Mega Churches: Postmodern Seeker Sensitivity
|Copyright © 2002 - All rights retained by author|
|Written by: C. W. Booth|
The church has failed in the mission that Jesus gave it some 2000 years ago. This is what one church-growth consultant asserts:
Whatís gone wrong with the harvest? Two thousand years ago Jesus faced His followers and said, "Look at the fields --they are ripe and ready for harvest. Go, follow Me, make disciples in all nations." Now, two thousand years later, the fields still remain "ripe for harvest," but the granaries are yet to be filled. (James Engel, Whatís Gone Wrong with the Harvest?, part 1, page 1)
This appears to be one of three driving assumptions propelling the meteoric assent of a new organizational movement in the church of our Lord. The harvest has failed. The fields have remained ripe for 2000 years "but the granaries are yet to be filled." As this appears to be a primary rationale for "trying something new" in church structure and style, we will test that assumption against the Word of God to see how valid it may be. Before we test that foundational assumption, we will take a brief look at the other assumptions that give this movement momentum as well as taking a look at how this movement defines itself.
Assumption 1 (as we just discussed): the church has failed in the mission that Jesus gave it
Assumption 2: men and society have changed, evolved, over the past 2000 years (even more so in the last 400 years alone) to the point that men will no longer be receptive to the gospel unless Christians change their presentations, worship content, and doctrines.
Assumption 3: since the New Testament is relatively silent on the style of worship to be used in corporate services, it gives us liberty to change the style, the content, and the purpose of corporate worship.
We will examine all three of these assumptions in the light of Scripture to determine how much of these foundational assumptions are true or valid. First, however, we will examine the history and the research used by some in the Seeker Sensitive movement to build their founding principles.
Throughout the centuries it has been fashionable to give one age or another a defining label. This label is often quite useful as a shorthand for referencing an entire period of time, or for explaining why that time frame was special. The Renaissance, the Dark Ages, the Medieval Period are all ways of describing periods of earthís human history and the response man has had to God.
One possible definition of "Postmodernism" can be developed by first envisioning the "modern age" that precedes it; the roughly 500 year span from the Renaissance to about 1960. This time frame (referred to as "the Modern Age" by some) was characterized by science and reason; "rationalism". These intellectual disciplines are considered devoid of emotion and warmth. When man determined that his emotional well being and inner peace were not to be found in science and reason, the Modern Age ended and Postmodernism began.
Postmodernism thinking is said to have been visible in many forms for well over the past decade. It is the pursuit of the "me" generation to obtain "inner peace and joy" for itself. "Emotional well-being" and "live and let live" are some of the catch phrases that have come to be recognized as hallmarks of this self-focused movement. In fact, many of the popular texts describe this first and second generation of Postmodern men and women as the "baby boomer" generation. The "gen Xíers" are now replacing the boomers, but the pursuit of emotional well-being could not be more evident here as well.
In Ross Rohdeís publication, Practical Considerations for Postmodern Sensitive Churches--A follow up to "The Gospel and Postmodernism", he lists what he believes are the behavioral characteristics of the Postmodern person.
Unlike other labels for various ages of time, Postmodernism does not describe what men were doing but rather their psychological profileóselfishness, self-concern, emotional well-being of self. Whether the label "Postmodernism" is a valid label or not I will leave for others to decide. In one way I find it useful to note that man is presently labeled as self-centered, and that this preoccupation with self-focused emotional satisfaction is what characterizes the present generation.
The Postmodern seeker then, is one who seeks his own self-fulfillment through emotional gratification. Those who are seeker-sensitive are sympathetic to this quest of the unsaved to find personal emotional well-being and work towards filling up that perceived need for them; to help them to feel good about themselves.
Church Failure Assumption Explored
Since personal emotional fulfillment is the overarching motive of the Postmodern person, the question is raised, "What should the church do to respond to the internal motivations of the Ďboomersí of the postmodern (post rational) age?"
