Over the last few generations of Evangelicalism a new philosophy of ministry has arisen called the ‘Seeker Sensitive Church.’ In my previous post I called out the Seeker Sensitive Church as one of the primary factors that has contributed to what I refer to as Fragile or Weak Christianity. In its best light, the Seeker Sensitive Church is a movement birthed out of an evangelistic desire. The idea is that the Church should be structured so as to remove as many hurdles as possible for non believers to participate on a Sunday morning. By removing some of the more classic barriers and by making a few simple modifications, the idea is that those who are far from Christ have a higher chance of joining a Church service and enjoying their morning. A Seeker Sensitive Church, in general, does not exist for the believer but for the unbeliever. And so they do all they can to appeal to the nonbeliever, to think like a nonbeliever, and to entertain like a nonbeliever in order to reach the nonbeliever. Here is a classic clip of one Seeker Sensitive Church leader compellingly saying just this.
Typical Seeker Sensitive churches prioritize the experience of the Sunday service. The worship bands select songs that speak themes of Scripture in the most emotionally careful way so as not to cause a non believer panic. The bands are often accompanied by powerful light shows that mimic modern concert venues. Events throughout the week are selected by their ability to draw a crowd. “Sermons” are given but very often follow a pattern of a well designed Ted Talk. The Pastor is careful not to preach too heavy on themes that might cause a non-believer discomfort: sin, the need of repentance, the reality of eternal damnation, salvation in Christ alone, or the idolatry of false religion. Rather, sermons are crafted using a hybrid of carefully selected Biblical texts with the most recent insights in Modern Leadership and secular therapeutic psychoanalysis.
In my description above I began by saying, “In its best light, the Seeker Sensitive Church is…” My wording was carefully selected. There are many other Seeker Sensitive “Churches” that have ceased to be a Church at all. In their worst light, these seeker sensitive institutions have abandoned the clear doctrines of Scripture altogether and adopted a form of Universalism and spend more time advocating Marxist or postmodern ideology than preaching the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I do believe that God has used some these Seeker Sensitive Churches powerfully over the years. Admittedly, many have come to Christ through these ministries. But that does not mean that they reflect God’s design for the Church. God very often uses crooked sticks to draw straight lines. I can say that in Chicago I know of quite a few folks who came to faith in Jesus at local Seeker Sensitive Churches but then transferred to the Church I lead when they realized their need to go grow deeper in their knowledge and love of Scripture.
I argue, along with the Historical Church, that this modern philosophy of seeker sensitivity is out of line with God’s design for the Church. The Sunday Gathering is not for the unbeliever, but for the believer. Back in 1872, the great Scottish theologian George Smeaton wrote an essay titled ‘The True Preacher.’ His first major point will helpfully serve as the basis for the remainder of this post.
Nothing more contributes to render the gospel unfruitful than a system of reserve in setting forth the grand distinctive doctrines of the gospel… This has begun to prevail to a large extent, and may be traced partly to a theological bias, partly to a desire to be on good terms with the spirit of the ageGeorge Smeaton’s essay titled ‘The True Preacher’
The Church must not have a “system of reserve” in its preaching or its weekly activities. We must not cater to the Spirit of the Age. We must preach Christ crucified in all of its blood and clarity. The Apostle Paul says, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).” In that verse Paul lays out with clarity that when it comes to the preaching of the Word of God we must not cater to the desires of the secular world around us, rather we are to preach “Christ crucified.” This is where the power of the Church lies, in the clear and Holy Spirit filled preaching of the truth. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).”
A true preacher is consumed with God’s Word, immersed in the Doctrines of God, and well acquainted with the fallen condition. He is deeply aware that no Ted Talk, no matter how emotionally-compelling or therapeutically-relieving, is able to save a soul from eternal damnation. On a Sunday morning, he is well aware that God will have drawn any number of nonbelievers into the room on that day. The Apostle Paul says as much, “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1 Corinthians 14:24-25)” Paul’s point, while giving advice on the proper use of the Gift of Prophecy, is also about the power of the true unadulterated Word of God to pierce the heart of an unbeliever and cause them to fall on their knees in worship. We do not hold back the truth of the gospel for fear of offending the nonbeliever. No! The Gospel is offensive. The actual aim of preaching is to both offend and then to heal by the grace of the gospel.
What happens on a Sunday morning is therefore fully aimed at the Believer. It is an insider-conversation of sorts, in which any non-believer who joins is permitted to listen in and hear the truth of the Gospel. We do not appeal to the unbeliever’s senses, rather we demonstrate with clarity the truth of Scripture and invite the nonbeliever to see and feel God on His terms. This is a far more powerful experience. When we flip this order by playing the game of Seeker Sensitivity, and do all we can to cater to the Spirit of the Age, we position ourselves as Jesus’ buffer. We play the impossible game of trying to make Jesus as palatable as possible to secular ears and end up speaking an entirely different gospel, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6-7).” Further, in so doing we rob ourselves of the one thing we have that is able to sanctify believers and regenerate unbelievers, the Word of God.
The Church needs to regain an absolute certainty about its message. We need our songs, our preaching, our Bible Studies, to unashamedly stand upon the truth of God’s Word. And we must stand on these truths even when it is costly. The reality is that the foolish ideas of secular culture around us are positioning themselves for catastrophe. Like an ill fated house of cards, secular culture cannot sustain the trajectory it is on. The postmodern values of “my truth” and “your truth,” combined with the culturally Marxist values of the destruction of the nuclear family and , is creating an impossible anti-intellectual culture of hatred, of division, of depression, and danger. Now more than ever, the Church must stand unwaveringly on the immutable promises of the Gospel. Now more than ever we need clarity, and the power of God’s Word preached with the accompanying power of the Holy Spirit to convict hearts. Now more than ever we must preach on the doctrines of sin and salvation in Christ alone. And on top of all of this, now more than ever Christians must lead the culture in sacrificial love and service towards one another.
“Our Christian organizations must be communities in which others see what God has revealed in the teaching of his Word. They should see that what has happened in Christ’s death and reconciliation on the cross back there in space and time and history is relevant, that it is possible to have something beautiful and unusual in this world. in our communication and in communities in our own generation. We may preach truth. We may preach orthodoxy. We may even stand against the practice of untruth strongly. But if others cannot see something beautiful in our human relationships, if they do not see that, upon the basis of what Christ has done, our Christian communities can stop their bickering, their fighting and their in-fighting, then we are not living properly.”Francis Schaeffer. The Church at the End of the 20th Century. Page 39.
Thank you for this. This very issue is one of the main reasons why it was so destructive to close the churches in 2020.