Seeker Sensitive

Disclaimer: if you’re looking for a description of seeker-sensitive methods for church growth, or an article criticizing those methods, you’re reading the wrong blog. Ask Google, he’ll direct you to those places (just like he did for me when I got curious and decided to look up this term. The only neutral article on the first page of results was from Wikipedia 😛 )

I’ve been intrigued by that term since I first heard it, which would be around the time Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life book came out. For some reason, though, it seems to have become associated with division and splits at the same level of Paul and Barnabas over John Mark — although admittedly, those splits did eventually lead to more growing churches reaching out to more people.

I believe the biggest point of argument was while one side wanted to tailor-fit the presentation of the Gospel to the particular target demographic/audience, another side was seeing that as changing the Gospel message to make it more acceptable to more people, and have more of them coming to church…

The term used, I believe, was “numbers game.”

So please indulge me while I think aloud, errmm, write about…uhhmm…brainstorm(!) here. I decided one day to ask God one question about this:

Who exactly is the seeker I’m supposed to be sensitive to?

Replies from the word came rather quickly:

There is no one who seeks God. (Romans 3:11 NIV)

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (Genesis 3:8-10 NIV)

The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. (Luke 19:10 NIV)

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. (John 4:23 NIV) 

Then there was the memory of a pastor’s voice — I think it may have been a Tim Keller podcast, but I’m not 100% sure — saying something like, when we go to church, we’re not really seeking God; we’re seeking answers or solutions to our problems, and we want to see if this Christianity thing will do it for us.

Ouch.

But I have to admit, that was true of me back then, when I first “prayed to receive Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.”

I just hope I’ve grown from that mentality somewhat in the past 30 years…

Back to my question.

As I thought about the answers the Holy Spirit called up from my meager memory, the thing that became clear to me was simply that 1) we humans are not seeking God as much we are seeking solutions to problems we want Him to solve for us; and 2) God is the one running after us…

GOD IS THE ONE SEEKING. NOT US.

That was why He came. As Jesus.

HE was the Seeker — no doubt about that. The Bible said so, and Luke quotes Him as saying so about Himself. Majority of the people sought Him out to solve their problems, primarily sickness (theirs, or someone close to them). Some did ask Him about eternal life, but His replies were practically turn-offs:

“One thing you lack: sell everything you have, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow Me.”

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”

“Anyone who wants to come after Me who does not hate his father and mother and brother and sister and children – even his own life – is not worthy to be My disciple.”

“Take up your cross and follow Me.”

I mean, does He want us or not?!

But the Holy Spirit wasn’t done with dredging up my memory.

No one can come to Me unless the Father draws them.

No one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.

I guess the answer to my question is that GOD, The FATHER, IS THE TRUE SEEKER I MUST BE SENSITIVE TO. Just as Jesus was, when He was on earth. And just as Jesus promised we would become, because He has given us His Holy Spirit.

I have another memory of another voice saying “The Acts of the Apostles” should be re-titled “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.” Thinking about that now, I’m suddenly excited about reading that book from that angle. I think the change in perspective will be eye-opening for me. 🙂

Jesus was sensitive to His Father’s heart towards the people. Like “seeker-sensitive” proponents, He also tailor-fit His “presentation” to His audience: His parables used images that a predominantly agricultural community would understand, He spoke differently with Nicodemus and the other leaders than He did with adulteresses, tax collectors, prostitutes and other sinners.

But like the “anti-numbers game” people, He allowed no haggling about the cost of following Him: He challenged a young man to sell all his assets (young man left, sad), and He told a crowd to “eat (His) flesh and drink (His) blood” (crowd left, grumbling). He honored faith when He saw it (a Roman centurion, a bleeding woman, four house-wreckers, a Samaritan leper, a Syro-Phoenician mother) and didn’t withhold rebuke from those who should have known better, after everything they had seen (yes, the Twelve. And yes…me, too. What an amazingly patient God He is!).

In the end, I think the whole point about this issue is proclaiming Jesus, and what He has accomplished for us by His perfectly obedient life, His gruesome sacrificial death, and His glorious resurrection. And now that He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God our Father, His Holy Spirit is with us to continue His work of seeking and saving the lost. We who have responded to His seeking and saving have the awesome privilege of having court-side seats to all the action, and we even get to participate, as we let ourselves be drafted into His plan.

Let me end this by quoting the Wikipedia article on Church Growth, where “seeker-sensitive” is discussed (additional emphases are mine):

Critics from other Christian groups suggest the movement is “only about numbers”, “slick” and “success” oriented.

Apologists respond that most advocates have a real concern for the salvation of the individuals represented by the numbers. Some Church Growth groups distance themselves from the “showbiz” approach of megachurches and believe these may be counterproductive.

Willow Creek Community Church conducted a major survey that shows heavy involvement in “seeker sensitive” programs and activities contributed to church growth but did not necessarily translate into spiritual growth and maturity unless the church had a clear path for believers’ development.

Advocates argue that the most important thing in Christianity is the salvation of souls, which means that a successful church will – by definition – be a growing church.

Others argue that a proper balance between numerical growth and depth of spiritual growth is needed.

And last two quotes, from the Apostle, Paul:

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 NIV

The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Philippians 1:18 NIV

Thank you for bearing with me. Brainstorming done. 🙂

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