Friday, February 06, 2009

My position on the Seeker Sensitive movement

If you've read my blog for very long at all you know that I'm not all that concerned with being "relevant" or "seeker sensitive" at least in the way that most churches and pastor's are today. That being said I am very passionate about outreach and seeing new people come to know Christ and attend church. My problem with being "relevant" is that most churches take it to the extreme and the Gospel is sacrificed on the altar of church growth (I'm afraid that many pastors are worshiping the god of church growth!). I am less concerned about my church being appealing to the sinner so that sinners will come and I am more concerned about my church's services being pleasing to God as we worship Him (this is what our gathering as believers should be all about). I think that church (as a service) is more for the Christian than the sinner. This doesn't mean that the sinner is not welcomed, encouraged to attend, etc. This doesn't mean that I don't preach salvation messages on Sundays - in fact I probably preach more on this than anything else. The fact of the matter is that currently most of the people that attend my church on Sunday's are not Christians. However, when we gather on Sunday's our focus should be on worshiping the Lord in the beauty of holiness - not in shaping the whole service around the felt needs of sinful man.

All that being said, I believe the Biblical evangelism occurs when the church as a body goes out to the world and evangelizes the lost. Most churches expect the world to come to them and I think we've got it all backwards. We've adopted the mentality that we can sit within our four walls and wait for the world to come to us. What has happened is that some churches and pastors, in their desire to reach the world (a good and proper desire), has come at evangelism with the wrong mindset. They think they've got to do whatever it takes to appeal to the sinner to entice them to come. So they become seeker sensitive-purpose driven and it works! The people do come (at least for awhile). Seriously, if your goal is just to grow a church it's not that hard. Get a good rock band, wear grungy clothes, play great videos, preach sex sermons, and be "cool" and your church will grow! I realize that I'm probably oversimplifying it a little bit, but not too much...

For many churches it has become all about marketing. I think that every church should attempt to look first class. I think their handouts, signs, ads, website, etc. should all be as good as possible. I appreciate guys like Allan Mowery and Jon Plank who produce first class design. I'll never be up to their caliber but one of my hobbies is website and graphic design. I have done my best to have a decent looking website for my church and I design all of our materials we handout so that we have something (hopefully!) nice to give to people. The first major project I undertook as the pastor of my church was to buy a nice lighted sign so that we could get rid of the wooden one with peeling paint that we had out in front of our church. We raised nearly $6,000 in order to purchase the sign and I believe it was a good investment. So, I believe that marketing your church well is something that you should do.

However, I'm afraid that many churches and pastors have moved away from real evangelism and going out and reaching the lost, and instead have turned to slick marketing and seeker sensitive methods to appeal to the world and compel them to come in to the church services. On the surface this may seem great. After all, don't we want people to come to church so that the church will be full? Of course. I wish my church was packed every Sunday. However, when the Gospel is sacrificed and truth is not preached there is something desperately wrong! When your church services are built around the felt needs of sinful man it will turn into the debacle that most modern church services are! Preachers are called to preach the truth without fear or favor of men! I don't care one bit about being seeker sensitive if it means that the Truth is not preached. The Truth must be preached even if it offends! There are many times when I feel that God wants me to preach on certain things and it's not always easy when I know there are people in my congregation who are guilty of those sins. However, I will be held accountable on the Day of Judgment and I don't want to stand guilty before God for failing to preach the Truth - I don't want anyone to be able to accuse me of not telling them the truth about their sins. Right now it may not always make me popular, but in the end it will be right!

I want to recommend a great book that you may have already read but we all ought to read over again every once in a while - "Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire" by Jim Cymbala. Especially chapter 8 - "The Lure of Marketing." In chapter 8 Cymbala talks about the new holy trinity of the church - the A-B-C's: Attendance, Buildings, and Cash.

In this chapter Cymbala writes,
Nowhere in the epistles do we find Paul saying, "I hear your attendance was down last quarter - what's the problem? What are you going to do about it?"

