I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on issues related to ecclesiology and have been asking this question specifically related to seeker oriented services. Now I know that seeker oriented services are kind of a sacred cow and some won’t agree with my thoughts here. But I am really begin to question whether this is best for our local assembly.
But first a qualifying note: when I say church growth I don’t mean physical expansion, i.e. more members, bigger facilities or church plants. What I mean is the local assembly growing up in Christ and demonstrating corporately what that means. That is not necessarily a function of numerical growth but of member maturity because it’s in that maturity that the body of Christ as represented in the local church grows and functions as it should. This is marked by devotion towards God, love towards each other, mutual exchange of gifts and dedication to the proclamation of the gospel.
Ironically, as I was reflecting on this issue, I saw this article posted by Scot McKnight today providing tips on who to preach to mixed audiences effectively. Well, I think these are worthy tips if one is preaching outside of the regular assembly. However, I maintain a firm commitment to the belief that our corporate gatherings are for the purpose of feeding the faith of believers and equipping them for service. The book of Ephesians and the pastoral epistles convict of me such. Otherwise, why gather if not support that which is needed to mature our faith? So that leads me to ask if something gets lost by blurring this focus.
Also note that I said seeker sensitive services not seeker sensitivity. I truly believe that Christians need to be seeker sensitive and learn how to contextualize language so that it is understandable to the non-believer. Yes, drop the Christianese and speak English. So I appreciate McKnight’s acknowledgment that we cultivate this habit. But when the saints gather this should not be such a concern. Not that the pastor should speak a Christianese that is foreign to the testimony of Christ built on the word of the prophets, but necessarily enforce it. We need to hear the language of faith as defined by scripture. We need to be taught the tenets of our faith, grounded in the gospel and pointing to Christ, so that we respond to divine revelation appropriately. That means sermons must be geared towards the believer.
Now another thing I think we need to keep in mind is that the seeker may be wooed by the Father through the Holy Spirit to place faith in Christ. But the non-Christian is still blinded to the truth of the gospel, that they are sinners and need a Savior. By accommodating the non-Christian, the message will somehow get diluted because we’re trying win over those who have not yet believed. But this will serve as a hindrance for the believer who needs their faith fed and grow up in the Lord.
I also think this does a disservice to the seeker because it doesn’t present them with a picture of what the gathering of the body means, which is accomplishing what will further it’s growth in love. If there is a seeker in our midst, they should understand that the corporate function of church is not to accommodate their sense of satisfaction but to engender worship towards the triune God. If anything, this will bode much better for both the seeker and our assembly. If they truly become converted, then they will be inducted into a system of belief and practice that demonstrates what that belief consists of. An exclusive focus on the believer will also help our assemblies by deterring false conversions in our midst.Otherwise, a numeric increase may very well be the result of dilution.
Now this may come off as exclusive but I contend that it is meant to be exclusive. Exclusivity is not elitist but is designed for preservation. So that doesn’t mean be not welcoming of the seeker who comes in our midst. Yes, be friendly and show the love of Christ. But there should be a marked distinction of why the body of Christ gathers corporately.
It also doesn’t mean you don’t have functions outside the church to befriend and assist the seeker. Or you may have groups gather in church outside of the corporate gathering to address seekers of Christianity. Starting Point is a wonderful 10-week curriculum to accomplish this. And I’m sure there are others. But once seeker sensitivity is introduced in the gathering of saints, I think something will get lost for the intended purpose we are gathering.