*Guest post by Richard DeVeau*
Not this particular church here in Australia, the broader church.
In particular, the church in the US, where I live.
It seems the largest Christian movement in the 21st century is the seeker-friendly church. Some 40,000 churches in the US already follow this model. And about 400,000 pastors have attended seeker-friendly growth seminars.
Now, you may be asking yourself, so what’s wrong with reaching the unsaved for Christ? Isn’t this the great commission? Well, yes and no.
In Matthew 28:19 Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Disciples are not just converts, they are maturing followers of Christ.
While those Christ has called to Himself must enter the narrow gate and be saved, the new birth is only the beginning; it’s the doorway. It’s a very important doorway, but still just the doorway.
And we’re not meant to live in the doorway.
But seeker churches preach and teach only doorway theology.
It means the people attending these churches are simply not being fed anything more than a diet of milk.
A steady diet of nothing but milk leads to spiritual anorexia.
And I recently read something alarming about how seeker churches operate. Anyone in the congregation who complains to the leadership about this diet of doorway theology is encouraged to leave the church.
It means these churches will never be able to operate as the body of Christ, with every member functioning in the spiritual gifts each is provided for the edification and growth of the whole.
I believe that some spiritual growth must take place in the small groups that meet during the week at seeker churches. But what about the vast majority of people who only attend Sunday services?
If these churches continue to operate in this seeker-only model, they will never grow in maturity.
But they will grow in numbers.
Often, seeker churches grow into congregations reaching into the thousands. The fact of the matter is this formula works if your church’s goal is to simply add as many people as possible. And it’s easy to see why so many pastors are drawn to it.
But it’s the large numbers of people who will never grown in Christ that I find the most troubling aspect of this church model.
Spiritual maturity demands a more substantial diet of truth.
The gospel offends people. We are all sinners. Sin leads to hell. Christ suffered and died a horrible death in our place so that by His blood we are reconciled to God and become His child.
The gospel is not a feel-good message for this body of flesh we inhabit. Those who commit their lives to Christ are promised persecution, trials and tribulations by the world. Christ demands we take up our cross daily.
God disciplines His children when we need it.
Those who walk with Christ and allow Him to transform us soon learn there is essentially no true spiritual growth without pain.
If all these truths offend some people, I believe it is better to offend them with the truth than to tickle their ears and condemn them for eternity.
Spiritual maturity is hard work. Walking with Christ every day and seeking His guidance and will for our lives is not for the fainthearted. As God told Joshua, we need to “be strong and courageous” to live in the land.
But He doesn’t expect us to do it alone. We can draw great encouragement and comfort from the rest of this verse in Joshua 1, “for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
And in John 16:33, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Preaching these truths in your church every Sunday will pretty much guarantee that you will not draw large numbers of people.
But I’d rather be with only a handful of others who are also looking to “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ,” than be with thousands who are content to live only in the doorway and drink only milk.
How about you?
Richard lives west of Chicago. When he’s not writing fundraising and marketing copy for nonprofits and Christian ministries, you’ll find him painting in his studio. www.richarddeveauart.com
Richard, great work on this post. The “doorway theology” problem is more significant than I previously realized. The more I understand the importance of knowing sound doctrine that shapes life, the more concerning shallow teaching is. It is a great starting place, but as you said…it is only a start, and the church is starving for more (whether we know it or not).
Daniel, I share your concern that some seeker-churches concentrate on what Richard has called “doorway theology”. Indeed, amongst other factors, it was this tendency that formed the impetus for the formation of Hills Bible Church. We have referred to this trend as the “dumbing down of theology” or the “illiteracy of the laity”.
What amazes me is that this trend seems counter-intuitive. In an age where we strive for higher education, in a culture where the average person obtains more learning that in any previous era, the Christian church goes in the opposite direction.
However, perhaps this is no new problem. The writer to the Hebrews warns against the apostasy that results from failing to teach the “basic principals of God” in Hebrews 5:11-14.
Thanks, Daniel! It’s actually a bit more disconcerting than I’ve stated here. I’ve visited a couple of these churches since moving to Chicago from Boston and couldn’t quite put my finger on what bothered me until I began doing some reading and research. In many cases, the gospel isn’t really even preached on Sundays. It’s a mix of feel-good Scripture and purpose-driven pop psychology.
But it is comforting to know Who’s church this is after all is said and done. And we can pray. God’s will, plan and purposes for His people will inevitably prevail.
Don, I love the fact that this is why Hills was formed! And I love the “illiteracy of the laity” phrase. And thanks again for letting me add to your wonderful blog.
Don, have you read / met the authors of The Trellis and the Vine? The book was excellent (on the church and discipleship), and since they are based in Australia, I wondered if you had heard of them.