There are so very many possible answers to this question one would be foolish to answer quickly. Rather than provide an answer at this time, let us refer back to the assumption made at the beginning of this article. After all, if oneís assumptions about what the churchís mission is appears faulty or incomplete, it will impact what one believes must yet be done.
Has the church failed the command of Christ for 2000 years to bring in the harvest?
And Jesus was going about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. And seeing the multitudes, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd.
Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest. And having summoned His twelve disciplesÖthese twelve Jesus sent out after instructing themÖ" (Matthew 9:35-38, 10:1a, 5a)
The command of Christ to His followers was not "fill up the granaries". Christ commanded that the church pray that God would send workers into the fields which He had prepared and which were ready for reaping. Pray. Pray for workers--that was His command.
Did the church really fail for 2000 years to be obedient to Christís command? No. The church has not only prayed for 2000 years for workers, but there have always been workers. Then and now. They toil bringing in Godís harvest. Their mission is not to fill the granaries, their mission is to pray and toil--God will give the increase (1Corinthians 3:6,7); God will fill the granaries of Heaven.
One other point about this passage in Matthew. Immediately after commanding the disciples to pray for workers, Jesus, Who is the Lord of the harvest, turns around and selects twelve workers for the fields. That is a wonderful illustration of a swift and full answer to prayer as well as an object lesson in personal responsibility.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging Him, saying, "Rabbi, eat." But He said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about." So the disciples were saying to one another, "No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?"
Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work. Do you not say, ĎThere are yet four months, and then comes the harvestí? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this case the saying is true, ĎOne sows and another reaps.í I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor."
From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, "He told me all the things that I have done." John 4:31-39
Again we see that the command is not to fill the granaries, it is to go into the fields and sow and reap. Understanding the command is vital to understanding whether the church has been obedient from age to age. As the text tells us, the harvest was already being worked by the "woman at the well" who witnessed to many and caused many to be saved. The church has not failed in its mission, but some have misunderstood the mission.
Permit me to be clear on this point. At no point in history has every man who has heard the gospel been receptive to the message. We sow, and when men have been ripened by God, we reap. But the vast majority of those who live on the Earth will be hell-bound. God has prophesied this and we can do nothing to alter His ultimate purposes. God alone will dictate the size of the harvest. Our job is to go into the fields and work, God is the one who keeps the bushel count.
To assume the church has failed in its mission for over 2000 years is to assume that the apostles got it wrong and also failed. In fact, if the church has been failing since the day Jesus rose into heaven, then the Lordís prophetic statement, "I will build My church and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it" (Matthew 16:18b) were tragically false.
That erroneous thought notwithstanding, we have the certain Word of God which tells us, "the gospel, which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth" (Colossians 1:5b,6). Paul was very confident that the gospel had not failed to go into all the world, and that the gospel was constantly bearing fruit and increasing.
How then do we account for the fact that so many in this contemporary world have never heard the gospel? This state of affairs is not a failure of the church, but a failure of men from ages past to believe what they have heard. Those who did hear, even in the remote parts of the world, who then rejected the gospel doomed their children for generations to the consequences of their sins--living in abject unbelief devoid of the Word.
This state of spiritual poverty by the forefathers of some is not an excuse for the church today to ignore the command to go and work in the fields. Each generation of Christians must once again face the challenge and reach out. Nonetheless, we must always remember: we sow, we reap, but God gives grace to people to accept or reject the gospel. We do not force conversion. The people of God cannot be called failures if God has caused many in the world to harden their hearts. We carry the gospel of peace between God and man, but the Holy Spirit is the one who convicts.
Success or failure of the harvest is not measured in numbers of conversions, for God controls that. Success of the church is a God-ordained outcome since we know the gates of Hell will never (never) overcome it. Success or failure of the individual Christian is measured only within the individual Christian heart as he or she evaluates their deeds and obedience in the quiet meditation of Godís Word. The 1st century church was true to its mission, and the gates of Hell have never overpowered the church since. May God receive the glory for His preserving hand and for His prophetic utterances through Christ.
