To Seek or Not

To Seek or Not
Kent Philpott
Kent Philpott Kent Philpott is pastor of Miller Avenue Baptist Church, Mill Valley, California, and director of Earthen Vessel Publishing.
01 November, 1998 4 min read

The ‘Seeker Church’ is state-of-the-art for Californian churches. Everything is calculated to get the unchurched into the pew. Television programming is the standard, the guiding principle being ‘what works for the networks will work for the church’.

Getting on board

Seeker churches are successful; therefore, traditional churches are changing to get on board. A Baptist church in San Jose has dropped ‘Calvary’ from its name, thinking that so blatant a reference to the cross might prevent people from attending.

‘Celebration’ is the name being used for a new series of churches in California. Led by scores of recent seminary graduates, the Celebration churches are employing every technique touted by the church-growth movement. Two recent new church starts by the Celebration group are doing very well; within weeks both churches passed the 500 mark in attendance.

Shall we rejoice in this? I would like to. It is difficult for me to oppose the Seeker churches. Their pastors want to make a difference and reach the unchurched. They do have a zeal for God. But can I approve them and maintain biblical integrity?

Community asset

What happens in a Seeker church? There is celebration, uplifting music, and dynamic movement from one element of a service to another. Story-telling is used to encourage and inspire. There are opportunities to ‘network’ with others and build friendships. People are attracted to the Seeker church and are thus exposed to the Scriptures and some form of the gospel message. These all appear to be ‘positives’.

Additionally, from a sociological point of view, the Seeker church is a community asset. Psychologically speaking, the Seeker church is beneficial. There are economic, even political, advantages to being associated with such a ‘spiritual’ fellowship. What’s wrong, then?

Built-in offence

Seeker church leaders know that the gospel of Christ has a built-in offence to it. These leaders are aware that what is ‘spiritual’ is acceptable, even popular, but they also know that Bible-based and Christ-centred programmes are not. And I have to agree — the Seeker church people are right. Therefore, the Seeker church presents a watered-down form of the gospel that does not take the Bible seriously enough. It is like an inoculation for a contagious disease. You get just enough, but not sufficient to do any harm!

People are coming into the Seeker church for reasons other than a desire to worship and praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. These people are not hearing a genuine gospel message. Therefore, they are merely being ‘Christianised’ rather than truly converted. What if a genuine seeker after God attended a ‘Seeker church’? Suppose someone took seriously Jesus’ admonition to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness? Would that person find Jesus, or would they find something less?

Who should I please?

As a pastor I must ask myself, ‘Is my goal to get people into a pew?’ Is my concern to make the organisational machinery function? Is it to increase the bottom line? Is my primary motivation to appear successful in the eyes of those around me? If so, then I should employ the methods of the Seeker church.

What if I preach the gospel and attempt to be faithful to a New Testament standard and, as a result, fail to do as well as the pastors of the Seeker churches? Who am I trying to please? What is the best I can do for the people in my congregation?

The answers to these questions are obvious. One, I am not called to be successful, I am called to be faithful. Two, I am a servant of my Master who has called me to labour in his vineyard. I must therefore please him, not men. Three, only those who are born again will inherit the kingdom of God and enjoy glorious eternal life.

Too big a price

Here is what I can do, however. I can employ, as best I can, any methods of the Seeker church that attract people legitimately, and at the same time I can boldly proclaim the gospel. I am not interested in having boring services, and I hope to inspire and encourage those who attend.

But let me tell you what I have found — I can only do it up to a certain point. I refuse to have a rock/praise band play soapy, sentimental praise songs for an hour in order to get people in the right mood. I refuse to limit the gospel presentation to a twelve-minute sound bite, all the while minimising the Scripture and only obliquely mentioning Christ and his cross. No, that is altogether too big a price to pay.

Interestingly, I have found that born-again people long to hear the gospel preached, love to sing the great hymns of the church, and delight to worship God in simplicity from the heart, without artificial stimulation. The gospel preached, and the Scriptures taught, build up and inspire, encourage and challenge, instruct and refine. No amount of entertainment can do this.

Jesus has come to seek and to save those who are lost. He is the real Seeker, for it is he who searches for sinners till he finds them! A genuine Seeker church must be one where Christ is present in the gospel and the Word. Then those who are seeking the kingdom of God in earnest will be found.

Kent Philpott
Kent Philpott is pastor of Miller Avenue Baptist Church, Mill Valley, California, and director of Earthen Vessel Publishing.
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