pastor who intentionally mixes things up ever so often to keep his people from falling in love with the way the church service rolls. I think this is good.

Kirk Cowell (Church of Christ): To answer the specific questions: seeker-oriented worship really isn’t part of the discussion where I am. It’s not something that’s part of our worship paradigm and it runs strongly counter to the DNA of my particular congregation.

I, myself, have very mixed feelings about the ‘seeker sensitive’ move, but my general sense is that it’s a bad idea to try to bring people to Christ on the basis of an attractive worship service. We have a hard enough time fighting the consumer culture without making worship yet another market-researched commodity. Attempting to save people through cool worship ultimately means that we humans can be hip enough and talented enough to do save someone–the emphasis is moved from incarnational living to theatrical experience. It becomes about what I can do for you, rather than what Jesus has already done for the world. And I think it’s really tricky to avoid a kind of bait-and-switch. “We’ve designed this really neat experience just for you guys, and we want you to be sure to pick up a gift bag on the way out. Once you see that we’ve given you exactly what you would want from a church, we’ll talk more about the God who calls you to deny yourself and think of others first.” The seeker sensitive paradigm might not have to go there, but it is an enormous challenge to be seeker-oriented and true to the model of Jesus. I remember Hauerwas writing something along the lines of “The one thing the church growth movement has taught us is that you can grow a large congregation whether or not there is a God.” That’s pretty much where I am. Jesus didn’t send out the 70 with surveys, or even sandals or sheckels. Just the Spirit. That’s the way of the Master.

Having said all that, I do think that boring worship fails to do justice to an exciting God, and that poorly planned worship is another way of being too casual with sacred space and time. Nor do I want to play to the whims and wants of my congregation’s insiders. What I want out of worship is a faithful and serious (though not necessarily somber) presentation of who Jesus is. I want an experience that uses the symbols and language of the scriptures to re-orient the worshipers to the reality of the King, and the calls us to learn to see the world through his eyes. I think worship should re-acquaint us with a God so big that human discussions over the exact style and format of his praise fade to insignificance in light of the call to praise him truly and join his work.

I want to warmly welcome visitors, give them an idea what to expect and how to participate, and then hope they realize soon that this hour isn’t focused on them, or on us, but on Him. And focusing on Him is the only way to get to what we really need, which is much less clear to us than what we want.

Tony Kummer (Southern Baptist): Our church has suffered three different leadership styles in the last ten years. The seeker approach came in more piecemeal than as a complete ministry paradigm. Much of this was before my time, but I have seen the burn-over effect of following church fads. While some members like the seeker approach, others consider it gimmicky. Certain phrases evoke excitement or bouts of nausea, depending on the church member. These include “40 days of ______” and “casting the vision.”

All this demands accommodation. We get frequent requests for more creative worship services – including drama, heavy use of media, and themed sermons. Other members appreciate the more serious approach – including lengthy sermons, simple worship style, and a solemn tone.

Right now, Mark Dever is the main influencer of our pastoral staff. We like to think we are moving toward a more sustainable and healthy way to do church. But, we sometimes question how distinctly non-seeker friendly our worship has become. We are concerned that only a small number of people are coming to Christ through our ministry.

Lindsey Williams (Presbyterian Church in America):I’m in a very different position than most of the evangelical untouchables because I’m planting a church and therefore don’t have to address issues about potential changes in worship (our first worship service will be in Fall of ‘09). But this is one of the reasons why I’m planting a church. One of the church planting mantra’s is “It is easier to give birth than it is to raise the dead”, and this is very true in regards to worship in my particular context. I don’t have to tell the church choir of 50 years that they are fired and must pick up an electric guitar or leave the church. That being said, beyond my own denomination’s regulations for worship, I am currently in a position of trying to figure out what worship should look like in the context of a church plant where people come from Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Bible church, and un-churched backgrounds presently. One luxury of worship in a church plant (especially when you have a fair number of unchurched/unbelievers like in my case) is that most of my people actually have very little expectations for what worship “should” look like at the moment.

Here are the basic principles that I work off of as I consider what our worship should look like for us when we launch in the Fall. Balance between being “ancient” and “indigenous”. I do believe in our post-modern context (especially for those of us in the Bible belt), there is an increasing desire to connect with some sort of heritage. In an age of increasing familial dysfunction, people are looking for a heritage to attach themselves to (score one for the liturgical gangsta’s with their honoring of Christian heritage). This is the “ancient” dynamic that makes traditional hymns actually important on some level (along with some of the ancient creeds) even if they are done to new tunes. But I also believe that there is a call to be “indigenous”, to have worship contextualized to one’s community in which we are ministering. I want our music to feel as if it is indigenous to the culture we are in. Hence, we will never have an organ, because nobody sits around and listens to organs. But we probably won’t have jazz music either (saxaphones and such) because our city doesn’t listen to Jazz. I think all worship should have a balance of “transcendence of God” and “immanence of God” in its worship. I naturally weight our worship towards “immanence” because historically, American Christianity has failed to communicate the immanence of God well in their worship. But I do think we fail if we don’t represent the transcendence of God in our worship. I like John Calvin’s ultimate question in determining the value of elements in worship. “Does it obscure Christ?”. Worship has one ultimate purpose, to point people to Jesus and if we employ something that gets in the way of that, we shouldn’t do it. But even within that paradigm, there is much freedom in worship.