This leads me to say that no church, including the one I pastor, should be measured by its attendance. Although I am thankful for the crowds of people who come to the Brooklyn Tabernacle every week, that is not the sign of God's grace.
Cymbala continues to point out that what did matter to the book-of-Acts church was things like speaking the Word with boldness and being boldly confrontational trusting the Spirit to produce conviction necessary for conversion. He points out Peter's preaching on the Day of Pentecost where he said, "You, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross." (Acts 2:23)) Cymbala writes, "This was the last thing the crowd wanted to hear. If David Letterman had a Top Ten list of things not to say to a Jewish audience, number one would be "Guess what - with your own hands you just killed the Messiah, the one Israel has been expecting for centuries."

Cymbala continues, "But Peter's boldness did not drive the people away. Instead, it stabbed their consciences. By the end of the day a huge group had repented of their sin and been converted." He points out several other examples of things which the Apostles said and preached which I would term as being "non seeker-sensitive."

Again I quote Cymbala:
The apostles realized that without a bold, aggressive attitude in proclaiming God's Word, they would not build the church Jesus intended. Any church in any city of the world must come to the same conclusion.

The apostles weren't trying to finesse people. Their communication was not supposed to be "cool" or soothing. They aimed for a piercing of the heart, for conviction of sin. They had not the faintest intention of asking, "What do people want to hear? How can we draw more people to church on Sunday? That was the last thing in their minds. Such an approach would have been foreign to the whole New Testament.

Instead of trying to bring men and women to Christ in the biblical way, we are consumed with the unbiblical concept of "church growth." The Bible does not say we should aim at numbers but rather urges us faithfully to proclaim God's message in the boldness of the Holy Spirit. This will build God's church God's way.
There is much more in this great chapter in this great book. So, I encourage you to go buy it if you don't already have it. If you do, maybe you should reread it.

Let me summarize this long post by saying that it is my desire to reach a lost and dying world! I want to see the Kingdom of God built and see men and women, boy and girls, come to know Christ. For this to happen it will take sound Biblical preaching: preaching on sin, righteousness and the judgment. Preaching that has no fear or favor of men and that will boldly proclaim, "Thus sayeth the Lord!" Christ deserves the reward of His suffering!

I close this loooong post with one more quote from "Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire":
Spiritual "construction" that uses wood, hay, and straw comes easy - little work, little seeking, no travail, no birthing. You just slap it up and it will look adequate - for a while. But if you want to build something that will endure on Judgment Day, the work is much more costly.

On that day it won't matter what your fellow Christians thought of you. It won't matter what the marketing experts advised. You and I will stand before the One whose eyes are "like fire." We won't soften Him up by telling Him how brilliant our strategy was. We will face His searing gaze.

He will only ask whether we were boldly faithful to His Word.


  1. Jon, some good thoughts. I agree that there can be such a thing as empty marketing and cool gimmicks that contain the form and not the power. I really like Jim Cymbala's thoughts as you mentioned in this post, and may even incorporate some of that in my Sunday morning message.

    I do have a few concerns, though, about some web sites and places on the Internet that seem to be not much more than negative attack ads against other pastors. I hear loud and clear what they are against, but what are they for? I appreciate this post for mixing the positive with negative. But is it profitable for those people to make up a video criticizing some other pastor?

    Also, while there are the noteworthy things that I disagree with about seeker sensitive churches, yet I think there are lessons and valuable insights we can learn about SOME aspects of their work that we can apply to our ministries.
    For instance, Craig Groeschel has a sermon series on "Practical Atheism" that I've copied the title and applied to my own sermon series. (The title...not the whole sermon!):-)
    All too often we take the either/or approach when in reality it's a both/and.
    It's fresh thinking WITH the power of the Spirit, it's creativity COMING from a heart that's been seeking Him in prayer.

    What if while pointing out the faults of the seeker-sensitive movement (and there are some to be sure)...what if...while we did that to them, we carefully heard out their criticisms about us?

    Also, Rick Warren's inconsistencies, Joel Osteen's faults, and others' problems won't lesson one iota my personal accountability before God someday as I stand before Him and give account of my life (and I'm sure you would agree too).

