The Seeker Sensitive Church

Aside from the Gospel of Jesus Christ, one of the greatest influences on me as a pastor has been the life and ministry of Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones. Even though he passed away in March of 1981, his sermons still speak volumes to modern-day Christians.  Lloyd Jones has served as an example of what an evangelist should look like, particularly in how he viewed the church.

In 1943, Lloyd Jones became the pastor of Westminster Chapel. And he quickly became known for his utter dependance upon God as well as his belief in the power of the Gospel to draw men. Dr. Lloyd Jones didn’t believe in pragmatics and worldly means to draw people to the church. Rather, he believed that the preaching of the Word of God was all that was needed to draw men to Christ.

Lloyd Jones was also known for his passionate expository preaching. He did not preach sermons that started with the problems of man and then make his way to the scriptures. Instead, he always began with God’s Word and let it then speak to men. He held a very high view of God and the Church of Jesus Christ.

When planning his worship services, Lloyd Jones did not concern himself with what would please his congregation. His sole purpose in worship was to focus on pleasing and glorifying the Lord.  His view of the church was not considered cool, and he was not worried about being culturally relevant.

Lloyd Jones was so opposed to pragmatic means taking the place of Gospel proclamation within the church that one of the first things he did when he became the pastor of the Westminster Chapel in London was to nail the pulpit to the floor. Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones unapologetically preached the Gospel as it was. And as a result thousands were drawn to Christ.

Unfortunately, this mindset of seeking the desires of the Lord in worship has been replaced with the seeker sensitive movement of modern-day culture. The seeker sensitive movement does just what it sounds like. It is predominantly concerned with pleasing the people (or seekers) rather than pleasing God.

Churches in this movement desire to look more like the world in order to become appealing to the masses. For many of these churches, Christ centered worship has been replaced with an environment resembling that of a secular rock concert, putting the spotlight on performers. Sermons that contain a rebuke of sin are considered judgmental. And calling people to a life of holiness and repentance is viewed as legalistic.

Seeker sensitive churches do not ask the question, “How far away from the line of sin can we flee?” Rather, they ask, “How close to the line can we get without stepping over?” Or in some extreme cases, they just move the line altogether.

Preachers in this movement are encouraged to be entertainers in part, and a serious focus on the scriptures is frowned upon. The concern is not how many people are growing in their sanctification, but how many warm bodies are in attendance.

“When amusement is necessary to get people to listen to the gospel there will be failure. This is not the method of Christ. To form an organization and provide all kinds of entertainment for young people, in order that they may come to the Bible classes, is to be foredoomed to failure.” -G. Campbell Morgan.

The concept of church discipline is almost non-existent within the seeker sensitive movement. Many times, the sins of the people in seeker sensitive churches (and their leaders) is tolerated or all together ignored. Transgressions go unaddressed as to not offend anyone who may be dealing with sin. And no mind is given to the fact that the Lord is offended by their tolerance of sin.

The seeker sensitive movement is driven by pragmatics and not the Gospel. It hopes to draw more people into the church with entertainment and a more worldly look. While some may have the best of intentions with these additions to worship, they actually belittle the Lord with their church makeover.

They are basically saying that the preaching of the Word of God is not enough to draw men, so we need to add more into it. And in doing this, they portray to everyone a very low view of God.

The high view of God and of the church that Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones held was not concocted by him, but rather had its roots traced back to the times of the reformation and even to the back to the Old Testament itself.

Throughout the scriptures, it is God who has detailed to man how He desires to be worshipped. In both the Old Testament and New, the worshipers of God would come to the temple in a spirit of reverence with no intentions except to give praise to the Lord. Man has always strayed into disobedience when either he began to twist or add to how the Lord asked to be worshipped.

We can see this perversion of worship in the historical account of Cain and Abel. The Lord told the brothers how he desired to be worshipped through the bringing of their sacrifices. The Lord had required an animal sacrifice of the flock’s first-born which Abel brought forth. However, Cain’s offering was an offering of fruit and not animal. Abel’s worship was acceptable to God, and Cain’s was not.