Yes. There are changes I would never consider for the sake of getting people in the seats. I do think there is a call to be sensitive to seekers in our congregation in every element of the worship service. I think we should communicate the elements of worship assuming there are non-christians in attendance. However, I think the “seeker” movement made a big mistake when they made their worship “seeker driven” (which I think is a better term to describe the Willow Creek style, etc.). I don’t think the ultimate purpose of worship is for the sake of drawing non-Christians into our church. I don’t think the purpose of our worship is to give the Christians what they want either. Worship is for the sake of God, and our highest goal is to honor him. We certainly want to help bring people into his presence effectively, but as soon as we make it about the people, then we will be forced to cater to their whim as the highest value (which becomes a game of herding cats). I will say that “seekers” aren’t ultimately looking for worship that caters to their every whim any more than a woman is ultimately looking for a man with a lot of money (when we look for a spouse with a lot of money, it is because we have given up on the notion of a person whose love is actually worth more than money). They want something of substance, more than just bells and whistles (and our job is to convince them of that). They want a God who doesn’t need them, but wants them anyway. Because that is they kind of God we would actually want to worship. I think the reason people don’t go to church has less to do with the type of worship style, and more to do with the type of gospel that is being preached (or lack thereof). Coming from the reformed camp, I do hold (loosely) to the regulative principle that Scripture regulates worship in regards to the elements of worship (as differentiated from circumstances like electric versus acoustic guitar). Scripture calls for the following elements to be in worship services regularly (sermon, prayer, sacraments, singing, confession, offerings/alms, etc). There is typically debate in our denomination about “drama or liturgical dance” and whether or not the scriptures allow it as an element in worship. I think it is possible to argue for its inclusion while maintaining commitment to the regulative principle, however I don’t think I will ever have it because it always comes across as cheesy and amateurish. Here are things I would never do:

Never have worship without some form of “preaching”
Never have worship without prayer
Never have worship without singing
Never decide to stop making communion and baptism a part of worship service (I think private communion and baptism are unbiblical). Sacraments don’t have to be present in every single worship service, but should be in there “regularly”.
Never worship an image of God. Never worship something other than God.
Never institute a new element in the worship service that doesn’t have some form of biblical basis (like dancing bears, basketball game, chess, etc.). One exception would be to watch the Tarheels play basketball (better to ask forgiveness than permission I say).

Darrell Young (Christian and Missionary Alliance): The seeker emphasis has had a mixed impact on my perception of our corporate services. On the one hand it has made me more sensitive to what the experience is like for a guest, especially a non Christian. I think this is a good thing. I feel this acutely when I know, say, a hip young couple is there. I am cringing if our music is off or the people up front are not presenting themselves well. On the other hand the seeker emphasis has sometimes got me worrying too much about what people will think. We need to have a gathering that is God honouring and exuberant and thoughtful and well crafted and dignified and fresh. I think from a pastoral and evangelistic perspective our service, music and sermon, needs to be about God. Good things happen to people (like growing and getting saved) when they get caught up in Him.

Most changes we have been tempted to make come from pressure applied by people who have moved in from a seeker church (or who have read the books). The mega models have so captured and overtaken Evangelicalism that many people are shocked that we don’t follow those rules. We have made some changes that are attempts to accommodate seekers, if not to bring them back. When we read Scripture we give the page number in the pew Bible. That may sound minor but we are trying to think about what its like to be a beginner. We’ve tried to create an environment where our own people treat guests like they just walked into our living rooms. You usually would not ignore someone in your own home. This can be very big. Being nice is big, so is ignoring people. Otherwise, we do lots of things wrong, like the aforementioned Scripture reading, I usually wear a necktie, we sing some hymns, and we even have potlucks.

The Evangelical blood that courses through my veins wants to say we would do anything to get seekers in the door… but it’s not true. Here are a few things we won’t do: de-emphasize the ministry of the Word, run the senior citizens off so we can crank up the music, lock the children in the basement so we’re not distracted, or get so slick that amateurs can’t participate. My hope is that any seeker will be warmly received and given a clear Gospel presentation every time.

Matt Edwards (Independent/Bible Church): The “Seeker” Movement and Believers Fellowship
After college, I moved from the cornfields of Ohio to an all-Hispanic neighborhood in inner-city Dallas. One day, some young Mexican co-workers were joking about my need to act more Mexican and less gringo. An older co-worker named Fidel chimed in and told the young people that they had no idea what it meant to be Mexican. They were born in America, listened to American hip-hop music, and spoke English as their primary language. Fidel agreed that I should learn about Mexican culture, but he said that I wasn’t going to learn anything from the third-generation immigrants.