    I appreciate your stand, Jon...and I am proud to be identified with the CHM, it's just that.. may all of us humbly acknowledge where we have fallen short and may we be our own fiercest a constructive way.

    AHHH!!! A book I just did done write!

  2. Hey Joel, I appreciate your comments. Sometimes it's easier to show what your against than what you're for - especially when the tide is going so strongly in the wrong direction. I guess at times I see things leaning so strongly in the wrong direction that I'm inclined to protest loudly about those things and not proclaim loudly enough what I'm for.

    You're certainly right about the fact that there are some noteworthy things to to be gained from some of the seeker sensitive pastors. You mentioned Craig Groeschel as having had some good stuff. I currently am wanting to purchase a couple of Mark Batterson's books - mostly because I think "In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day" has to be about the coolest title for a book ever...

    Anyways, I appreciate your input and I have been trying to somewhat change the content of my blog because I fear that I have come across more negative at times than I've intended. Sometimes I've intended for things to be a little light-hearted while at the same time making people think, and I'm afraid I may have at times just appeared negative...

    Those who know me best know that I tend to have a pretty sarcastic sense of humor - I'm not sure how well sarcasm comes through over the internet though...

    Anyways, this is why I wrote out this long post about my position on the Seeker Sensitive movement because I've often criticized it, but I don't guess I had really ever fully explained why.

    In our movement I see a trend towards the seeker sensitive movement. As usual we are just several years behind the rest of the church world, and so I am concerned about the direction we are headed in some areas. My point in posting some of the things that I have has been to bring an awareness of some of the garbage that's going on out there and to loudly say that we don't need to go that way! Often all we hear and concentrate on is how they're bringing in so many people to church, while many of our churches are growing like a bar of soap. So, what's the natural tendency for guys who want to see something happen in their churches? To jump over to the other side of the fence where things look so green. However, what looks green on the other side of the fence isn't as green as people think and in fact it's leading totally in the wrong direction.

    My goal is to see truth preached and help people understand that the church is to go out - not the world come in!

    Does any of this make sense?

    Again, thanks for your comments!

    You are very right that we have fallen short in many areas - and I myself am the least deserving to be called one of God's servants!

  3. Hey, good response, Jon...just don't get rid of too much of your humor. I can't stand boring blogs! :-)

  4. great posting!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! both of you!!! firmly agree!!!!

  5. Well....thanks for brief nod there in your post. Trying to score brownie points are we? LOL! ;-)

    When you put it like that (in your post and comments), I can see more where you are coming, and I can actually agree with you on several points.

    But my thoughts echo more what Joel was saying about a "both / and" approach as opposed to "either / or." I don't swallow everything that the seeker-sensitive movement promotes or practices, but nor do I swallow everything a small "Hellfire and brimstone" church has to say either. (Maybe that's my problem....I don't swallow anything anybody says....)

    I can see your points, whether I agree with all of them or not, and I'm glad that you hold what I believe to be the message of the Great GO OUT and preach the Gospel. And I also believe that the church (as a unit in Christ and as a physical location) should be a welcoming place for sinners....without watering down the Gospel, of course.

    Let me use an illustration.... (Man, I think I missed my calling.) There was a woman in the church where I grew up who's husband was an alcoholic for over 40 years. My dad (who was the adult Sunday school teacher and song leader) had befriended him and was working towards bringing him to Christ. My dad was talking to him one time about finally coming to church, and "Joe" made the excuse that everyone who goes to church gets all dressed up and looking good, and he didn't want to be dress up or feel uncomfortable or out of place by coming "dressed-down." My dad looked at him and said, "If it would make you feel more comfortable, then I will wear bluejeans to teach Sunday school and lead singing." And he was serious.

    My reason in saying all of that is to make the point that you can make sinners feel welcomed and loved without throwing Christ out the window to do so. If they make the excuse that everyone gets all dressed up, then take that excuse away from them by wearing jeans and a t-shirt to preach. If the old hymns don't really connect with them (and I love a number of hymns), then there is nothing wrong with branching out into other styles of music.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that there is nothing wrong with churches doing certain things (music, attire, etc.) either out of personal preference or to make sinners feel welcomed. Where I see the line being crossed is when the Gospel is sacrificed. Then again, I'm extremely liberal compared to how I was raised (the family's resident Black Sheep; but that's another story for another time).

