Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Seeker Sensitive vs. Seeker Driven

The gospel is a wonderful thing. It is also something that is easily confused. For instance, too often do “evangelists” mistake the effects of the gospel with the gospel itself. How many times have we heard the appeal of an “inner peace,” a “joy to life,” and “knowing the purpose of God”? You see, we’ve mistaken the effects of the gospel for the gospel itself, and we’ve created the Four Spiritual Laws. That isn’t the gospel. That is an effect of the gospel. The gospel is the wrath of a holy God against depraved, sinful men satisfied by Christ on the cross received by grace through faith. That is the gospel. But the gospel shouldn’t stop there. Being a Christian isn’t merely about an ability of ours to recite John 3:16 and the Roman Road. Rather, the gospel should be applied to our lives in sanctification, in relationships, in the local church, etc. This is true Christianity. Remember who were the first people to be called “Christians”? They were the believers in Antioch:

Acts 11 19Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

27Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

Who were these Christians? They were those who 1) were scattered because of persecution, 2) believed in the gospel that was preached by the disciples, 3) were full of the Spirit, 4) were learning from the teaching of the Apostles, 5) were readily sending relief to those in need through the elders. You see, Christianity is much more than being able to recite John 3:16. And, Biblically, it is the Shepherd who cares for the sheep. Pastors and teachers have the responsibility of making sure the church experiences Christianity. The pastor not only teaches the church what the gospel is. He must have them apply the gospel to their lives. And, in order to accomplish this, needs must be met. In order for the church to be the church, the gospel must be pastorally applied that it may be experienced in the meeting of the needs of the flock. You see, while the church is not a seeker driven church, it is indeed a seeker sensitive church.

On one end of the spectrum, you have the seeker driven church, whose only concern is numbers. This church is willing to preach practically anything from the pulpit that people want to hear, for their concern is a roster list. On the other end of the spectrum, there is the church which has the mentality that as long as the gospel is being preached, numbers do not matter. How have we somehow adopted the mentality that numbers do not matter? Sure, we trust God to do his salvific work (and it is his salvific work) through us. But that does not mean that we should not concern ourselves about the number of people who are glorifying God through the Christian life. Numbers matter, for they are the demonstration of the saving work of Christ. They are the demonstration of a gospel that saves people, of a Spirit who regenerates those who would otherwise rush to hell, pushing and shoving.

Sometimes churches, especially Reformed churches, can adopt the mentality of “I’m going to preach my message regardless of what people think, regardless of how they feel, and regardless of whether or not they attend.” This is a good mentality in principle; the teaching of the church should certainly be bound by the Word of God rather than the opinions of man. But part of being a good steward of the Word of God is learning to apply his Word to the church. The Word of God does not conform to the needs of the people. But it should be appropriately applied to the needs of people.

This is the difference between being seeker “sensitive” and being seeker driven. The church’s theology should be pastoral theology; it should be edifying theology. Sometimes we think teaching the “whole counsel” means immediately diving into the difficult end of theology, so that every week your congregation hears your personal defense of a Supralapsarian view of the decrees of God. How would the church ever fulfill its responsibilities of the church? How would needs be met and sanctification be accomplished?

John Frame states in Theology of Opportunity:

Placing the Great Commission as our first priority will affect many other things we do. It will challenge us to train our people in evangelism. It will remind us also that even our worship must be intelligible to visitors, so that they will fall down and exclaim that God is in our midst. Great Commission churches will think less of themselves and more of “seekers.” I agree with my former pastor Dick Kaufmann that churches should not be “seeker driven,” but they should be “seeker sensitive.” The ultimate authority for our ministry comes not from the preferences of unbelievers, but from the word of God. But for that same reason, we are not to be governed by our own preferences either, by what makes us comfortable. It is not ultimately important what music we like, or how long we like to sit, or how big a church we like to have, or how Presbyterians have always done things, our historical traditions. God’s word is important, and that word tells us to sacrifice our preferences for the needs of others, particularly the desperate need of the lost.

…So even with regard to applying simple divine commands, there is a place for sanctified human wisdom. We must not only look at the Scriptures, but also at our own individual gifts and callings, and at the needs of the church in each particular situation. There is, therefore, a place for using extra-biblical knowledge to determine where we can best expend our energies at a particular time. There is also a need for the wisdom of God’s Spirit to enable us to make godly judgments in these areas. Like Paul, we must be aware of where we are in space and time, and we must seek to do there what God calls us to do.

Evan May.


  1. This posting would be clearer to me if you would explain what you mean by "meeting needs". What needs are we talking about? The seeker's felt-needs, or actual physical needs, or spiritual needs that they don't even recognize as needs? Perhaps you could comment further on that. Thank you.

  2. Hey Jim:

    When the Bible uses the word "Spiritual," it is normally in reference to the Holy Spirit and his work. We tend to use it as "immaterial," so that nothing material can be "spiritual." But “Spiritual needs” are needs that concern 1) the needs of the person’s spirit, and 2) the work of the Holy Spirit. They can have material and immaterial manifestations.

    Pastors (shepherds) have the responsibility of making sure the Spiritual needs of the congregation are met (notice that I said they make sure the needs are met, not that they necessarily meet the needs themselves. Pastors and Teachers were given to the church that the church may be equipped to do the work of ministry itself, Eph 4:11-12). These "spiritual needs" have both material and non-material manifestations.

    This is why the church should be concerned about the seeker, concerned about the needs of the people; for as shepherds it is their responsibility to see that the Spiritual needs (whether material or immaterial) are being met.

  3. Thanks for your answer Evan. While that does clear up some of what I was inquiring about, let me cut to the chase a little more.

    I think there's a good chance that the seeker sensitive / purpose driven camp could misunderstand the term "needs" in this post. I'm not sure, to what degree you are agreeing with their views, if at all. Here's a couple of quotes that I think will present what I'm asking:

    Rick Warren: "It is my deep conviction that anybody can be won to Christ if you discover the key to his or her heart, and the most likely place to start looking for that key is within the person's felt needs."

    And on the flip side of the coin, with the opposite point of view, Pastor Clay Miller: "We shouldn't care one bit about someone's felt needs. We don't need a survey to determine a pagan's felt needs, I can save $20,000 for somebody that's thinking about doing
    [such a survey]. A pagan's felt needs are comfort, sex, money and recognition - there you go, you don't need a survey. And what we care about is the true need which is reconciliation to God . . . that's the need that we care about."

    If we are talking about helping out widows and the poor and needy in our community, then that's another type of need than the seeker camp often talks about when they say "felt needs".

    Thanks Evan, love your postings! Keep up the great work here and on your own blog.

  4. Hey Jim:

    Now I better understand your thoughts, so I am better able to clarify. I would call Rick Warren and company Seeker driven, for they mistake, as my post states, the effects of the gospel for the gospel itself. The gospel isn't feeding the poor. The gospel isn't feeling joy inside. The gospel, rather, is the wrath of God against sin satisfied through Christ received by faith.

    I would, however, also disagree with Miller's statements. The church should be concerned about the needs of the people ( material and immaterial; eternal and temporal). But feeding the poor, having joy inside, and even living a good life are all results of the gospel, not the gospel itself. But they are still necessary results.