The Church Responds to Postmodernism
Given that many misunderstand the mission and the role of the church, they assume it has in some way failed Christ throughout its entire 2000 year history. In order to correct this perceived failure, or to prevent a future possible failure, many church planners today have built a new approach to worship, leadership, and organizational structure. "New" is a relative term, of which Solomon states, "there is nothing new under the sun", but for now we will accept the word.
The goal of this new approach is:
Since Postmodern man is said to be less interested in intellectual pursuit and has turned inward seeking emotional fulfillment of self and has expressed a wariness about traditional religion, some have developed a non-threatening way to attract the attention of the unchurched. Once attracted via surroundings and "church services" that make the unsaved and unchurched feel comfortable and committed, the Postmodern person is encouraged to slowly become a part of this community.
Over time, the saved in the community will witness to the unsaved in small cell groups away from the larger services. The "church services" are not for the purpose of confronting sin and calling for salvation, and are intentionally emptied of harsh repentance-oriented rhetoric so as not to scare off the seeker. After continued exposure in the small groups, the person hopefully will receive Christ. Discipleship is achieved through similar small group interactions where true Bible study and genuine exposition are designed to occur.
The key to attracting the person who is seeking emotional fulfillment is to provide the non-threatening community atmosphere described above. Postmodern man does not trust traditional and historical Christianity, the Bible, messages about sin and condemnation, or anything that appears argumentative. Therefore, the most obvious commonality the community can attain with the unsaved is the pursuit of emotional fulfillment. By constructing a type of church service around the perceived need of the unsaved who is a seeker of emotional fulfillment, the church becomes "seeker sensitive".
The church service then is adapted to provide all attendees an emotionally uplifting experience that sends everyone away feeling positive and energized. This weekly infusion of good emotions will bring the seeker back week after week, allowing them to become committed to the community. At its core then, the secret of the seeker-sensitive church service is the powerful emotional thrust which makes all attendees feel good enough to want to return every week.
Exploring the "Man Has Changed" Assumption
Over the entire recorded history of man, more than 4500 years worth of recorded history, manís technology has changed and advanced. His ability to travel farther and communicate large volumes of information over tremendous distances has vastly improved. However, does this mean that man has changed? Has his inner desires changed, has his nature changed?
Throughout the ages very few cultures have ever been truly similar. The Jewish nation was hated from the time its blood line began which made its culture develop in relative isolation, a kind of cast-off culture from the rest of the world. Go back even farther in human history to the first murder. Cain hated Abel because his culture of offering animal sacrifices was approved by God instead of Cainís culture of offering sacrifices of crops. Culture has waged war against culture age after age due to distrust, racial animosity, and religious differences. And yet, in all this diversity over the centuries, has manís inner desires changed, has his root nature changed?
In the garden of Eden, Eve sinned because of the lust of her eyes and her desires to be like God, knowing the mysteries of good and evil. Adam sinned for similar reasons, though it is arguable that he had also sinned in part to ensure parity with Eve in all that had changed within her, and would soon happen to her; for after all, she was his emotional soul mate.
Man, from this unhappy beginning has been self-focused, literally hell bound to obtain emotional fulfillment. The Bible records that in every age man has been self-absorbed, self-centered, seeking his own pleasures. Astonishingly enough, Postmodernism describes man in precisely these same terms.
Recall that Ross Rhodes used twelve characteristics to describe the psychological and spiritual make-up of the Postmodern man. We will list these twelve characteristics and compare them to the way in which God describes man throughout the ages, from antiquity to the present day. If there is a match, then we may safely conclude that man has not changed in spite of his technological advances and his cultural swings.
Characteristics of Postmodern Man
God Assesses Man throughout the Ages
Iím looking for a truth that works for me.
"All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way. But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him." (Isaiah 53:6)
I can only try to see life from my own perspective; reality is too complex to understand it all.
"that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal" [narrow, shortsighted focus] (Hebrews 12:16)
Iím interested in the values of my group and my community.
"Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food." (Acts 6:1)
I believe in being tolerant.
"For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully." 2Corinthians 11:4)
I believe in letting others live like they want to.
"Where there is no vision [of discipline], the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law." (Proverbs 19:18)
I donít like it when people argue about how their group or beliefs are better.
"I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service, and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray, so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols." (Revelation 2:19,20)
I want practical answers to life. Iím not drawn to idealistic schemes.
"For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe." (1Corinthians 1:21)
I am suspicious of schemes that try to explain everything or give simplistic answers to complex questions.
"There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God." (Romans 3:11)
When people talk to me about these schemes I think of it as "noise" to be ignored.
"Therefore the law is ignored and justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore, justice comes out perverted." (Habukkuk 1:4)
I like to have a group of close friends with which I share common values.
"And if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them." (Luke 6:32)
I donít like institutional religion.
"A scoffer seeks wisdom, and finds none, but knowledge is easy to him who has understanding." (Proverbs 14:6)
I do have a vague desire for non-institutional spirituality. But I donít know how to find it.
"But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised." (1Corinthians 2:14)
Man has not changed, though his multitudes of cultures have. Scripture describes man as being just as selfish, short sighted, and inward focused 4000 years ago and 2000 years ago as Postmodernism describes man as being today. The remedy for manís lust has not changed over the ages, though his technology has. The assumption that the gospel is too frightening for contemporary man is simply baseless in historical and biblical fact. Postmodernism may label man as selfish, seeking emotional fulfillment, but the Bible documented that condition throughout the entire history of mankind. In all those ages, the Word of God has not accommodated manís cultures, fears, or desires, rather, the Word of God has required that man change his culture, his fears, and his desires in order to please God (Titus 1:12-14).
The church on Earth has not failed its mission to sow and reap. Nor has manís basic nature changed in substance following the first sins of the first humans. The reader of this article has the same inner desires and selfish motivations as that of his distant ancestors, Adam and Eve. Manís innermost goals and aspirations remain consistent from age to age. His sin problem remains unchanged throughout all history. And the remedy remains the same as it always has.
To use either assumption, that the Church has failed or that man has evolved, as the platform on which to change the message of the corporate worship service is a weak and flawed rationale. On the other hand, language changes, technology advances, and cultural norms oscillate. We do live in this world. We do use language and technology. It is required that the church understand the times in which it lives, using the language of the day so that people can understand the message. We cannot force them to agree with the gospel, but we had best be certain we communicate in a clear and distinct manner (1Corinthians 14:7).
Exploring the Assumption that Worship Style and Worship Content are Unregulated
Given that the church is obligated to operate as part of this world while being morally distinct from it, what are the implications for the church service? Should we worship in tents (tabernacles) as the ancient Hebrews did? Should we build staggering temples or cathedrals as they did several hundreds of years ago? And how should we function so as to be most winsome to the unchurched Postmodern man?
There are some things about the church service that must accommodate cultural changes. Along with architectural conformity due to pragmatic concerns about population mobility and finances, our language must too be contemporary with our peers. If they do not understand our very words, how will they hear the gospel; and if they do not hear, how will they believe (Romans 10:14,15)?
What then of the church service itself? The seeker-sensitive assumption made at the top of this article was: since the New Testament is relatively silent on the style of worship to be used in corporate services, it gives us liberty to change the style, the content, and the purpose of corporate worship. That assumption represents a common mistake.
It is true enough that style of worship should be of little or no concern to the Christian. What is not legislated in the Scriptures is not used to judge the church (Romans 4:15). On the other hand, principles of worship are given to us that must be observed. It is when they bypass these principles of worship that some seeker-sensitive churches may misstep a bit.
Style is not the same thing as content. To use a tired but highly illustrative example: whether one sings a telegram or reads it, the content is the same, just the style of delivery has changed. Changing the style may enhance or detract from the content, but the content of the message remains unchanged.
