Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Seeker-Friendly Church

There has been increasing rhetoric about the "seeker friendly" church, both positive and negative. The first time I heard the term was in a negative fashion from the leadership of the church I once attended. It seemed that great pride was taken in our church being "a hard church to go to." It was as if it were some exclusive club to which only those who had attained a certain spiritual level could belong. If you could tough it out and stick with the pastor, he would "take you places you never thought you would go." To this day, I am still puzzled about what that prideful and grandiose statement meant. I know of many faithful people who stuck with him that ended up in bad places that they did not expect to be, or want to be. So perhaps, in a sadly ironic way, that statement was true.

A seeker is someone who makes a search or inquiry. The word friendly means to be inclined to approve, help, or support. If someone is searching for a relationship with God, as well as with other believers, then why on earth would we not want to lend help to or support to them? If there are small changes that can be made in the surroundings or the delivery of the message without compromising the integrity of the message itself, then why not do it? Who established all the trappings and traditions that supposedly define church to begin with? Man did, of course. Scripture does not support having to follow a strict dress code in order to be deserving enough to worship God. God sees us all the time. Do you suppose that a person is more pleasing to Him if they wear a suit ? Or a designer dress? To be required to dress to the nines on Sunday morning is obviously to be seen of men. That is simply more pressure and emphasis on image. And that pulls people away from God.

Matthew 11:28-30 in the Amplified says:

28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.]
29 Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls.
30 For My yoke is wholesome (useful, good--not harsh, hard, sharp, or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant), and My burden is light and easy to be borne.

And in the Message, it says:

28-30 "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

Jesus said that we would find rest in Him, and that His yoke was comfortable and pleasant and His burden was light and easy to be borne. Why then should we give any man the authority to place a burden on us? People have enough to deal with out in the world not to have more stress placed on them by church leadership. Sadly, often the leaders in these kinds of churches are so out of touch with the real world that they are clueless about how to help or even how to create an atmosphere of worship where people can truly seek God for answers.

So, bring on the small groups, the coffee, the casual clothes (including the flip flops), and the pleasant surroundings. If Jesus Himself said it was not supposed to be hard, then who are we to change that?

- V