A guest post by Daniel Eaton at Theologica. Being from Dallas Seminary, we were breed to loath seeker churches. 🙂 Yet I do have my thoughts as well that I will follow this up with. I look forward to your interaction.
I think there is a growing schism in the American church. The schism isn’t over theology, but methodology. A growing number of “seeker friendly” churches are on one side, and a firmly entrenched group of traditional churches are on the other. The increasing shrillness about the “seeker friendly” format somehow reminds me of church splits over what kind of music or musical instruments in the church. I think a lot of it comes down to a view that if it worked for my Grandad’s generation, then three hymns, a choir number, a sermon about the dangers in our society, and 27-stanzas of Just As I Am should be sufficient today. It’s the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.
But the problem is that it *is* broke. That format no longer appeals to the masses. That method is becoming harder and harder to use in order to get the message out. The sad truth is that the average tattooed or pierced unsaved person does not feel welcome or accepted if they attend the traditional church. It is an atmosphere of condemnation of those that don’t dress or look like everyone else there. This unsaved Seeker isn’t going to stick around. Instead, he is going to leave with a sense that the Christian church is full of a bunch of condemning hypocrites.
One thing I often see in this conflict is that most of the people who firmly support the status quo are the ones that are least familiar with other types of church. They have not been exposed to church in other cultures. When you see the way they “do church” in other cultures, I think one becomes much more open to alternatives of the traditional format here at home. The message becomes divorced from the methodology.
Another thing I often see is that some of the hardest critics of the Seeker Friendly church are critical of something that they have never been to. They often criticize the mega-church over their “shallow” sermons. That was a topic of a whole different blog post. But it seems a bit ironic to me that a lot of sermons from these Seeker Friendly churches are based on Christ’s own sermons about love and kindness and yet they are criticized as being shallow or not focused enough on condemnation and repentance.
There is a place for condemnation. But look at the focus of Christ’s condemnation. It was addressed to the traditional church of the day….the Pharisees and Sadducee. The ones defending the traditions of the status quo were the ones He was the most critical of. Yet when he was preaching the Sermon On The Mount or talking to the lady at the well, it was primarily a message of love, not condemnation.
I think the reason why the Seeker Friendly model works is because it is friendly and accepting of the Seeker that is looking for answers. Does that mean that all pastors of mega-churches are perfect and doctrinally sound? One has to go no further than Joel Osteen to answer that question. But to criticize a method of doing church because of the message of some televangelist that uses that model is just as illogical as to say that the traditional way is wrong because of some of the preachers that teach bad doctrine in those settings.
Ultimately, I think the church as a whole has a huge problem in it’s lack of discipleship and mentoring. It is easy to criticize the Mega-Church for not getting deep enough in their Sunday morning sermon. But those in-depth doctrinal expositions are not what the Seeker needs. It’s like throwing a non-swimmer into the deep end of the pool. They are not going to understand a good percentage of the “church words” that they hear. It is basically useless to them. Church was ultimately held for the benefit of those that had always been there. And, in the traditional churches that I spent decades in, there really wasn’t a place to educate them on the church vernacular. Sure, there was Sunday School. But it was typically broken up into classes for different age groups and/or genders. In some cases, there were “young believer’s” classes that spoke of the basics. And those were highly needed. What’s more, the traditional church accepted those.
Yet when the Seeker-Friendly church follows that model, it is either ignored or criticized. The local Seeker-Friendly church in my town has thirteen different mid-week classes on different topics. There are classes with a focus on issues of single parents, Biblical solutions for addiction, financial training, foundational truths from Christ’s teachings, and multiple Bible-studies on a number of topics. Wherever you are in your Christian walk and whatever your personal needs, there is a place where you can plug-in and get mentored. You don’t have to settle for whatever Sunday-School booklet the 25-35 Adult Male class is teaching. The Seeker can find what he needs. And ultimately, isn’t the Christian growth of the person Seeking Christ what we are supposed to be all about?