Recently, a friend sent me an article which criticized a high profile church. Some of the church’s current and former members are celebrities. The former celebrity members were interviewed in this bit of “investigative journalism.” (I use quotes because this was for some online rag. Not exactly Woodward and Bernstein).
Those interviewed complained that the church’s core values were “homophobic” and “sexist.” Whatever. I am so over the epithet wars that pass for public “dialogue.” The world is the world. Its values will never align with God’s. More and more I find myself feeling that what the world thinks is irrelevant: “They are from the world. Therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Anyone who knows God listens to us; anyone who is not from God does not listen to us” (1 John 4:5-6).
What interested me about the article was another complaint of former church members. They felt the church had pulled the old bait and switch trick on them—the church presented itself as inclusive but held the same conservative social views that people find offensive. I don’t know if the church is explicitly seeker-sensitive but it is a mega-church throwing a very wide net.
For the uninitiated, seeker-sensitive churches appreciate that people seeking God have all sorts of backgrounds. The church needs to deliver the gospel in a way that doesn’t alienate or make it difficult for anyone to come to God. Paul’s comments may apply here: “I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).
There is certainly a place for sensitively presenting the gospel. Perhaps, though, our sensitivity should center on the Spirit, not on what might offend people. If there’s anything about people we can count on, it’s that someone, somewhere, will be offended by something. Rather than thinking we can avoid offense, maybe we should just plan on it and go from there.
Here’s some Jesus-style preaching: “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it” (Matt. 16:24-25). Clearly, He wasn’t trying to win friends.
Jesus’s words make me wonder: When we make the gospel more palatable, who are we really trying to save? Our hearers or ourselves? Are we seeker-sensitive or just seeking to save?
I can’t judge the motives of those leading the church I mentioned. But I can say this: if we hide who we are in order to draw more people in, we will eventually lose people. If we seek to save our crowds, we will lose those crowds. But if we lose for the sake of Christ and His gospel, we will find. This is how the kingdom works.
A good friend of mine says, “You win people ‘to’ what you win them ‘with.’” If we use non-kingdom methods, we will not draw people into the kingdom. We will draw them into a religion that is no different than the world around them. We may lead them to reject God entirely. Instead of telling people they can be what they want and be Christian, maybe we should say, “Deny yourself. Say of yourself, ‘I don’t know that person anymore.’ Take up your cross—Embrace the execution of who you are that happened at the cross. Follow Jesus. He is now your life and identity.” Then, when the dust settles, we can walk in true community with whomever is still there.