    Wow.... Did any of that make sense? I felt like I was a blind man riding a carousel while taking a leak....I was definitely hitting something, just don't ask me what ;-)

  6. alen you made great sense I think... unless I misunderstood haha

    and I would have to agree and would only add to your comments about music. You are right, a variety might be good, but some styles of music take away from "true" worship of God and tend to feeling the music not admiration of God. You can play a tune a certain way and it will move you. You add decent to good words and it feels like its spiritual. But we must be sure to truly "magnify" God which measn to see Him as HE is. All Powerful, Almighty, All everything good and powerful and loving... Some music will have a tendency toward feeling of music or admiring the vocals of the warbler lol than of the power of God. I will not name genres and I like a lot of choruses, but a lot of Hymns have powerful messages that really speak of true admiration and magnification of God. But since we have sung them since we were kids its easy to not get it.. I still dont get a lot of them.. Being "all things to all people" is good until it compromises on what might be considered as principles of worship or sin.

    I cant' say I heard a disagreement to that but I wanted to preach some more its been a long time lololol Sorry Jon!!!!

  7. Interesting post, however you really painted with a broad brush. As a pastor of a church that is full of unchurched people week after week, I can tell you we don't all sacrifice the gospel or the word of God. Relaxed dress, different music, making people feel welcome? I guess we are guilty (?) of these things but just once I wish before people would write this kind of thing they would actually visit with a pastor like myself and visit a church like ours and then tell me we are watering down the message. In fact I will pay for your lodging and let you be our guest any weekend you want to come and see the hurting and bleeding people sitting with tears streaming down thier faces Sunday after Sunday as they hear and respond to the gospel. In our context, I don't think we get everything right because we are not perfect but our hearts our filled with perfect love for God and the mission He left the church to do. If that happens, when the church goes outside the walls as it should, we rejoice. If it happens within our walls we welcome the worst sinners. We don't condone thier sin and we plead with them to discover full surrender to God. We urge them to love God with all thier hearts, minds, souls and strength and thier neighobrs as themselves.

    I appreciate your passion and would love to dialogue with you outside of this format so feel free to do a little research besides finding extreme videos of guys doing ignorant things in church and then tagging all churches the same way. I post all my sermons on our website and we have podcasts. Hopefully I am a credit to my education at both Penn View and GBS. I gained much from both institutions and have never regretted a minute spent at either one. Thanks for your blogging. When you put things on the internet all kinds of people read them so hopefully you are not surprised to hear from someone "outside" the CHM. (I guess I am still pretty conservative in the oontext I am doing ministry in but not enough to count in the CHM.) Smile. By the way we never use the term seeker sensitive, in fact I haven't heard anyone use it in a long time anywhere. I think they are actually about to also give up on the term missional and move to something else now as well. :)

    Wes Humble

  8. Not my blog so I dont wanna rail roadut I wanna say that befroe you jump all over us/ me,make sure you know if we have or haven't been there. I got to a wesleyan church right now as I am in between churches and thats the best around here. They are more lax in dress than I would like and the standard of dress is way different from what I like, and the music is different from what I like in church. The pastor is a great young man who really preaches the Bible and it speaks to the hearts of people. I respect him!
    Obviosuly I am not against that... but I have not heard a call to salvation. Bible study is great and should be done as sermons. (Jon likes to do expository preaching so that fits)

    where it gets watered down is when the "holiness" in the Bible is spread out and explained away and not spoekn in total truth.. People get help in the church I ahve been attending. But do they really get the spiritual conviction that will truly change their lives in a manor that lasts? Can but is gonna be the exception to the rule. I personally couldnt' judge your church as I have never been there but I beleive thse principles. I accept that this Wesleyan church is a good church and I have felt God moving in the sermons, but the rest of it seems to be more of a "hype" and its more mild than some places I have seen.
    If your church doesnt' water it down then great!!!!! I sure hope to teach truth and teach it straight even when it hurts! people cry when touched, and often get quiet when convicted, and can get angry when faced with their own faults, even in a nice way....
    Truth is needed whether it makes one cry or makes them angry.

