I have become, over the last couple of years, a bit of a student, an observer, of contemporary, attractional, seeker-sensitive ecclesiology. Many of my posts are biased in that direction of interest. My engagement of a handful of seeker-sensitive churches in my community, churches that I think are reflective of the movement as a whole, leads to my first overarching observation, one that points to a profound and errant human-centricity in the attractional church model, the seeker-sensitives, a phenomena that I believe transcends any traditional Calvinism/Arminian categories. The focus of churches that engage attractional methodologies is primarily on the congregates, the audience. Further, and without regard to the sometimes overly simplified orthodoxy of statements of faith, in practice and teaching, many of these churches are at best semi-Pelagian. One finds the content of the teaching to be primarily focused on the self. One finds sermons on building self-esteem. One hears sermons on enhancing leadership potential. One hears pragmatic life-skills coaching, at the end of which those in the audience are presented with a Jesus that will help you achieve, it is inferred, those aforementioned felt needs if you accept Him as your Saviour. What one finds, sometimes, is a truncated, weakened version of the false prosperity gospel.
What I have come to understand is that what is being preached is sometimes bereft of the Gospel, but is, as I have said before, more a legalism lite. This attitude manifests itself with the ubiquitous proclamation that churchgoers do not need more teaching, they need to do more, often quoting John Maxwell’s ubiquitous pseudo-pietistic dictum that most Christians are educated beyond their obedience. The inferred solution by many of the stars in the seeker-sensitive movement apparently is to withhold the full council of Scripture. There is also a disdain for the traditional and Biblical label of Christian. The inference is that we are to be referred to as Christ-followers. However, and not to put too fine a point on it, what happens is we are now defined as a state of doing rather than a state of being, a state of grace. One is defined as a worker for a cause rather than as the Biblical metaphor of an adopted child. As an imperfect, but workable analogy, one may work hard to further the election of the candidate of a political party, for example, but who is it that will take the president’s name? It will be his wife and his children, not his followers. It is understood, too, that his family should work, albeit often imperfectly, for his agenda. It is also inferred by leaders of the movement that one’s depth, one’s passion for the Evangel is measured by, for example, one’s tithing records and by one’s involvement in the churches’ volunteer ministries, by works of the Law, essentially. Often congregates, sheep of the flock, are scolded by the leadership for a wanting more substantive diet. It is often inferred that the ones requesting better food must not be keeping the Law well enough to deserve better food. It is important to know that the definition of disciple is ‘one who learns.’ Parenthetically, remember that Judas could have been, until his betrayal of the Messiah, defined on some level as a Christ-follower.
We, especially in the west, are wired for meritocracy (an anti-thesis to the Gospel?). We want metrics to measure performance. We want benchmarks against which we can compare ourselves to others in the business. We want to engage marketing strategies that gives us market share. We want to brand our image, our organization, to differentiate it from others in the market. We take the pulse of the market with surveys to find what it is that consumers want. This is all fine and well if you want to sell a widget or a consumer service, but is this how the church of Christ is to be managed? Apparently the answer is, sadly, a resounding yes for much of the American church. I have commented before on the reading habits of much of the leadership of the movement. Often the leaders and CEOs, labels they often choose for themselves either as an adjunct or replacement for the label of pastor, will list the books they are reading on their blogs. The vast majority of the books seem to be of a business or marketing focus. Rarely do you find a substantive work of theology in their reading lists. Nothing wrong with books on business and leadership, but the seeming lack of substantive theological reading for a church leader is disconcerting. The fallout from years, decades, of marketing church seems at times to be a softening of the hard message of the Gospel. What is found is sometimes a weakening of the nature of sin by defining it as mistakes that hurt our lives in the here and now, a sharp contrast to sin being Biblically defined as an open rebellion to a holy Triune God. This subtle redefining of the nature of sin as something debilitating we do to ourselves points to a need for a therapeutic Gospel, a Gospel where the Cross is the place to go to get your relationships fixed, a second chance to get things right and erase mistakes. That is what people want to hear, that is what the market bears. The Cross is ultimately not about second chances, though. If it is just a second chance, I will, left to my own devices, ruin the do-over, too. I think a reading of Peter’s less-than-seeker sensitive sermon found in Acts chapter 2 would be of value in defining how the Gospel is presented in the New Testament.
The problem with the business-centric benchmarks used on the attractional church is that market-share, numbers, becomes the measure of success rather than fidelity to the Biblical texts. Those growing numbers can, and sometimes does, breed ugly hubris in those that cultivated them. As I have mentioned before, it is interesting that, as far as I have been able to tell, nowhere in Biblical texts are churches and persons ever commended or condemned for the number of, or lack of, converts. God builds His kingdom through His ordained ways and means. He does not need clever marketing schemes and bait and switch tactics. He can use the weak and foolish to confound the strong and wise and that so that all glory belongs to Him alone. Therein I find hope.
What is sometimes obscured in these churches with their disdain for deeper Biblical knowledge is the clear picture of the Triune God’s grand meta-narrative of redemptive history revealed in the Bible, the true story of the Triune God intervening, working and moving sovereignly in time and space, a narrative of creation, of the Fall, of the promise of a coming Redeemer in Genesis chapter three, shown in the types and shadows in the prophets and the Law, with the Kingdom inaugurated by Christ’s birth, death, burial, and resurrection and culminating with His triumphant, physical return in glory. Rather we are all to often primarily presented with the Bible as being a source of moral examples to live up to and tips on living better lives. God is often presented as One Who exists to help us fulfill our dreams and assist us in living up to our potential. It errantly turns the focus inward to us. Too, what is all-too-often substituted for a substantive Biblical diet, the non-subjective Gospel truth of the five Solas, is a serving of entertainment. Quite frankly, I find little humor in the Bible. One may find sarcasm at times, but not much humor. While humor, theater, and skits, and a rocking praise band may draw a crowd, you will find, as others has said, that what you draw people with is what you draw them to, and what you draw them with is what you keep them with.