Fidel thought I should meet his parents, who grew up in Mexico and came to the U.S. as adults. He took me to their home and, sure enough, they were “real” Mexicans. I could tell by their dress, their décor, and their mannerisms that by being in their home I was getting a flavor of the old country. But there was one problem—they didn’t speak English. When they came to the U.S., they found friends who spoke Spanish and they never forced themselves to adapt to America. I could tell they were different, but they were unable to communicate to me how or why.

Ultimately, Fidel had to teach me about Mexican culture himself. He was a second-generation Mexican. His parents taught him Spanish, but he learned English in school. As an adult, he was comfortable in both cultures. He spoke Spanish in the home, but English in the marketplace.

My experience with Fidel taught me a lot about the church’s relationship with culture. The church of the early 1970’s was a lot like Fidel’s parents. They knew the roots of their faith and why they were different. But they were unable to communicate these differences with the surrounding culture because they didn’t speak the language. Now, the “seeker” movement has swung the pendulum the other way. We are like third generation immigrants—we speak the culture’s language, but we’ve forgotten where we’ve come from. We’re no longer distinguishable from the culture at large and we can’t communicate what it means to be “Christian.” As a result, we have nothing to offer the world but entertainment and pseudo-community. The church needs to be like the second generation immigrants. We need to speak Spanish in the home, but English in the marketplace.

Believers Fellowship comes out of the Gene Getz/Dallas Seminary tradition. Essentially, Getz distinguished between forms in the church and the theological functions that these forms served. For instance, one function of the church might be worship. The church should always worship God, but worship can take on a variety of forms–great hymns of the faith, contemporary songs, interpretive dance, etc. While the forms are always changing according to the culture, the functions always remain the same.

The seeker movement argues that the Sunday morning worship service should be tailored around the felt needs of unbelieving “seekers.” We disagree. Surely, evangelism is a function of the church, but is the Sunday morning worship service the most appropriate form for this function? Worship isn’t about seekers; it’s about God. Our worship happens “in the home,” and therefore it should be in Spanish. Evangelism should be done in the marketplace and in English. One of the reasons that the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches have seen success lately is because they have continued to speak Spanish in the home. They feel different. The word holy means “set apart,” or “different,” and when you walk into a Roman Catholic or Orthodox church, you can’t help but feel like you are on holy ground. You don’t get that same feeling at “seeker” churches. It feels more like Starbucks. If unbelievers can come into our church and not feel the slightest bit uncomfortable, we are doing something wrong.

Changes We Have Made
Although we reject the fundamental assumption of the seeker movement, our worship service “style” is not stuck in a bygone era. Our philosophy of ministry allows us to change the forms of our worship at any time, as long as we are still fulfilling all of the functions of the church. For example, one of the functions of the church is to build spiritual community. So, every-other-week we had open-mic sharing. This worked great in a house church, but not with 500 people. Most people are afraid to speak in front of such a large crowd, so open sharing became a soapbox for the same 3–4 people who weren’t afraid. The form “open sharing” no longer fulfilled the function “building community,” so we dropped it.

Things That Will Never Change
We are perfectly comfortable changing forms as long as functions are preserved. However, there are some occasions in which function is tied to form. One clear example of this is the Lord’s Supper. Jesus could have chosen a number of forms for the Eucharist—it could have been foot-washing, a special prayer, a liturgical dance, or even a soccer match. Why do we remember Jesus with a meal? Jesus chose a meal because the message is tied to the form. You can’t change the form without changing the function. This is also true of Baptism, and possibly of the preached word and worship through song.

Ryan Couch (Calvary Chapel):Ahh yes the “seeker sensitive” model. I’m not even sure what that really means. Because I think the gospel itself is seeker sensitive. Jesus is all about seekers. So if you’re giving people Jesus and the gospel then it’s seeker sensitive. Having top notch music, slick presentations, or a goof ball in a bunny suit running around entertaining people is fun and exciting but in reality it’s not seeker sensitive because it doesn’t ultimately meet the seeker’s greatest need. Not that I’m against those forms of attractional ministry but I don’t think they are necessarily the only way to define seeker sensitivity. So I would say no, the “seeker” emphasis has not changed my perception of our congregation’s worship services. My desire is to worship Jesus and no one else therefore our services are focused upon Him and not people’s felt needs. My desire is to teach and preach God’s Word not to give people advice on how to have a good marriage, raise good kids, or have better sex. You can hear that stuff on Oprah or in any number of self help talks. As the Church our priority must be to preach the gospel so that people can rightly relate to their Creator through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. When this happens couples will have good marriages because they will quit treating each other like crap, they’ll be good parents as Jesus teaches them not to be idiots, and they’ll have better sex in light of the fact that they won’t be thinking of only pleasing themselves.

