Saturday, 26 April 2014

Should a church be seeker sensitive?

A popular model for many churches today is the 'seeker sensitive' approach to evangelism and conducting church services. One of the most high profile exponents of this is Rick Warren, whose book The Purpose Driven Church was released almost 20 years ago. The seeker sensitive advocated by Warren and many other involves changing church to something which is more friendly, culturally sensitive and appealing to the unchurched, a church experience which is non threatening and which will give them what they want from church. Old style hymns and worship will be replaced with a more modern worldly style of music, including pop, rock and rap. Long expository sermons will be diluted down into a shorter story based talk that meets the perceived needs of the hearers, with biblical doctrines such as sin and repentance being rarely mentioned. The focus of the message will instead be light on doctrine, centred on man and with the Lord Jesus Christ presented as the means of you improving yourself and filling that void in your life. Essentially it is church done the way the unsaved want it to be done, a way that does not cause them to feel uncomfortable or threatened. The seeker sensitive church will also provide for the social needs of the area with numerous programs aimed at improving the lives of those living in the community. These churches have been very successful in seeing large congregations built up very quickly, with thousands of people in attendance and multi-million pound programs being run by the congregation. The question is whether the seeker sensitive approach to doing church is one that we should adopt, and whether it can be supported by scripture.

The seeker senstive model to be rejected
The basic premise of the seeker sensitive model of church is that there are many people who are seeking God, yet who are put off by the traditional concept of church. This premise itself has no foundation in scripture, indeed it is completely opposed to the teaching of Romans 3:11 which states that 'There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God'. Natural man does not seek after God, but it is God who seeks out man in his sin, 'for the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost'. The idea that man and woman are looking for God of their own accord is wrong, for it is only by the work of the Holy Spirit that anyone will seek the Lord. We cannot draw people to Christ by new methods, nor can we make the gospel attractive to man by watering down its content or by wrapping it up in the culture of the world. The seeker sensitive model wants to be non-threatening and appealing, yet the true gospel is offensive to natural man. The word of God teaches that man's heart is 'deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked', that he is 'shapen in iniquity', 'that all have sinned' and that there is no soundness in man 'but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores'. Over 400 times the bible talks about sin, yet in seeker sensitive churches it is conspicuous by its absence. The gospel cannot be faithfully preached without declaring that man is a sinner, condemned in the sight of God and needing to repent and trust in Christ. Any model of doing church which dilutes the scriptural doctrines of sin and repentance must be rejected as unscriptural. Whilst we should never put anything in the way of people coming to Christ, there is no biblical warrant for changing our preaching, for bringing worldly worship styles into the church, or for lowering standards in order to make people feel more 'comfortable'. The seeker sensitive approach of Rick Warren and others may give people what they want, but it will not give them what they need.

The seeker sensitive model to be desired
There is manner in which a church should be seeker sensitive, but it is not that which many consider by that term. A church should be sensitive firstly to the one who is the true seeker, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is he who has come 'to seek and to save that which was lost' and to call men unto himself. Everything about the church service, including our preaching, our praise, even our form of dress, must be sensitive to the fact that we are gathered together to worship a holy God, and to glorify him. To change styles of singing and the content of preaching to conform to man's taste and preference is to make the service man centred, instead of God centred. We are to 'worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness' for it is all about him. In all that is done in a church service we should be sensitive to one who has bought us with his own blood. It is his standards to which we must conform, not those of the world. We should also be sensitive to the unconverted whom we are seeking to reach, but sensitive to their needs, not their desires. Man wants an experience which makes him feel good about himself and that appeals to the desires of the flesh, yet what he need is to be shown his hopeless sinful condition before a holy God, and to be pointed to the all sufficient Saviour. The church is not called to improve the world, for if we deal with all the drunkenness, immorality and injustice in the world then all that we will have is sober, moral sinners on the road to hell instead of drunk immoral ones. The truly seeker sensitive church will not ignore the sinner's physical needs, however it will prioritise dealing with their spiritual condition. To preach the word of God in all its fullness, to warn of hell, to exhort people to repentance from sin, and to point them to Christ is the calling and mark of a truly seeker sensitive church.

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