When a criticism is really a compliment
I’ve been tagged with being soft on sin before, which is a common trope about churches that are less-than-fundamentalist, but another one I’ve heard recently is that I’m “seeker-sensitive.” I was surprised to hear this feedback as a sort of criticism because I relish in being seeker-sensitive. We’re committed to posturing our entire church toward the “next person.” That means being sensitive at how we build our culture, naming things that go without saying, and lowering the context in order to help people follow Jesus. We think the entire church exists for those yet to join, that worship deepens you as a disciple and is an opportunity for making disciples, and that the number one job of the church is the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
These are lofty ideas and we have high ideals and aspirations in trying to fulfill them, and we miss the mark sometimes. But we’re always debriefing and thinking about how to improve. We are often asking ourselves, “What would this meeting be like for someone here for the first time?” We want to create a hospitable experience and a welcome community. Of course, what pastor and what Christian doesn’t want that? No one would readily admit it, but I can admit that sometimes my experiences at new places, and not just new churches, has been less-than considerate, less-than warm. Something as simple as not knowing how to order at a restaurant (where the line begins at a deli, for example) is intimidating and can be a challenge.
The more unspoken norms your people know, the less inclusive you are. “This is the way things are done around here.” Lots of dialogue about the way things used to be, or the good old days is always less inclusive and certainly not postured toward someone new. If the best thing you can talk about is what you did and who you were, you’re not really going anywhere.
But what’s up with people who are averse to that language?
Like I said above, I don’t think anyone is actually opposed, but I do think that sometimes Christians want all of their discipleship to be neatly packed into a 90-minute meeting. Or they might just have high expectations for a specific liturgical or high church tradition, and the truth is, those kinds of meetings are simply not inclusive. When everything is regimented and you need to know exactly when to stand, sit, repeat after someone, speak in unison, it can be hard to be accommodating. That’s why I go to great pains to make sure that everyone knows how to participate and why they participate.
But if we’re just preaching to the choir, I think we’re missing the point of our ongoing existence. I don’t expect our church or any church to meet everyone’s needs or even to be a great fit for everyone, but I think we need to be committed to looking out for the person who might be looking for us. And I think every church that’s worth its salt needs to keep doing that (and the ones that don’t, should probably close).
But what about my needs?
While the church’s posture needs to be outward and inclusive, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for people to deepen their own faith. Unfortunately, if you think a complicated expositional sermon and robust worship music is how your faith will deepen, I’m afraid you might be as deep as you think. The measure of our depth, according to Jesus, is in our ability to serve. Jesus humbled enough to save us. We should have the same posture of humility in serving each other.
If you want to deepen your faith, serve. Be a part of the family business. Share some of your time, heart, and money with the church. As the saying goes, the method is in the medium. People often ask for “better food,” making an allusion to Paul’s words to the Corinthians. They might think that food offered by the church is too milky and not meaty enough. If that sounds gross, that’s OK. It kind of is. My take is that if you can’t feed yourself and you must be spoon-fed, that’s OK, but you might want to minimize your demands on the cooks making the food.
On the other hand, if you want to get in on the food production, so to speak, grab a knife. There’s room in the kitchen for you. There’s room for your passion, creativity, and energy. And you know what? I can guarantee deepening results. In my opinion, the deepest thing you can do as a Christian is make a disciple. That’s the culmination of loving God and loving each other, helping someone follow the One Who is love.
Sharing the Gospel and helping someone follow Jesus, helping someone join his liberation and reconciliation ministry, is the culmination of spiritual depth and discipline.
— Jonny Rashid (@Jonnyrashid) May 30, 2018
If you’re critical of a seeker-sensitive church, try to make a disciple. In Circle of Hope that might mean recommended someone to our covenant, starting a cell, or leading someone to worship. There are many other ways to do that too. My life and experience as a pastor has definitely deepened me, and I’ve lost the fake bifurcation of “personal” and “corporate” spiritual life. It’s all one cloth. God tends to me, as the whole person I am, all the time
We’re all seekers
I was talking to a new friend today who said they were an agnostic. I chuckled and said, I am too sometimes. I mean to say, I wake up an agnostic and have to follow Jesus every day. I am seeking Jesus every day. I’m a seeker. Christianity, and my faith, isn’t just reduced to a conversion experience or to just agreeing to some sweet principles. It’s a lived reality. It’s about who I am and what I’m doing. That’s an everyday choice, especially in a world that wants to take up my time and energy, and capture my heart and even my body. Every day, I have to resist that.
Furthermore, I am re-baptized every day, in a sense, because I have to keep naming Jesus as my Lord. I have to name that I belong to Jesus. I might “deconvert” on days I feel more doubtful, distressed, or frustrated. But I keep going back. I keep converting. I keep connecting. I keep seeking the savior. This allows me to be comfortable with my own doubt; it allows me to grow and process my faith regularly, and actually prevents me from a faith crisis that might blow up my whole life.
Being committed to evangelism has changed how I approach my relationships, my faith, and my life. And without a doubt, my commitment to being seeker-sensitive has made me a deeper Christian, a better pastor, and a better friend even. I am not sure how I could be a part of a church that didn’t fundamentally ultimately prioritize being sensitive to the next person. The doors have to be open. How will I get in otherwise?