    Jesus made people angry....... and He did it in perfect love and in the perfect way.

  9. Pastor Wes,
    Thanks for commenting! I read your blog on a regular basis and it sounds like there's a lot of exciting things happening at your church! By the way, I've read many of your sermons online and have listened to some and I think you preach it straight.

    I guess I need to clear a couple of things up. If I've painted with too broad of a brush I apologize. I really don't think that not wearing a suit and tie and singing different music makes someone seeker sensitive!

    Allan also mentioned clothing and music and so I probably need to address this issue and my stand on them.

    On a typical Sunday morning I would guess that approximately half of my congregation is unsaved. Obviously I don't pastor a church nearly as large as yours, but when I began we averaged 15-20 and now run 60-70 people and I am very thankful for God's help.

    Most of the people I work with are pretty poor. The area I live is pretty economically depressed right now. Our town is approximately 76% African-American and God has helped in my outreach among this community (in fact I have a stronger outreach among the blacks than I do the whites). Because I work among such a poor community, and because many of the churches around are fashion shows on Sunday to show who's got the fanciest clothes, I often run into people who have a real hangup about not having anything to wear to church. My response is always that we don't care what they wear and that church is not about who's got the best clothes. Currently I still wear a suit and tie on Sunday's but I have debated dressing down a little bit because of this issue. Perhaps I could be called "seeker sensitive" because of this... ;-)

    Anyways, so I don't have a problem if people don't wear suit and ties on Sunday. I think it depends on who your congregation is etc.

    Musically I prefer hymns but I also enjoy praise chorus's and some modern songs. Frankly, in our movement we really don't sing many hymns anyways - even though we sing from a "hymn" book. Most of the songs are Gospel songs. I personally love hymns by Charles Wesley and wish we sang more of them!

    That being said, I don't have a problem if a church doesn't have a "song leader" like my church does. I don't like it when it's all about a group performing and having people sing along when they feel like it. But, I guess you could say that's personal preference.

    I am wary of how much the church is like the world today. In many seeker sensitive churches they are now mixing in the world's songs along with the Christian music. So now you can sing AC/DC's "Hell's Bell's" at your local church.

    To be honest, I don't think that the church has to use music that's 150 years old to be okay. At the same time, it does concern me with the direction things are heading. If the Christian's in the congregation want to sing more modern music, I don't have a problem with that. I do have a problem with a church doing what it does to appeal to the felt needs of a sinful world. I'm afraid that's a road that once you start going down it is a very dangerous one, and we are already seeing some of the fruit of this movement.

    I'll also throw this out there about music - I don't have a problem with new music I actually listen to a lot of CCM. However, I don't agree that music is amoral and that all music styles are okay...

    To summarize, I think that direction is very important. What direction is the seeker sensitive movement headed? Are the people in these churches really getting saved and their lives being changed? They can throw out great numbers of people who "accepted Christ," but poll after poll shows that most of these individuals are no different from the world around them. Sin and repentance are hardly mentioned at most of these churches.

    I am not ashamed to be part of the holiness movement. We are far from perfect. We've often made issues of things that should have never been issues...however, I do believe that God wants His people to be a holy people in the midst of a sinful world! May God help me and may God help my church! As Pastor's God has called us to be holy, as He as all men, and He has called us to preach the truth from His Word even if it's not popular - even when it's not seeker sensitive! ;-)

    Relaxed dress, different music, making people feel welcome...I don't have a problem with any of these. Let's just make sure that we're not sacrificing the Truth in the process!

  10. Pastor Wes,
    By the way, I'm looking to take a vacation some time this summer and your offer for free lodging just might come in handy - I'll be in touch! ;-)

    Actually I lived not too far from Newark for most of my life until I went off to school and then came down to Georgia. Often when I go home to see family we are in Newark. I really will have to stop by your church some time...