We’ve tried to create a comfortable atmosphere by having a building that looks modern and is well maintained. We have a great worship band and we implement video from time to time. As the main teaching pastor I try to think of everyone who is going to be there; from the Jr. High boy who can’t quit thinking about naked women, to the single mom who is working two jobs, to the father who just found out he lost his job. I want to preach with them in mind and I do this by bringing them to Jesus and the cross. It’s about bringing the redemptive message of the gospel to people in a relevant manner. There are a few changes I would never make despite the fact that it might put more non-Christians in our services. I would never quit talking about sin. I would never cease preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I refuse to ignore tough issues like homosexuality or divorce simply because it might offend people. God doesn’t need my help to redeem the lost. He hasn’t asked me to water down the message or sanitize the truth so that “seekers” will be comfortable. He has asked me to preach the entirety of the message by pointing every man, woman, and child to Jesus, and then letting the Holy Spirit do His thing.

Comments

  1. I agree with Michael Patton’s idea that the service is for the believer, and evangelism is to be done outside the service. The biggest problem with seeker-sensitivity has always been in forcing meat-eaters to eliminate meat for the sake of mush-eaters… then, once people forget what meat tastes like, start eliminating the mush.

    Outreach should be seeker-sensitive—making Jesus easy to understand, rather than taking stuff away—but inreach needs to be as challenging and inspiring as God is.

  2. An intersting discussion! Thank you for organizing and posting these discussions.

    One question I ask myself that helps me keep perspective on some of these things is, “How did the early church ever get along without big auditoriums, loud speaker systems, air conditioning, overhead projectors, pianos or organs or electric guitars or etc… etc… etc…”

    Peace…

  3. This was absolutely wonderful and refeshing! Pastor Couch summed it up for me when he wrote “the gospel itself is seeker sensitive. Jesus is all about seekers. So if you’re giving people Jesus and the gospel then it’s seeker sensitive.” Amen! My husband is not a Christian but a sure way to send him running is for a church to dummy down the truth and try to trick him into believing by entertaining him! Believe it or not, he respects the church that does not waver or apologize. He still clings to his agnostic stance…but he admires Christians when they are being true to the gospel of Christ.

  4. Fascinating! Thanks guys!

    I’ve been mulling over these issues myself and so this was an insightful read.

    I really like the form vs. function thing.
    It just makes so much logical sense…. Perhaps too much….

  5. Matt Edwards states that “The seeker movement argues that the Sunday morning worship service should be tailored around the felt needs of unbelieving “seekers.””

    I would argue that there is a wide range of attitudes within the “seeker movement”. I would describe the three most common varieties, in order of intensity as “seeker sensitive”, “seeker friendly” and “seeker focussed”.

    Seeing as Darrell Young is M.I.A., I thought I would offer my two cents from an Alliance perspective. (I am accredited with the Alliance have spent 14 of the last 21 years in Alliance churches across the Great White North eh.)

    How has the “seeker” emphasis affected your perception of your congregation’s worship services?

    The Alliance in Canada as long as I have been involved with them have had a focus on Church planting. All have been seeker sensitive, most seeker friendly and a few Seeker focussed. Some have met with great success, one near where I live has been doubling in size every three years, with baptisms every month, and fifty percent of growth coming from new believers. Others have struggled, or closed. Still the denomination as a whole has nearly doubled the number of churches and nearly tripled the number of members since 1980.

    In my region, I believe the leadership is still committed to moving towards seeker-friendly services, there is beginning to be some acknowledgment that if your church plant is too seeker focused you may have difficulty building up a core group of mature Christians to actually do the work.

    Are there changes you have made to accommodate and bring back seekers?

    Most Alliance churches have gone the route of Worship teams, powerpoint sermons, avoiding Christianese. A good number will use video clips within sermons.

    Are there changes you would never consider, even if it would put more non-Christians in your service?

    The Alliance key focus, is Christ as Saviour (Canadian spelling eh?), Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King. I think that the second, third, and fourth elements are not as strong as they used to be, not because of seekers coming into the church, but because of mature Christians coming into the church from other denominational backgrounds. But I have never heard a watered down gospel preached in an Alliance church, nor would I ever expect to. One recent change implemented by the Alliance which will help to keep that in place is that a congregation can only consider calling a Pastor from a list approved by the District Superintendent. (They can provide names to the district for possible approval.)

  6. P.S. Darrell’s church is 3000 miles away from me, so his impressions and experiences may be quite different.

  7. Rob Dilfer says

    Great story Matt. I often use the concept of language to explain this issue, but not in the same way you used it.

    The function of worship is in the word itself — it’s to worship God. Functionally, worship is God centered rather than man centered. However, the form changes across time and cultures.

    The Church, spread across the earth, will find different expressions (forms) of the act of worship (function) depending on the indigenous culture. If I were to plant a church in Ecuador, we would worship God in Spanish, not English. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to make Spanish-speakers learn English and sing American-written songs. In the same way, it’s not appropriate for me, in America, to lead worship in the style of 18th century England. I can make people learn the “language”, but it will never be natural.

