Since first becoming aware of the “Seeker Sensitive” phenomenon back in the 1990s I have considered it a flawed concept. In an effort to attract unchurched people, the “Seeker Sensitive” movement suggested that churches should cater to the comforts of the “seeker” and should update both style and presentation so as to make the experience – and the Gospel - less offensive. By eliminating the alleged “negative” elements deemed a “turn off” to the world, such as talk of sin and repentance, “Seeker” advocates assured us we’d fill the seats on Sunday morning. But since the Holy Spirit is the most seeker sensitive being in the Universe, who are we to monkey around with the message He has already given the Church to present? Do we think we can do better? Besides, who is more sensitive and better equipped to save a seeker than the Holy Spirit? Isn’t it a fact that unless we present the unadulterated Gospel we indeed hinder the Spirit from doing His convicting work in the hearts of men? The “Seeker” idea lacked anointing and appeared perilously misguided and now, after all of the books, seminars, conferences and surveys the brain trust who popularized “Seeker Sensitive” is admitting they’ve been wrong all along. Duh.
Chicago’s Willow Creek Community Church has released the results of a multi-year study on the effectiveness of their programs and philosophy of ministry. A new book, Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Willow Creek insiders, Cally Parkinson and Greg Hawkins, states that the so-called “Seeker model,” popularized by Bill Hybels, is a “failure.” Hybels himself called the findings “earth shaking,” “ground breaking” and “mind blowing.”
Hybels states: “We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.”
Incredibly, the guru of church growth now tells us that people need to be reading their bibles and taking responsibility for their own spiritual growth!
Ohio Christian radio talk show host and commentator, Bob Burney, reiterated the crux of why so many of us haven’t been fans of Hybels approach to ministry. He said, “The new report reveals that most of what they (Willow Creek) have been doing for these many years and what they have taught millions of others to do is not producing solid disciples of Jesus Christ. Numbers yes, but not disciples.”
Burney continues, “The one individual who has had perhaps the greatest influence on the American church in our generation has now admitted his philosophy of ministry was, in large part, a ‘mistake.’ The extent of this error defies measurement.”
On a quest for the newest “thing” and enamored by the sheer numbers flocking to services at mega-churches like Willow Creek and Saddleback, countless shepherds began tweaking with the untweakable. To varying extents, they traded in the New Testament Book of Acts model of preaching and discipleship for what amounts to religious folly. Who can calculate the damage done by leaders who persuaded leaders to change the Church to suit the fancy of the world?
Though marginalized as relics from an unenlightened era, concerned Bible believers have been crying out for a summary rejection of the “Seeker” nonsense for some time. Now, “Seeker” proponents are suddenly dismayed by the hard fact that great numbers of their “converts” have dried up like skim milk on a hot Texas afternoon. But it doesn’t appear they are ready to come all the way out of their quagmire just yet.
Perhaps the most amazing thing I have seen concerning the Willow Creek admission is that these leaders, whose ministry philosophy changed the practice and thinking of thousands of churches over the last 20+ years, are still looking for whatever it was they thought they had found when they first told us that “Seeker Sensitive” was the answer! Read the next statement carefully.
Greg Hawkins stated, “Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet.”
This is what the “Seeker Sensitive” leaders have been saying from day one! And now they want to “replace it (the original Seeker model) with new insights…informed by research...” (i.e. more market surveys)? Hold on just a minute. Wasn’t it the assumption that the Church was a failure and that we needed to study the culture to find a fix exactly what brought us this mess in the first place? So let me get this straight. As sincere as they may be and as much as the claim what they’re up to is “rooted in Scripture,” the “Seeker” advocates have sowed what amounts to spiritual poison into countless lives and convinced thousands of churches to abandon truly biblical plans and now Hawkins, Hybels and the rest want another chance at getting it right? I’m all for second chances but in this case, no thanks.
The Church Growth gurus may have started with good intentions but in reality have sold us a false bill of goods. Following the fads, schemes and flowery “positive” messages of men, many have become deeply entrenched in the here-and-now “feel good” philosophies. Frankly, the lack of authority given to the Scriptures in so many church circles has paved the way for the postmodern attitudes that have shown biblical righteousness and holy standards the door. Doctrine and standards are viewed as hindrances and salvation, it appears, is secured by simply thinking nice thoughts about Jesus. The result is that many of yesterday's Evangelicals either haven't quite finished becoming liberals yet - or haven’t realized they are in the process of becoming apostate.
Thankfully, the chorus of voices now challenging the deception is growing. Some people are going to take heed. Many will not. Let’s pray that Bill Hybels not merely look for a new model to endorse but that he and others from the “Seeker” vein will seek God and not their own understanding.
Remember: our mission in these disturbing times is to (1) keep standing calmly against what is nothing short of a revolt against absolute truth from inside the Church and (2) pray for the anointing and courage to help turn those who will listen back to truth, one at a time.
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. – Acts 2:42
(c) copyright 2007, Eric Barger
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