  11. Rueben,

    Keep commenting - it's nice to know your reading and it's also nice to have some backup! :-)

  12. Allen,
    I don't know what to say about you...the blind man on a carousel...all I can say is wow...! You really must be the black sheep in the family! J/K! :)

  13. Jon,

    Hopefully you didn't take any of this personally. Sounds like you understood it as just a little "push back" and not a reprimand.

    I do not and will not hold up our church as an example that others should follow. It is a place that feels very unsafe at times. What I mean by that is so many of the "rules" that others live by are not in place yet week after week we experience God's presence and people's lives are being changed. They don't change as quickly as I would like but then I think about Jesus being the ultimate pastor and spending three years with 12 men 24 hours a day 7 days a week and I see what kind of shape they were in just prior to the Crucifixon and take some encourgagement from the fact that they were still struggling to get it right.

    Being in the church I serve has been beyond anything I can even begin to understand. God continues to trust us with unchurched people as He is where you are. I think He trusts churches that will love lost people. I could care less about numbers and growth although my denomination awards such things. I am deeply concerned about making authentic disciples which I am finding takes patience that I sometimes don't have.

    I really do appreciate your blog and have enjoyed much of what you find to post. Keep it coming. Please feel free to stay in touch and know that for what it is worth I prayed for you and your church today.


  14. Pastor Wes,
    I guess if I can dish out criticism I had better be able to take a little every now and then! :) Actually I'm glad for your "push back" and others as well. Sometimes it's easy to see things one sided and not fully see others point of view so it helps to get feedback from someone who doesn't see things exactly the same way.

    Your point about Jesus being the ultimate Pastor was an encouragement to me. Sometimes I feel like I'm beating my head against a brick wall and not getting anywhere...I wonder if He ever felt (feels) that way? (He probably does when dealing with me!)

    I really do appreciate your prayers! There used to be a time when I didn't understand how important it was to know that people were praying for me - now there is nothing I appreciate more than to know that!

    Keep doing what your doing and reaching people for Christ! By the way, I've followed the work on the Firehouse on your blog and I think it looks like a great place!

  15. I pray that you have some great services this morning, Jon!

  16. And just one more comment.... This isn't meant to be a criticism of anybody but rather simply food for thought.

    Churches today, even conservative holiness churches, would be viewed as worldly, raving lunatics when compared to the church even 300 years ago, let alone when compared with the Early Church. The "old fashioned" hymns by such men as Charles Wesley were originally scorned as ungodly for being so radical and "contemporary." But when you truly examine church history from an honest, open-minded point of view it is clear to see that the Evangelical movement is nothing like the Early Church. I have heard so many people talk about "the old-fashioned way," but "old-fashioned" as compared to what? Their definition of old-fashioned only goes back 100-200, maybe 300 years. I believe that churches such as the Orthodox Church have a good grasp on the truly "old-fashioned way."

    Now, I'm not saying that the Orthodox Church has it all right and that the Evangelical movement has it all wrong, I'm just throwing out the proverbial "bone" as some food for thought. And no, I'm not a "heathen" Orthodox or Catholic, although.... :-)

    What I'm trying to get at is that churches such as the Orthodox will look at Evangelicals (even CHM-ers) and view them as having it all wrong, and the CHM (and others) will look at seeker-sensitive/modern churches and brand them as heretics, and vice versa. But each group swears they have it right! Does that mean one group has it all wrong and one group has it all right? I'm just glad that God is a far better judge than man.

    Actually, I think my point was that while groups such as the CHM will point fingers at megachurches and the modern church movement, they fail to realize that they have also evolved from what was once considered to be acceptable.

    There, I hope you got it :-)

  17. Allen: Your point is well made that the CHM sometimes sets the wrong standard of reference for the "true church".

    Wes: I like that thought of "push back" vs. "reprimand". Sometimes in the exchange and even clash of ideas it helps me to focus on what's really truth vs. what's my personal opinion.

    Jon: I admire your mixture of outreach and commitment to careful, holy living. Keep it up! Don't let anything I say discourage you, but may you and I and everyone be challenged to be a better Christian!