Now, should one decide that the message of the telegram is perhaps too morose, he may decide to remove the last line which informs the intended recipient that a loved one has passed away. Now when the telegram is presented, via song or a simple reading, the content has been altered. The recipient is happy, but grossly uninformed. Style becomes meaningless because the content has been gutted and the telegram is utterly pointless. It is for this reason that communications companies are bound under principles of law not to tamper with the content of messages. The style in which they deliver messages is up to them, but the content must be left in tact.
And so it is with corporate worship. The style is left up to the worshippers, but the principles governing the message and content are binding on all generations. What do we mean by "principles governing the message and content"?
Corporate worship is fairly well defined in the New Testament. Not the order of events of the services, not the tempo of the music, not the color scheme of the meeting rooms, not the language used to deliver the message, not even the type of food served at the communion meals. Those things are all styles left to the worshippers to decide and implement.
A partial list of the principles of corporate worship that can be found in the New Testament follows. Violating, or ignoring such principles, would surely make us guilty of sin.
Needless to say, there are many more such principles of corporate worship in the New Testament that are not included above. Many Christians today object to and dismiss one or several of the above principles with statements such as "but that was the culture in Jerusalem and it does not apply to us today." Such objections are rather unceremoniously refuted and then dismissed by the apostle Paul.
When Paul presented very detailed instructions concerning how women must have their heads covered to pray aloud, he made the following comprehensive statement.
Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. Ö But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her headÖBut if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God. But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. (1Corinthians 11:1-3, 5a, 16,17)
Are the principles of head covering truly "cultural" tradition? Paul said that he personally delivered these traditions and instructions to the church and that these traditions did not develop in the culture of the local community. Paul also said that anyone who is inclined to disagree had better be on notice that no church anywhere in the world departs from this practice. That means the practice is not based in a specific culture anywhere in the world; not in the Greek culture, not in the Jewish culture, not in the Roman culture. The practice was trans-cultural, and since the New Testament was never recalled, the practice also transcends history. Finally, Paul tells the church that he is upset that they are being disobedient to the instructions. It was an obligatory practice, worthy of an apostleís rebuke when violated. Cultural practices are liberties and Paul forbids rebuking anyone on the basis of using their liberties. Paul did rebuke the Corinthians for brushing aside his principles of head coverings--rebukes are reserved for sins, not cultural liberties.
This article is not intended to take on the "head covering debate". The point of citing this passage is to illustrate that if something so apparently minor as the principle of the use of physical head coverings was not to be taken culturally, then we can safely assume that none of the principles of New Testament corporate worship are to be changed merely to appease culture. Culture may not cancel out the biblically mandated content and required practices of corporate worship.
"Authentic" Corporate Worship
Worship is to be verbally edifying, using the scriptures to instruct, refute, rebuke, and encourage. Seeker-sensitive churches tend not to want to threaten the unsaved so they may decide to withhold certain passages of Scripture that discuss sin and eternal damnation. Of course, abandoning the use of the word "sin" in the church service makes it hard to show someone they are a sinner who needs to be saved--indeed, saved from what? Salvation is being saved from the guilt of oneís sins. Sins can only be explained in the context of biblical edict.
Genuine corporate worship involves equipping the saints through instruction from the Word. It also involves calling the sinner to public repentance. How is this accomplished? We saw that 1Corinthians 14 commands us to speak out against the secret sins the unsaved man hides in his heart. It also is accomplished by causing the sinner great sorrow, the kind of deep sorrow that leads to repentance (2Corinthians 7:8-10). Again, this is done by showing the desperate chasm that exists between manís behavior and Godís expectations of holiness. And this is done in corporate worship (1Corinthians 14:24-26).
Is this terrifying to the sinner, the unsaved seeker of emotional fulfillment? Absolutely. Does it cause his self-esteem to flounder? Correct. Can it cause him to be deeply and emotionally disturbed. Of course. Why? Because men must come to understand they are guilty and are standing before a God of justice, now, today. If they do not understand their guilt, they will not understand their need to be saved from the sin that causes that guilt. Spare these seekers the horror of knowing about their coming judgement, and you spoil their opportunity for turning to God for salvation.