    I support adapting the style of worship to the culture — how will a newly converted 18 year old learn to worship God for the first time in a language other than his own? But I don’t support adapting the function or purpose of worship to advertise Jesus to the unbeliever. The purpose is to bring praise to God, not to provide a comfortable environment for evangelism. Just think about the very seeker-unfriendly (by our standards) reality of the first century church:

    “None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women…” (Acts 5:13-14, ESV).

  8. iMonk,
    I really appreciate the tenor, tone and content of your blog and podcast…you’re on my list of Untouchables!

  9. I love the “Untouchables'” responses and I love you guys!

  10. All of these are great responses

    But I Monk – wouldn’t this be a better blog post if it was just a diatribe on the eeeevvvviiiilllllsss of the seeker sensitive movement? I know that all things eeeemmergent have displaced the hate towards the SS, but really.

    You need to focus more.

  11. Would love to see a pic of the Evangelical Untouchables complete with era appropriate coustumes at the head of their blog. Maybe each one could take a pic at home, send it to you Michael and them cut, paster and and post.

  12. Matt Edwards’ comments show a lot of insight.

  13. I’m glad my response was so short – I think the others were much more insightful. Thanks again for including me.

  14. I like Ryans comment – “the gospel itself is seeker sensitive”. How true. The power of the gospel itself is powerful enough to draw those seeking near to HIM.

    God told us, in Isaiah 55:11, “11 So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
    It shall not return to Me void,
    But it shall accomplish what I please,
    And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. ”

    Great discussion – First time visitor, will be back for sure.

  15. Seeker sensitive?

    But the time is coming and is already here when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father [seeks] anyone who will worship him that way. (brackets mine)

    I think God seeks people who will worship him that way. Does that make him sensitive?

  16. Thanks to all for these thoughtful essays. I am encouraged by so many emphasizing that the primary purpose of the church service is to love and worship God and build the body of Christ into “Jesus people”. The fruit of this will be people who are growing in love for God, love for one another and love for the “stranger”. What can be more attractive than this? Richard Rohr captures another bit of the problem we can drift into when we try too hard to make the service attractive and seeker sensitive which can often unintentionally shift the attention away from Christ and on to ourselves as the church when he says,“The church is supposed to be the dating service; sometimes she thinks she is the date.”
    This can then lead to churches competing against themselves to be more attractive/seeker friendly.

  17. Theophilus says

    Seeker sensitivity, like all movements, arose from a genuine need, but can be a new form of legalism. Bravo to the untouchables for keeping Jesus Christ as the center.

  18. I did a post a while ago Experiences of a first time visitor to church that chronicles what a visitor may see and experience as he/she comes to your building. It is because of experiences like that, that I still believe in being “seeker sensitive.” Take a look and let me know how your church would measure up.

  19. If I am correctly picking up the sarcasm in dac’s comment, I agree. I am glad this didn’t turn into a diatribe against the seeker movement. While I don’t adopt their philosophy of ministry, I think they do a lot of things well. There is a seeker church in my community and I am grateful for them.

    Maybe we need a hard line WCA guy in this group to stir the pot a little. Since we don’t have one, maybe I can play the devil’s advocate for further discussion (since we all seem to be on the same page).

    Willow Creek doesn’t call their weekend services “worship services,” they call them “seeker services.” This is an important distinction. The function of the seeker service is not primarily “worship God” (that happens at their mid-week service), but “evangelize the unreligious.” They would agree with us that “worship is about God, not seekers.”

    Given that Willow Creek and others have been so successful at attracting unreligious people to their church to hear the Gospel, how successful have we “missional” churches been at taking the Gospel to the unreligious around us? Are we doing an adequate job, or does something need to change?

  20. Great insight guys! I am actually surprised at how similar our thoughts are…maybe the Church isn’t as divided as we think.

    Or maybe Michael needs a more varied cast.

    🙂

  21. Eclectic Christian makes a great point. Having signs to the restrooms, adequate parking, a welcoming congregation, etc. aren’t about being seeker-sensitive as much as being newcomer-sensitive.

    When it comes to the value of feedback from a “mystery shopper” there’s no difference between a service focused on God or on seekers. Strangers still need to feel welcome.

  22. In the communities I frequent, we often use the term “seeker aware” to call us to the kind of practices that Eclectic Christian” is advocating. This allows us to focus our worship on God and to recognize that it is appropriate for Christians to behave together in uniquely Christian ways. But at the same time we do so with the awareness that on a given Sunday perhaps 20% of those there are either new to the church or returning to church after a long absence. Therefore we need to speak in a language they they can understand (or at the very least provide an interpreter.)

    So we have made changes like calling our bulletins worship programs and having clear signs. We use the words of our faith but we also always explain them when we do. In our weekly practice of the Lord’s Supper we have a weekly opportunity to tell the story of the passion. This keeps Christians centered on Christ and makes sure that any who are our guest for the first time are not left confused by the center of our worship.

    This language has been very helpful to me.