Sorry, Daniel. I am not familiar with this work. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
One of the bemusing aspects of the Seeker Sensitive movement, as the later and now aging child of the Church Growth Movement, is the assumptions underlying the ‘practice’. The assumption was that the main issue separating the unsaved from the Gospel was the form of church services, particularly liturgical forms. If we could only speak ‘relevant’ messages and have ‘contemporary’ discourse the disinterested would suddenly become interested. This may have had a little sailence in the US where we are told there are 20 million ‘born again’ identities who do not attend church. But the boundaries of church and world are much less ambiguous here and elsewhere.
My main objection to ‘attractional’ church of any kind is the faulty assumption, also faulty theologically, that Christ calls us to impress people into the Kingdom with the external forms of the church. While dysfunctional and legalistic church is a contradiction to the Gospel in its outward form, the problem with such thinking is that it is so humanistic, or, anthropocentric and completely misses the point that only the work of the Spirit of God, applying the message of the Gospel to the conscience of the hearer, can bring about a change of perspective.
Curiously I see the ’emergent church’ shares the same humanistic assumption, its just a different format, more candles and soup, less microphones and hi-tech. And both to me reflect a perspective that comes from within the church, from people who really do not rub shoulders with the ‘unsaved’ who couldn’t care a less about what we do in our holy barns on the weekend.
Jeff Pugh, one of the teaching leaders, Hills Bible Church
Well said, Jeff.
It would seem that along the way to making the church more contemporary here in the US, to make it more “attractional” to use your word, we have simply added yet another form of entertainment. It would appear that the premise of Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, which is “form excludes content” is also playing itself out in our churches, as well as our televisions.
Keep up the good work you’re doing at Hills. And please pray for us over here in the States.
I really appreciated reading your post Richard and share your concerns.
My heart boils seeing what is happening in today’s churches in ‘dumbing down the message’. What makes things even more frustrating is the reasoning for this is camouflaged in “christianise” language such as we need to speak in a manner that the ‘common’ person can connect or understand. Although we need to be sensitive to those we speak to, we need to not water down the message, but rather educate people about key biblical teachings and principles so we can distinguish and recognise what truth is in this very confused world, even within the church. I am amazed at the amount of confused looks I get when I speak to Christians about being “justified by faith”. Why do we need to be justified? What does that mean? “That’s a foreign language to me”. Talking about such foundational and critical biblical teachings highlights our need for a Saviour. It also highlights the frailty of humanity, the supremacy of Christ and the beauty of His mercy and grace. How tragic it is when we choose not to teach this for the perceived sake of not being as attractive to the ‘common person’.
I liked your phrase “I believe it is better to offend them with the truth than to tickle their ears and condemn them for eternity”. How true that is! The tragedy also extends to the fact that we become so accustomed to it, that the mere tickling of our ears seems to be pearls of wisdom! These same church leaders go on to say that we must love one another. To shield someone from the truth is not love. It is the furthest thing from love. Sure our attitude to expressing truth must be permeated with grace and mercy, but we must NEVER shy away from revealing and promoting truth. I fear we will all be shocked come judgment day at how many of ‘so called Christians’ will be exposed as wolves in sheep’s clothing, or as imposters. May our church leaders have the courage to teach Biblical truth and expose the lies and ‘people pleasing’ teaching, and honour God in teaching people all of scripture and not just what might benefit them and others.
Finally Richard, I like how you highlight the point that we are to make disciples of all nations, which doesn’t finish in bringing people to Christ. I suspect that the main reason ‘seeker-friendly’ churches use their approach is that they want to see people come to Christ. That is a God-honouring motive no doubt… it’s something we all want to see happen! However let’s not forget who does the saving. It’s not us! It’s not dependent on how we ‘sell’ the Gospel. The Gospel is their to teach, plain and simple. It’s a simple message, but a tough and confronting one!
What arrogance it is to think we know what people need apart from the Word of God! What arrogance to think we need to put our own spin on it to ‘soften the blow’. Our sinful natures don’t need soft blows, we need the conviction of the Holy Spirit that leads to brokeness, that leads to repentance that leads to salvation, that leads to a God honouring life.
Without repentance there can be no salvation… no matter how ‘good’ you may ‘feel’. Without the daily realisation of our own sinful depravity and immeasurable riches of God’s grace, how can our hearts and minds remain humble? God saves, not us. The Holy Spirit brings about change, not our ‘clever selling techniques’. So let’s not beat our chests and proclaim proudly to the world based on the numbers of our church, or how many people ‘we have lead to Christ’. Let’s rather focus on humbly honouring Christ, remembering what He has done for us, by teaching the Word in it’s entirety, loving and serving one another in love and truth, and pouring mercy onto others as Christ has poured onto us! Let’s equip our brothers and sisters to stand up in this wicked and seductive world instead of letting them be like lambs to the slaughter. And in all this, may Christ alone get the glory. Let’s trust and praise Him no matter how large our church may be in number, or how many people come to Christ around us. Let’s focus on honouring and praising His name, and watch God do what only He can… save and change lives!
My passion got the better of me in my last comment… it was a bit wordy 🙂
Thank you for you very kind words about the post. You are a man after my own heart! Clearly we must be related 😉