A conflict becomes evident between Godís requirements and some seeker-sensitive churches. The Bible speaks more often about corporate worship consisting of verbal edification than it does about "positive emotions" (1Corinthians 14). Corporate worship is all about the overseer (pastor) using the Bible to teach, exhort in sound doctrine, and to refute those who contradict the Word (Titus 1:9). In fact, pastors are commanded to publicly reprove, rebuke, exhort, and instruct using the entire Bible, all the Scriptures in the corporate worship service (2Timothy 3:16-4:3). No part of Scripture is to be consciously and consistently put aside on the grounds that it might generate negative feelings.
Therefore, authentic corporate worship is when the church uses the music style of its choice, in the buildings it finds best suited to this activity, at a time of day the worshippers choose, putting the sequence of activities into an order they find most appropriate, for the purpose of implementing the principles of New Testament worship described in the Bible. This includes equipping the saints, rebuking sin, refuting doctrinal error, causing sinners to have sorrow, and above all else, being verbally edifying so that all may be instructed more perfectly in the way of righteousness.
The Fallacy of Primacy of Emotions in Worship
Since the New Testament most often characterizes corporate worship as a time of doctrinal instruction, calling sinners to repentance, and the reading of Godís Word, how does the church find adequate arguments to change corporate worship from a time focused on expository teaching to a time focused on building emotional well-being? It is well understood that the unsaved Postmodern man craves emotional fulfillment, but how does that become the priority of the believerís worship services?
One mechanism adopted by a number of contemporary pastors to move their corporate worship from biblical instruction-based services to emotion-based services was by finding and embracing a new doctrine that endorses emotionalism as being a spiritual pursuit. This new doctrine eases the transition from teaching-centered worship to emotion-centered worship by asserting that emotions are of higher spiritual value to the worshipper than is expository instruction. Expository instruction is not banned by such a doctrine, but it is put into second place in spiritual priority, in other words, it is made little in comparison to emotions; "belittled".
This may help explain in part the rapid rise of the doctrine introduced in the 1980ís popularly known as "Christian Hedonism". While seeming to be an oxymoron, this term is used in part to describe the pursuit of oneís immediate emotional gratification (emotional "feasting") as the goal of a corporate worship service. The doctrine of Christian Hedonism places a higher premium on emotional satisfaction in worship than it does on acts of teaching and edification. It achieves granting this lofty status on emotions by stating that emotional satisfaction within the individual is the only means by which one may experience "authentic worship". Worship for any other reason is said to "belittle God and worship."
Editorial Note: Emotions, like all the God-created attributes of man, are good. Joy, as one such emotion, is also a fruit of the Holy Spirit. The use of emotions, and of joy, in worship such as singing joyfully and giving cheerfully, are good and positive aspects of corporate worship. We are not in this article espousing emotionless worship, rather, we are pointing out that the New Testament relegated emotions (joy, sorrow, fear) to a more minor role in worship. The driving purpose of worship is verbal edification and equipping, not emotional gratification.
"Authentic worship" is a term often used in seeker-sensitive churches. Regrettably, this expression and the definition given it by Christian Hedonism is not founded on solid biblical exegesis. Worse, it assumes that those who are not following seeker-sensitivity and/or Christian Hedonism are not conducting "authentic worship" services. This belies a certain amount of elitist attitude that seems to be evident on the web sites of many of the larger seeker-sensitive churches.
Aside from attitude, one must fully appreciate the term "authentic worship" if it is used in reference to a "seeker-sensitive worship service". Seekers by definition are unsaved. The unsaved are incapable of the worship of God, much less something called "authentic worship". Their only hope of benefit from a worship service is to see the men of God proclaim aloud the sinfulness of their heart so that they might become "convicted by allÖcalled to account by allÖand fall on his face and worship God" (1Corinthians 14:24,25).