    Thanks Michael for this great series!

  23. I agree with Michael Bell that there are different levels of seeker sensitivity. The church I attend seems to have migrated over the years from a seeker sensitivity that was attractive to me at the time to a completely seeker focused methodology, at least as it regards the Sunday worship service.

    When I first started attending I was moving from a church that was turning its pulpit over to anyone with “a word from the Lord” and telling everyone to break into small groups in the pews to pray together during the service. I would have never wanted to bring a friend there and it was starting to creep me out. When I started attending the new church, policies such as never singling out a visitor, never passing an offering plate, etc. seemed to me seeker sensitive in a good way.

    Now the church has completely given way to a seeker focus on Sundays. This is the extreme it comes to: Right now we have 3 Sunday morning worship services, one Sunday evening and 2 on Saturday evenings. Last week we were told that if we are members or regular attenders, unless we were bringing friends, we should plan to come to the Saturday service on Easter weekend. This of course is to make room for the “unreached” who may decide to venture in on Easter Sunday. While I don’t hold any particular allegiance to Sunday as a Sabbath we are held to, and I don’t want my name engraved on a seat, this practice is very disconcerting to me. Easter Sunday is the day we as believers gather to celebrate our Savior risen, yet we are being told that unless we are also going to use it as an evangelism tool for our friends, we should celebrate on an alternate day.

    I have more to say, but I’ll stop right there for now. I don’t even want to get started.

  24. kcillini77,

    You have 6 services, other than renting a Stadium for Easter so that everyone can worship together (which might not be a bad idea), how can you expect to have everyone fit? I think that asking mature Christians to celebrate Saturday night for the sake of the Gospel being spread to others is quite a reasonable solution. Ideal? No. But I know that I wouldn’t want my own desires to impact negatively on the potential of someone else coming to Christ.

  25. Excellent discussion, Michael. Having departed evangelicalism largely on the basis of the “worship” issue (see my blog for detail), I think it is important to challenge what in my limited experience has become THE style, not only because of seekers but because of Christians desiring something more self-satisfying.

    Bottom-line, however, I don’t even think the “traditional” evangelical styles, based on the revivalistic tradition, promote genuine worship. In the end, that tradition (and its seeker-sensitive children) are all about music and a message, and the “service” directed from the “stage” to the “audience.” Whereas worship is the offering we bring to God in response to his grace, and the direction is from the pew to the altar.

    IMHO, the whole question of worship is outside the evangelical box.

  26. Michael,

    Agreed – but I suppose I presented this anecdote as though it were a special one-time deal because the Gospel was going to be thoroughly presented on Easter. In fact, the worship service is thought of as the primary vessel for reaching the lost all the time. Members are constantly asked to move services and volunteer in childcare because the worship service really isn’t for them.

    Now, I am well aware of the fact that the worship service does not define a church. But the longer I’ve been here the more I think we have it backwards. Speaking in terms of “functions” as was brought up by some of the untouchables – the “function” the worship service serves is evangelism. The function of equipping believers to know and do the Gospel is delegated to small groups, which, as a small group leader I can say is often the blind leading the blind.

    I realize a lot of my inner cynic is coming out here, but there seems to be a prevailing sense in seeker focused churches that THE primary mission of the church is to bring a person to the point that they admit their need for Jesus and ask Him for salvation. Once you are past that, yeah, you need to grow in your faith, but you’ve got the essential part down. Your growth is your responsibility and we’ll provide you some resources for doing that on your own time but your focus on Sunday needs to be making the unchurched welcome and comfortable so that they can hear some aspect of the Gospel and hopefully make that profession too. You are welcome to sit in on the service but you’d be better off serving the kingdom by providing a safe environment for the visitor’s toddler.

    All of that stems from a true desire to fulfill the Great Commission. But while there’s nothing particularly Biblical about the American Sunday service, the reason we originally developed it was to come together and be equipped as a body of believers so that we could go forth and be salt and light. The seeker focused church turns that on its head and assumes we don’t have the ability to communicate the gospel to our friends and neighbors, so our job is to get them into the building on Sunday and let them take it from there.

  27. kcillini77

    “But while there’s nothing particularly Biblical about the American Sunday service, the reason we originally developed it was to come together and be equipped as a body of believers so that we could go forth and be salt and light.”

    I agree with you too. My own preference for services is for them to be times of worship, teaching, a “recharging of batteries” so to speak.

    This is why I am “seeker sensitive”, but not “seeker focused”. I think having seeker focused events on a regular basis is good and it keeps the congregation thinking about being salt and light, but I would agree with you that having every Sunday Service seeker focused is problematic.

  28. Just for Quix says

    Michael Bell’s comment “I know that I wouldn’t want my own desires to impact negatively on the potential of someone else coming to Christ” brought up a point that I really struggle with. I don’t want to put any words in Michael Bell’s mouth nor unfairly single him out; only to use the comment as a launching point for raising an issue I see so often at church.

