Part 2 of 3
Many Christians believe “seeker” churches are the problem. Some accuse “seeker” churches of “watering down” the gospel and never bringing new believers very far past a faith decision. Yet in terms of our contention in this blog that “seekers” are still “customers”, not yet saved and therefore worth pursing by any means necessary, “seeker” churches have a role in the Kingdom.
However, to illustrate where “seeker” churches do become an issue, let’s use the analogy of the American educational system:
- Elementary School – Builds a foundation, comparable to the “milk” spoken of by Paul in Hebrews 5:13.
- High School – Taking believers a bit deeper, maturing in understanding – beginning to eat “solid foods” according to Paul. The majority of churches today fall in this category, offering only discipleship “lite” in the form of small groups.
- College – These churches provide more in-depth Bible studies and challenge congregation members with a steady stream of opportunities for on-the-job training in the community and around the world.
- Grad School – Members and frequent attenders of “grad school” churches are all expected to earn advanced degrees as disciples of Jesus Christ through 1-on-1 and triad discipleship and to live out the Great Commission daily.
Which one of these is your church?
“Seeker” churches rarely take members past high school, and many stop at elementary school. And that’s ok as long as they encourage them to move up to a high school or college when they’re ready to graduate…
That question applies to all churches. I’ve never come across a church that confesses they don’t provide all 4 levels of education and refers members/attenders to another church once they’ve exhausted all the depth their church can supply.
Instead every church tries to hang on to every person. That’s a disservice to the Christian and the Kingdom. As we’ve mentioned in prior blogs, if clinging to members in any way inhibits pastors from coming clean with them about the costs of discipleship or challenging them boldly with the Great Commission, then that constitutes sin. Calling members to be all they should be in Christ does involve the risk that they’ll leave for a less demanding church, but it’s the right thing to do.
Few churches offer all 4 levels today. I believe the early Church did provide all 4 – it had the “milk”, the “solid food”, the on-the-job community engagement and the Great Commission mandate. However, it seems now churches select one or two of those to do well, whichever one(s) match up best with their mission, who they’re trying to reach and the community where they’re planted.
Why do pastors have such a difficult time admitting that? Why do few have the humility to send people on their way if they don’t do it all? A church who simply doesn’t have enough senior, discipled, mature leaders to start a grad school program either should commit to fix that problem, or congratulate and bid farewell to those ready for a “masters” or “doctorate” level church. Some may argue that those senior, mature leaders should stick around to disciple others, but their skills are likely underutilized by elementary and high school level churches where serious discipleship isn’t a priority.
Repeating a Grade
What are the pitfalls of clinging to those who are ready to graduate from your church? Why should more elementary and high school churches develop college and graduate programs?:
- The high costs involved in programs, facilities, staff and amenities to cater to “seekers” and immature believers, diverts valuable resources away from potential investments in starting college level and graduate programs.
- Many actual elementary schools and high schools today have to teach “down” to the level of the lower students to try to bring them along. Unfortunately, the effort to leave no one behind means schools can’t teach up to the higher level students (so the most intelligent and ambitious wind up “left behind” instead). In college and grad school, there’s none of that. But few churches in the U.S. provide college or grad school level educations in Bible literacy or the Great Commission lifestyle, instead stopping at the “elementary teachings”. (Hebrews 6:1)
- Elementary and high school don’t directly lead into careers. They just build a basis for learning. In this analogy, the occupation of the churchgoer is the Great Commission. People who have only gone through elementary and high school aren’t yet ready to “work”. They aren’t disciples yet so how can they “make disciples”? They haven’t been adequately challenged and therefore aren’t highly motivated to “go” (out of their comfort zones). However, those going through college and grad school are preparing for their career, so they’re ready to step immediately into “going” (motivated for real life change) and “making disciples” (knowledge of how to do so).
A recent conference featuring pastors of some of the largest churches in the U.S. addressed attracting today’s millennial generation. Their recommendations were to engage millenials using a slight twist on the same prevailing Invite, Involve, Invest church growth model we’ve discussed on this blog – with the twist being more emphasis on community. They suggested not preaching the gospel at first, attracting them into the building through relationships and then getting them involved to make the church “sticky”. The speakers pointed to a bright future for the Church and claimed we’re on the right track.
Yet no one at the conference discussed why young people today aren’t aggressive in sharing their faith – that “seeker” churches aren’t challenging and empowering new believers to BE the living, breathing church. Instead they’re simply asked to invite their friends to their “seeker” church where the professionals will slowly bring them along. The conference subscribed to the centralized model of church as an institution – finding creative ways to get millenials into the building. These “seeker” churches play an important role but don’t provide the college and grad school education necessary to incent and teach young people to follow the Great Commission. And the philosophy sounds self serving – it builds a bigger church, but one full of people with very little life change. While it may “work” for that church, 93% of churches are not growing and the Church overall is in decline in attendance, impact, influence and perception.
An Alternative View
Some blog readers have commented with a different view of church related to the seeker movement, espoused by some well known leaders in the Christian community. They state that the purpose of corporate worship is to equip and refresh the Saints for the week ahead. Interestingly, this model holds that seekers were never meant to feel “comfortable” in Church. An analogy is a customer who wouldn’t feel comfortable in a corporate boardroom or at the manufacturing plant. Those facilities are not intended for them. This framework contends that elementary and high school level churches are flawed from inception in their model and approach. They can’t provide a level of education up to the standards of the “Saints” because there are seekers in the room. So they overspend on attraction and teach “down” when churches by nature (according to my readers’ argument) weren’t meant to be concerned about what a seeker thinks when they visit the church. The message and commitment is inherently too challenging for non-believers or fence-sitters. Along this line of thinking, trying to make a “seeker” cozy in a place that shouldn’t be designed for them is a losing proposition. People can get saved in a church service but that should not be the ultimate goal of corporate gathering and worship is their argument.
Where those readers’ contention intersects with the theme of this blog series is in the importance of members BEING the church outside the 4 walls. If corporate worship and the church facilities should not be designed for “seekers” then it’s critical that churchgoers be the hands and feet of Christ when they leave the building. In this alternative model, churchgoers would be the only opportunity seekers have to “interact” with church.
It’s Your Turn…
Are there areas where you feel this analogy, comparing the assorted levels of church “offerings” in America today to the structure of our educational system, doesn’t hold water?
Great message Jim! Thankful for your heart and insight. Keep on challenging and teaching the Body to grow and serve.
Thankful for you.
Finding this post has aneerwsd my prayers