The unsaved do not and cannot worship until they fall under conviction from being told their hearts are filled with evil. In something of an ironic twist, the Scriptures describe a genuine seeker-sensitive worship service as one in which every believer present in some way verbally calls attention to the unsaved that he is a sinner and needs to be convicted and repent of his sin. This approach, described by Paul in 1Corinthians 14:25, to addressing seekers seems strangely out of touch with the emotionally positive (happy) content of the messages adopted by some contemporary seeker-sensitive churches.
As emotionally-charged seeker-sensitive churches grow larger, they win the label "mega churches". It is by no means clear that this label was ever sought or desired by the original seeker-sensitive churches. Nonetheless, this does appear to be the trend today. And as these churches grow larger, they carry with them the critical mass to establish the "community" atmosphere that makes them attractive as hubs of activity to the unchurched that live around them.
Positive and Negative Aspects of Seeker-Sensitivity
All this begs the question, "Is the seeker-sensitive church that works to attract the unsaved Postmodern man into its community a good approach or a bad approach to reaching the lost for Christ?" This is a very complex question, so we will deal with only a few aspects in this opinion article.
Preaching the Gospel - Positive
Christ said, "For he who is not against us is for us. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward" (Mark 9:40,41). In so far as the seeker-sensitive mega churches are for Christ, they are not against us or Him. In so much as they offer the gospel to the unsaved, they are for Christ. And did not Paul say that those who preach the truth of the gospel, even if they do it out of evil motives, still proclaim and further the cause of Christ (Philippians 1:18)?
As Christ is proclaimed, let us rejoice in the same way that Paul was able to rejoice. That believers are spreading the gospel must be considered a positive aspect of this movement.
Lack of Will to Contend for Good Doctrine - Negative
More on the alarming side of the equation is the lack of references to be found in the on-line statements of faith of many seeker-sensitive churches concerning "contending for the faith" against those who bring in unscriptural doctrines (Jude 1:3,4). Discernment, being alert for the wolves, protecting the flock from fables, are all actions the Bible highly commends to all believers as good deeds and ministries that we are to practice in service to one another within the church body. But doctrinal contending and discernment seem to have disappeared, replaced by statements about the need for cross-denominational unity and discarding disagreements on "secondary" doctrines.
This focus on "unity around the essentials and liberty around the secondary issues" is another of the less positive impacts of the seeker-sensitive movement. On numerous web sites and in many seeker-sensitive commentaries the idea that there are essentials (fundamentals) of the Word that we can all embrace while there are these other "secondary" doctrines of the Word that are discardable seems quite well disputed by the Scriptures. The Bible teaches that all Scriptures, and therefore all doctrine, is profitable for instruction, refuting errors, rebuking sinners, and for teaching the way righteousness (2Timothy 3:16-4:4).
Exactly what are the "fundamental" doctrines that unite believers? Surely salvation is one. But, is that salvation by faith alone? Salvation by election? Is baptism a fundamental or a secondary doctrine? Would that be baptism by immersion or by sprinkling? Is baptism optional or did Jesus command us to baptize all believers? Of course we know that Jesus claims all his disciples will be baptized (Matthew 28:19), so is it really a "secondary" and therefore optional doctrine? Is communion an essential doctrine or a secondary doctrine? Did Christ command us to observe communion or did He call it optional? Is Church Discipline an essential doctrine or optional? Is the Second Coming of Christ a fundamental doctrine or secondary?
Who decides what Bible doctrines are essential and which ones are disposable? Would Christ agree? Did Christ call remarriage after a divorce "adultery" or did He say it was too divisive an issue to discuss? Did Jesus call the Pharisees "sons of Hell" because they taught their own writings in place of true Scripture or because they would not embrace unity?
Culture may never undermine or render obsolete biblical doctrine. And yet we find an example of one seeker-sensitive church that all but boasts that they changed their name from "Baptist" to "Community" based on a market research study (the local area residents did not like the name "Baptist"). Not quite as prominently discussed however is the fact that they also changed their doctrine away from the requirement that all believers and all members be baptized, to, baptism being optional for the believer and optional for membership. In other words, the church did more than merely change their name, they changed their core doctrines and abandoned their Baptist beliefs. Herein lies the greatest danger to the seeker-sensitive church, the ability of the culture to change the doctrine of the church.