    Granted, conducting the worship, collecting of alms, and the preaching is benefitted when aware that unbelievers or young believers are often in our midst, leading us to a sensitivity in how things are done. If our faith and practice is squarely on Jesus being the mighty redeemer I hope it would help us strike a healthy balance between seeker sensitivity and providing an environment of substance where we believers fellowship and grow in maturity together.

    Where I really struggle is that I so often hear, see or feel the pressure that so many carry that if the music doesn’t go just perfectly, or if the service is a little too crowded, or if the preaching is just a little too challenging, or etc., that this may be the VERY THING that keeps a nonbeliever from coming to faith THAT VERY DAY. It seems far too devoid of hope and faith that our God has the power, the will and the way to reach and redeem all who will have Him as Lord. It seems far too focused on unhealthy pressure and the wrong kind of focus — a humanity-as-the-savior focus. Do we really believe we will keep someone from salvation even if they don’t do an altar call that very day?

    My prayer is that my walk with God will always be one that shows my faith in His goodness, and that I may not be a stumbling block but a tool in His hand reaching potential believers as they are ready. I also desire to help fellowship and support mutual discipleship thereafter. But I really think it is an extremely unhealthy atmosphere to carry the pressure my pastors and fellow evangelicals so often seem to be carrying.

  29. I think Holidays are different in our society – Christmas and Easter are the two days we typically get a lot of non church goers – while I wouldn’t say we become “seeker” friendly, we certainly go into overdrive on evangelism for those holidays in the church service – While an SBC church, I would say we are similar to CMP’s church – the services focus on the edification of believers and worship to God – while we work very hard at making sure we are communicating in a non insular way – information desk, greeters, welcome at the beginning of the service lets newcomers know where things are, staff stays up front after the service to answer questions/pray/etc (and at least one of them is female), etc

  30. Just for Quix,

    I agree with you completely. My intention with my comment was to try and communicate that we should not be so insistent on attending Sunday Morning that we actually take the place of someone who needs to hear the gospel.

  31. Just for Quix,

    I can appreciate the stress of “you must make a decision now, or forever lose your chance of salvation.” I heard just the opposite when I was in my conversion process (Southern Baptist to Catholic). “In God’s time”

    There does need to be a balance (which can vary depending upon the season) between making it attractive for the unbeliever and for the experienced one. The image that I have in my mind, is a large buffet meal. The smells intice people with the promise of a good meal. In fact, the odors are so tempting, they even make a full person hungry again. At the buffet, the servers help the people to taste and to get what they need. Also, with the buffet, the younger can see what the older ones are eating and enjoying. So that they know that it gets better than the simple, plain food that they are eating.

  32. Dan Smith says

    on 01 Apr 2009 at 10:59 pm K.W. Leslie wrote:
    I agree with Michael Patton’s idea that the service is for the believer, and evangelism is to be done outside the service. The biggest problem with seeker-sensitivity has always been in forcing meat-eaters to eliminate meat for the sake of mush-eaters… then, once people forget what meat tastes like, start eliminating the mush.

    Outreach should be seeker-sensitive—making Jesus easy to understand, rather than taking stuff away—but inreach needs to be as challenging and inspiring as God is.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    I couldn’t agree more. Our little family (135) long ago adopted the Biblical reason for Christians gathering together: exhortation/edification/encouragment. All our activities–singing, praying, preaching, Lord’s Supper–have a dual audience: God and one another. While we lovingly welcome visitors, we do not arrange our activity for them. Our influence is their seeing our love for God and one another. It is very attractive, mostly.

    Dan

  33. Just for Quix says

    @ Michael Bell: I expected that we’d probably find ourselves in a similar camp. I hope I wasn’t reckless or misrepresentative to use your comment only as a launching place to state my wish that I saw more confidence and hope in God’s power to reach and save all who will accept Him. Our Lord often gets treated like a mere human who needs our outside witness (by way of a sacrament, or ritual, or profession, or what not) to validate _to our satisfaction_ that those who He saves were indeed saved. (I’m not saying at all, however, that our cultural manifestations of faith response are never to be trusted.)

    @ Anna: Thanks for your point. I agree there’s a real tension to trusting in God’s power, God’s work as His good work, and His trustworthiness to accomplish all He desires for His creation, both humanity and the world. Yet even as we willingly surrender to what He desires for us, we also expect we will likely be actively used by Him in furthering His work.

  34. I know that in Corinthians 14 Paul is talking about the usage of tongues within a church service, however I believe that the presuppositions of his argument transcend tongues.

    Paul says that it is better for a believer to speak a very few words in a known language, than to even speak in the tongues of angels. His reasoning is that the purpose of a church service is to edify (build up) the believer. A believer can’t be built up by something they don’t understand. He goes on to encourage an interpreter for spoken tongues within the corporate body.

    Later, he talks about the gift of tongues being for non-believers. However he states that if a nonbeliever were to walk into a church service and EVERYONE were to be speaking in tongues, the nonbeliever would think everyone was nuts. He therefore discourages this practice.