When the people of God were transporting the Ark of the Covenant in the book of 1 Samuel, one of the many requirements of the Lord was that no one touch the Ark. It was to be carried with poles. However, as the Ark was being carried, the men stumbled. Uzzah reached in an attempt to keep the Ark from falling and touched the Ark. And the Lord killed him on spot.

Why did God kill Uzzah for merely trying to do what he thought was best for the preservation of the Ark? No doubt, Uzzah was only trying to help! So why the harsh reaction from the Lord?

Because our worship and obedience should never be based on what we think is best, despite the circumstances. Rather worship and obedience to God should always be done as God requires, regardless of circumstances.

We see a similar scenario when the sons of Aaron came to worship the Lord. Again, God had laid out how he desire to be worshipped. But the brothers added strange fire to the Lord’s commands in hopes of pleasing Him. But instead of pleasing God with their additions, the Lord kills them.

This is so important to grasp.

Why did God kill the sons of Aaron? To read the account, they were only attempting to enhance their worship with the addition of this strange fire. During this time period, fire was used by the people who worshipped false pagan Gods. No doubt, it was seen as a cutting edge way of worship. It was alluring to people. And maybe even viewed as entertaining.

But again, we learn that worship is not defined by man. We do not get to decide how God might be better worshipped. It is not our job to give God a makeover so that He might seem less offensive and more relevant to the world.

Many modern-day seeker sensitive churches attempt to make their worship more worldly in hopes of alluring or entertaining their congregants. And in doing so, they fall into the same folly as did the sons of Aaron. Adding strange fire, in any form, to the worship of God is a dangerous game.

In Exodus, we find God’s people building a Golden Calf.

“And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”  When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.”  And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” Exodus 32:4-6.

What many have failed to realize is that the Israelites were actually following some of the guidelines for worship that the Lord had laid out for them. They said in the midst of their pagan worship, “And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” They had heard this saying before from the Lord Himself when He rescued them from enslavement.

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Exodus 20:2.

They even offered sacrifices to their false God. But in the midst of this worship, they added in elements that were desirable to their flesh and not in the commands of God. The scripture says that as they worshipped, they rose up to play, which translates that they participated in sexual sin. Sin was tolerated, and repentance was shunned.

They were adhering to some of the Lord’s guidelines for worship, but also adding in their own elements and allowing sin to go unaddressed.  It’s quite easy to shake our heads in disdain at the Israelites, and wonder how they could be so ignorant. When ironically, much of our church culture has molded their own golden calves in the form of entertaining worship services and sermons that are more or less inspirational speeches that are void of an urgent plea for repentance. This is the seeker sensitive movement.

Ezekiel chapter 37 is one of my favorite passages of scripture. It is the vision of the prophet Ezekiel standing in a valley of dead, dry, human bones. The Lord asks Ezekiel how the bones may live again? Ezekiel responds, “Lord, only you know.”

The Lord told Ezekiel to speak the Word of the Lord to the bones, and they came to life. But this didn’t happen immediately. Ezekiel spoke the Words of the Lord to the bones, and the bones came together with muscle and ligament, but still there was no breath in them. Ezekiel had to continue speaking the Word of the Lord, and eventually it was God who breathed new life into them.

Ezekiel could have easily grown frustrated. He could have said to the Lord, “I know a faster way to bring them to life.” The Word of the Lord is one that rebukes sinners and calls them to turn from their worldly ways.

What if Ezekiel would have said, “You know God, your Word is very harsh. So why don’t I just speak a word of encouragement to the bones and create an inviting environment so they might be more receptive?” Do you think God needed Ezekiel to add to the Word of the Lord in order for those bones to live? Absolutely not.

The dead bones were a shadow of the dead state of men in their sins. And Ezekiel represents the one speaking or preaching the Word of the Lord. Again, the Lord rhetorically asks the evangelist, “How can these bones live again?”

