Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Seeker Sensitivity

I've been thinking about church growth methods in recent days. Here are some provisional thoughts about the seeker-sensitive approach:

What I appreciate about the seeker-sensitive model:

(1) It reflects a sincere and earnest desire to see lost people converted, and a willingness to work hard to see conversions happen.

(2) It reflects a willingness to try new things instead of clinging to "the way we've always done it."

Some questions about the seeker-sensitive model:

(1) The Bible seems to teach that the weekly gathering is mainly a time for believers to worship God and build up one another, and not mainly a time for evangelism. Unbelievers can't worship God, can they? If the worship gathering is meant for believers, should we gear it to appeal to unbelievers?

(2) This model seems to assume that there are many sincere "seekers" out there. I'm not so sure. The Bible teaches that "no one seeks for God" (Rom 3:11) and that unbelievers are "enemies" of God (Rom 5:10) who are "hostile in mind" (Col 1:21); no one comes to Christ "unless the Father who sent [Christ] draws him" (John 6:44). On the other hand, we must admit and rejoice that there are people with whom the Spirit is dealing, who are in the process of coming to faith. But which category do most people fall into? I think most fall into the first grouping--most people are non-seekers.

(3) This model seems to equate success with growth in numbers, and to assume that if numbers are not increasing we must be doing something wrong. But this doesn't seem to agree with the Apostle Paul's thinking. Consider his comments in 2 Tim 1:11-12: "And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am." People reacted negatively when Paul preached the gospel. In fact, they threw him in prison. Did this cause Paul to waver, or to think he was doing something wrong? Not at all, for he goes on to say, "But I am not ashamed," (v12)--meaning he was confident before God that he had done nothing wrong--and to exhort Timothy to hold fast to the pattern of sound teaching he had received from him (v13)--the same teaching that got Paul thrown in prison.


R. Mansfield said...

Josh, good post.

Regarding your question #2, and specifically in reference to Rom 3:11, I believe you are making a misinterpretation of the verse that I see made quite a bit.

When Paul said that "no one seeks for God" (answering God's own query of Ps 14 & 53) he was surely using hyperbole (of which the Bible, like any great literary work, is filled with) and not making an absolute statement.

If he is making an absolute statement he's contradicting quite a bit of scripture where people are acknowledged to be seeking God, commanded to seek God, or predicted to seek God:

Deut 4:29; 12:5; 1 Chr 16:10-11; 22:19; 2 Chr 11:16; 14:4; 15:12-13; 26:5; 30:19; 34:3; Ezra 6:21; 8:22; Job 5:8; Ps 9:10; 22:26; 27:8; 34:10; 40:16; 63:1; 69:6, 32; 70:4; 105:3-4; 122:9; Prov 28:5; Isa 51:1; 55:6; 58:2; Jer 50:4; Lam 3:25; Dan 9:3; Hos 3:5; Amos 5:4, 6; Zeph 2:3; Zech 7:2; 8:21-22; Mal 3:1; Acts 15:17

If people do seek God, then what's Paul saying? Is he wrong? No, in general, in the big picture, in the big scheme of things, no, people do not seek God--by and large, on the whole.

But on an individual basis, yes, there are surely people who seek after God and Scripture affirms this as indicated in the references above.

In regard to churches, there has to be balance. I think churches and regular (as opposed to special events) services that are exclusively seeker-targeted are a mistake. On the other hand, I do think we need to be seeker aware. 1 Cor 14:23 is surely giving an example where we are to be aware of how non-believers perceive us, but that doesn't mean that everything we do in a service has to be tailor-made for them.

But the reality is that anytime we gather the εὐαγγέλιον (good news) should be proclaimed. And if that's not seeker-targeted, then what is?

Josh said...

Thanks for your feedback. I think you're right that Paul is laying down a general principle when he says "no one seeks for God." Some people do seek God--you and I for example. But isn't our seeking a response to his seeking us first?

Thanks also for your encouragement to be aware of the lost people in our midst, and to preach the gospel every time the church gathers.

R. Mansfield said...

Josh said: But isn't our seeking a response to his seeking us first?


R. Mansfield said...

Josh, I came back and revisited this issue over on my own blog in the post "No one seeks God" (Rom 3:11): Is This an Absolute Statement?

I took some time to look at the context of the biblical references to seeker a bit closer. I knew they were there, but what I hadn't paid attention to before is exactly what a seeker is from a biblical perspective. So I talk about that in the post, and I also decided to move away from the term hyperbole. Although hyperbole is in the Bible in numerous places, I think a better question to ask of Rom 3:11 is not whether Paul's words are to be taken absolutely. That's the question I tried to answer. Thanks for getting me to think about this subject again!