    Here, Paul is being seeker-sensitive. He is encouraging us to consider what an outsider would see should they attend a service.

    The bottom line as I see it is that we should plan and structure services both to edify believers AND to be seeker-sensitive.

    But what do we do when these two goals conflict? I believe that our priority should be to edify the believer. After all, the most effective form of evangelism (especially in our culture today) is relationship evangelism. Therefore believers need to be equipped to understand how to think about their faith. We need to be equipped by the fellowship of the church as to how to live out our faith amongst nonbelievers as we live our lives in the market and workplace.

    And the greatest thing I think believers need to understand is how to be a living mystery to the nonbeliever. We need to learn how to inspire thinking by being a living question to nonbelievers. This is the example Christ gave us when he witnessed to the Samaritan woman in John 4.

  35. I must admit that I haven’t heard the “Spanish” in the home and “English” in the marketplace idea but I have always felt it. I think that this has come from going through Leviticus in my class. There is a seriousness there that I think has been lost on a lot of us. Worship should be about God and not about getting seekers in the door. Another are that Christians can learn some things from the Jewish community. The Sabbath isn’t about the people, it’s about the LORD.

  36. Greg,

    “Later, he talks about the gift of tongues being for non-believers. However he states that if a nonbeliever were to walk into a church service and EVERYONE were to be speaking in tongues, the nonbeliever would think everyone was nuts. He therefore discourages this practice.

    Here, Paul is being seeker-sensitive. He is encouraging us to consider what an outsider would see should they attend a service.”

    Interesting. Thanks for mentioning this. Give me something to chew on.

  37. Great post! I’ve often wondered if I was the only one who thought that, just maybe, Sunday (or Saturday) was for the believers to worship God; especially after sitting through the same altar call to the same 20 people for almost a year straight.

    kcillini77, I feel your pain.

    Sometimes I think people would come to church if the whole forbidden fruit approach was used: “Sure, seeker, come visit one of our Wed. nite groups…but you probably wouldn’t like Sundays, they do a lot of serious praying and get really deep into the scriptures…”

  38. I recently posted on Seeker Sensitive: http://themasterstable.wordpress.com/2009/03/29/seeker-sensitive/ Efforts to be seeker sensitive have resulted in things being removed from our churches and/or church services that perhaps should not have been. Paul says that “the preaching of the cross is foolishness to those that perish, but those of us being saved it is the power of God.” I do not believe that having the cross or images of the cross in church is a form of idol worship.

    The Gospel needs to be preached. Believers and unbelievers alike need to hear it’s message. Even if the church sanctuary does not have an actual cross present, the message of the cross needs to remain. In the New Testament, we don’t find as many people seeking as we find the Gospel being carried. Read the Great Commission passages again (Mark 16:15) and consider the journeys of the Apostle Paul.

  39. Hey iMonk,

    I was wondering if I can totally steal your idea for my blog, which is much more of a local variety. I was thinking of getting several local Youth Pastors to comment on the direction of Church and Youth Ministry. Since all the pastor live and work in Lynden, WA I was going to call it “The Throw Down in L Town”.

    What do you think?

  40. Christopher Lake says

    Tony Kummer,

    I’m intrigued that you mentioned Mark Dever as being the main (human) influence on your pastoral staff and that you also mentioned concerns about a lack of conversions at your church and the worship service being perhaps too “non-seeker-friendly.”

    Have you ever attended one of the Capitol Hill Baptist Church “Weekenders” for pastors and elders? If not, it might be *very* encouraging for you. You can read about them here: http://www.9marks.org/partner/Article_Display_Page/0,,PTID314526|CHID616030|CIID1647544,00.html I’m a former CHBC member, and I recently read about Mark giving thanks for the fact that of his fourteen-year ministry there, he has seen the most conversions this past year.

  41. Christopher Lake says

    Tony,

    I copied and pasted the link, but it’s not working. Go to http://www.9marks.org/ and click on the “Events” link for information on the Weekenders.

  42. subcutaneous says

    As a confessional, traditional-liturgy-favoring Lutheran, let me throw something in here to chew on.

    Several posters mentioned the desire to keep the Sunday Morning service for believers and their “Worship”. Someone even mentioned the direction of the from the pew to the altar.

    Most “confessional” Lutheran churches call the someday morning event the “Divine Service”. The implication is that God comes to serve us. He refreshes and strengthens us with His Word and Sacaraments. It is about Him and what HE has done for us through the work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

    Another comment on the use of Christian “language”. Christianity is, in some respects, like learing a foreign language. You don’t learn French or get a feel for French “culture” by reading English translations of French literature. You have to dive in and “immerse” yourself to get a real understanding. Same way with “Christian-speak”. Sunday morning should be for those who “speak the language”.

    Seekers should say – “Man, there is something special going on here. I need to learn more!”.

  43. subcutaneous says

    arrrgh

    “Sunday”, not “someday” in paragraph 3

    (fat finger syndrome)