This emphasis on unity around fundamental doctrines only and the lack of desire to contend for the faith regarding secondary doctrines (e.g. baptism, church discipline, communion) is a decidedly negative aspect to the seeker-sensitive movement.
Unsaved Church Membership ("numbered with the believers") - Negative
Another question that might be impossible to answer, but is worth asking: how many unsaved should be permitted to join the church roster? We know the Bible says that the way to salvation is narrow and only a few find it (Matthew 7:14). By this we know that every large church will have some unsaved attendees and therefore members. But is membership by an unsaved and unbelieving individual appropriate or inappropriate? Should unsaved members be purposely and knowingly enrolled? If so, how many? Should the passages that describe only those who believed as being "added to the number" be rejected as cultural and not a principle (Acts 5:14)?
Should unbelievers be permitted to teach childrenís church? What other offices or positions should the unsaved members be permitted to hold in the church? The size of any church, of course, is not the relevant question, for we know the Jerusalem church had thousands. And yet, were these "members" not all believers (Acts 2:41, 4:4)?
Indistinct definitions that do not discriminate between believers as members and unbelievers as outside of membership do a disservice to the role of the church, the role of the teachers in the church, and to the ability of the church to perform "church discipline". Not understanding the difference between believers and unbelievers regarding church membership is a negative aspect of some seeker-sensitive organizations.
Seeker-sensitivity is a thought provoking topic to be certain. We know that the primary purpose of having gifted men in the church is to equip the saints for the work of service. The primary purpose of the corporate worship service is to verbally edify (teach) one another and, Scripturally speaking, is not given to hedonistic emotionalism. We know that music in the church is to be spiritual in nature for the purpose of edification (instruction). Further we learned that the unsaved were called to conviction of sin by having the speakers in the church call attention to the sins of their hearts during the corporate worship service. We also saw that the scriptures command us to be doctrinally discerning and to be on constant guard against false teachings.
When the seeker-sensitive movement choose creative meeting times, diverse music styles, comfortable buildings in which to meet, and culturally appealing decorative schemes all for the purpose of presenting the gospel effectively, they are conducting themselves in a manner that is above criticism. We rejoice that the gospel goes out through those who have a passion for telling the whole truth about Christ and the salvation He brings through His redemptive work on the cross.
Regrettably, much of what the seek-sensitive churches hold as tenets of their faith cannot be supported by, and often contradicts, Scripture. Worship is not meant to make the unsaved feel emotionally good about themselves, it is meant to call them to repent. Doctrine is not to be based on community opinion, it is to be founded on the changeless Word of God. Scriptural unity instructs us to convert the teachers of bad doctrine so that they will "come to their senses" and adopt sound doctrine and conform to the Bible so as to be like-minded with those who teach the truth (2Timothy 2:15-3:7).
The assumptions that prop up the motives of many who would convert from an equipping-focused worship service to an emotionally-focused seeker service have been found lacking.
Is the seeker-sensitive movement a good or bad approach to evangelism? Each Christian will need to decide for themselves, using the full counsel of Godís Word and relying on Godís promise to grant discernment when we cry for it (Proverbs 2:1-7).
If we cultivate faithfulness toward God,
And if we do good,
And if we trust in the Lord,
And if we delight in Him,
Then He will give us the desires of our heart (which are desires of righteousness)
And He will also give us discernment as enlightened and penetrating as the noon sun.
(Psalm 37:4-6 paraphrased)
Through discernment, we will make wise choices. And let us keep in mind the words of Scripture when it tell us that it is not the style of our corporate worship that will draw all men to Christ, it is telling them of the sacrifice He made to take away our sin and guilt (John 12:32). The gospel itself, the Christ who is the Word, draws all men to Himself.