Many seeker sensitive preachers would respond, “The bones can live again by making worship fun and exciting!” Or perhaps they can live again if we just were not so hard on sin and we portrayed ourselves as being more relevant!”

But not Ezekiel. His response was one of utter helplessness. “Lord, only you know.” 

There is no doubt that if our definition of church growth refers to how many people are in attendance on Sunday mornings, there is no doubt we could get faster results with seeker sensitive outreaches. But if we draw people to the Gospel with pragmatic means, we will have to continue to provide pragmatics to keep them. It’s easy to fill a church will proverbial dead bones. Its much more difficult to breathe life into them.

Consider this allegory. Imagine there was a King that was going away for a long time. And before his departure, he gave orders to his servants to take care of his bride.

His bride was beautiful and pure. And the kings orders were very detailed. He wanted her to be presented to the kingdom in a reverent manner. The king ordered that she wear no make up and be clothed in pure white.

After the king had departed, the servants noticed that very few people were coming to the kingdom. So in an attempt to draw more people into the kingdom, the servants changed the appearance of the king’s bride. They added make up, and clothed her in the most popular clothing of the day.

As a result thousands were drawn to the kingdom. But it was not the purity of the kingdom that drew them, but rather they came as a result of the new worldly make over. When the King the servants were elated. They expected a pat on the back for all the new people who had come to the kingdom.

But the king saw what they had done to his bride, and he knew that they had gone against what he had requested. They had made his Kingdom into a mockery, and had drawn people who wanted a more worldly kingdom, and not one that represented purity.

The king sent the servants away from the kingdom into outer darkness along with all of those who had praised the perversion of his bride.

Thomas Aquinas was once told that it seemed that many people in the world were seeking after God. This was contrary to Romans chapter 3, where Paul wrote that no man seeks after God. Aquinas responded that men were seeking after the benefits of God, but did not actually want God Himself. They did not want to submit to God. They merely wanted to paint Him in their own image. They wanted a golden calf.

Sadly, this remains true in our day. Seeker sensitive churches desire to be more pleasing to man rather than God. They tend to shy away from preaching against sin and obedience in exchange for sermons about life improvement and mood enhancement. They shutter at preaching the wrath and Holiness of God and focus most of the messages on love and acceptance. And they celebrate teachings centered around their church ‘image’ or ‘branding’ rather than Biblical doctrine.

Seeker sensitive churches would rather be relevant to the culture rather than reverent to God. And in essence, they focus on the attributes of God that build man up while watering down or all together casting away the truths of God that expose our human depravity and inability.

Pastor Voddie Baucham rightly said, “Seeker sensitive churches cherish the addition of an 11th commandment, which says ‘Thou shalt be nice.’ And this added commandment from man tends to trump the former ten from God.”

The church is the very bride of Christ. And the Lord has given specific instructions on how men are to be drawn to His kingdom through His bride. And it is God alone through the proclamation of His word that does the drawing. The church doesn’t need a worldly makeover in order to draw more people. It needs obedient saints that realize their inabilities and cling to the Word of the Lord.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5.

On the day of Judgement, we should not fear so much for the lost person as we should for those who considered themselves servants of God and took liberties with His church. When the King comes back, His bride should be a place of reverence. She should be prepared to be appealing to the King, and not dressed up to be attractive to those outside of the Kingdom.

In reality there is no such thing as a seeker sensitive church. Because again, the apostle Paul wrote in Romans chapter 3 that no one seeks God. All men, in their dead state of sin are born haters of God. They want the benefits of God without bowing their knees to Him. That is until God breaths life into them through the means of His spoken Word.  So there are no true seekers except the Lord. And if we are going to be sensitive to someone, it should be to HIM.

I will conclude with a short video that mockingly spoofs these seeker sensitive churches. It would be quite comical if sadly it were not so true of many popular churches that we are currently seeing today. Christians should never seek a church that caters to meet their personal preferences. Rather we should seek a church that desires to glorify the Lord through the proclaiming the full council of His Word and one that stands on truth, regardless of how offensive it may be to our sinful flesh.

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