By R. Brother Michel Lankford

On April 11, 2009 I wrote a note praying for Rick Warren (author of The Purpose Driven Life). That note called “A Prayer for Rick Warren” is posted on this site. The note was also a very strong rebuke to Rick Warren because he actually apologized for a scriptural stand on which she should have remained firm. He apologized for previously taking a stand against gay marriage in California. He also stated more generally, that speaking against gay marriage was “not his agenda.” Scripturally this is a position on which he should have stood firm. However on April 6, 2009; (a date that will live in infamy for Gospel loving people everywhere), Rick Warren went on Larry King live and actually apologized for previously standing up for the biblical point of view on marriage. He committed a serious sin against God, against the Scriptures, and against the biblical office of the pastorate. There are those among you who may wonder how a man can rebuke a “pastor” so severely. The answer is I do so biblically.

Regarding elders that so obviously sin, it is written: 1 Timothy 5:20-21Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear. [21] I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality. 1 Timothy 5:20-21 (KJV) Almighty God, have mercy upon all of us who teach and present Your precepts. Purify our hearts. Mercifully fill us with Your Love, boldness, and courage. Grant that we will not back up, never compromise or water down the truth. Instead let us be transformed by it, filled with it, walk in it, and openly declare it boldly so that lives will be transformed and encouraged to overcome through Jesus Christ, amen.

Since his following is so large and his audience so vast, Mr. Warren could literally cause millions to fall away from obeying the Scriptures, or countless others to remain in their sins and face the wrath of judgment of God.

During this letter I also stated that I had serious problems with the seeker friendly movement in general, and I promised Biblical teaching that would explain my concerns. Here it is. This paper covers two major issues:

• It covers the six major problems with the seeker sensitive/seeker friendly movement from a biblical and godly point of view.
• It covers the seven biblical characteristics and functions of a thriving church.

I pray that you will prayerfully consider and faithfully obey the godly precepts you find in this document.

What Is Seeker Friendly or Seeker Sensitive?

Bill Hybels, and Rick Warren (author of The Purpose Driven Life) are the two standard-bearers for the seeker sensitive church model. If you look at it solely on its surface, it looks great. Rick Warren’s books sell millions of copies, he’s pulling in millions of dollars and tens of thousands of people flock to his doors every week. In fact, if anyone ever questions the seeker friendly movement’s methods the first thing they’ll do is point to all these numbers as a sign of their success. The whole idea is to make God and church more attractive to people in our consumers based mentality. In other words if we can make churches more appetizing to the world, more people will come, more people will hear the gospel and ostensibly more people will receive Christ that otherwise might not be open to the Gospel. That sounds good doesn’t it?

Now, in order to accomplish this what happens is that people wanting to start a seeker friendly model church will go into a community, attempt to discover what people perceive or feel they need, and model their services, programs and their ministry outreach based on the needs that people perceive or feel that they have. You would learn in great detail how to do that at a Rick Warren conference. So what’s wrong with that mentality and approach? Well several things.

1st, it denies the Bible. There really is no such thing as a God seeker according to Scripture. Psalm 14, and Romans chapter 3 both tell us that no one seeks after God. It is not natural to the sinful human being to pursue God. In fact the Bible makes it very clear that the messages of God and the Gospel are foolishness to those that are perishing in their sins. It only makes sense after you’ve accepted Christ (1 Corinthians 1:18). Here is the secret that Rick Warren & Co. have forgotten. The true God seekers are NOT the sinful world. The true God seekers are those that accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and are seeking to obey Him! Until they get saved, they’re not God seekers, God is seeking them!

2nd, it uses worldly marketing consumer approaches instead of sound biblical teaching. The problem with commercializing the church is that in the marketplace one must adopt the approach that the customer is always right. Therefore in business you adapt your product and your approach to selling a product to whatever the consumer wants or feels that they need. The problem with this is that God does not deal with people on the basis of what they feel they need, but what they really do need. In the seeker friendly motivated church you will not hear sermons about sin and repentance, about hell for those who refuse to repent and turn to God, or about the real cost of discipleship. In fact you won’t hear anything about what might potentially be offensive or a real challenge to the “seeker.” Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that we need to hear hellfire and brimstone fear mongering sermons every week, but if you can write an entire book about God’s purpose for your life and not mention His judgment and the need to repent one time, then something’s wrong. It’s about man pleasing NOT God pleasing at that point.

Hey folks, if making the message of the kingdom of God more popular and appetizing to the world would’ve accomplished what really needed to be done, don’t you think that Jesus would have continued that way? If meeting the needs that the consumers felt they had would have changed people from sinners into children of God, then why did Jesus have to die? No, Jesus Christ knew that people would be attracted to this kind of nonsense so He demonstrated in living color that the seeker sensitive church approach wouldn’t really work at changing people from the inside out. Think about it.

Nobody provided for the physical immediate needs of people more than Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ performed no less than 35 visible miracles in three years. Those miracles met every need from curing hunger in a crowd of thousands, to healing leprosy (which was the AIDS of that day). He healed major handicaps, brought lasting deliverance to those who were oppressed by demons; sometimes curing crowds from dawn to dusk, and He raised the dead. He met all those needs in spectacular fashion.

If meeting people’s needs would have transformed people from the inside out from sinners into Saints, then the children of Israel should have been the most God loyal and obedient people the world had ever seen. But no matter what God provided in the wilderness, the children of Israel continued to grumble, disobey and rebel against God.

After all of the miracles that God performed for Israel they continued to rebel. You only have to read the books of Genesis to Deuteronomy to see that. After all the miracles that Jesus performed to meet the needs of the people, with very few exceptions the crowd cried out crucify him, we want Barabbas! Why? Because it’s human nature to want the blessings that God provides without really submitting to God’s authority. The truth is that unless God really changes our spirits, hearts and minds from the inside out, any one of us would betray God and Christ in a moment. The apostle Peter thought He could stay loyal to the Lord on the sheer force of his own will, but he learned differently (Matthew 26:31; Matthew 26:69-75)

3rd, it allows people to develop a form of godliness but denying its power. What do I mean? The real power of God is God’s power to transform a sinner into a righteous person from the inside out. When the Holy Spirit is really and truly involved in the movement, one of the first things that you will see is a genuine conviction of sin, a conviction of what is righteous, and a conviction of God’s coming judgment. (John 16:8-9). When the Holy Spirit is really and truly involved in the movement you will see the person, the commands and the teachings of Jesus Christ being exalted and affirmed (John 14:26). When the Holy Spirit who resurrected Jesus Christ from the dead is really involved in a movement you will see genuine life change from the inside out (Galatians 5:14-21; Romans 8:11; Philippians 2:13). You’ll begin seeing lasting fruit in people’s life that agree with repentance (Matthew 3:8). The church can never try replace the conviction of the Holy Spirit with a slick marketing strategy and achieve God’s purposes in people’s lives.

4th It trains us to be consumers and not disciples. The fourth reason that I can’t get behind and support the seeker friendly church model is that it’s training people to become church consumers instead of disciples of Jesus Christ. God’s word warns us against doing church that way. God warned us to stay true to the Gospel and not to adapt to what’s popular because it would draw people away from the saving Gospel. 2 Timothy 4:1-5 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2 proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 5 As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully. 2 Timothy 4:1-5 (NRSV)

The seeker friendly church movement is actually teaching pastors how to accommodate itching ears; how to adapt programs and ministries according to what people feel they need , or want to hear. Whole generations of pastors in America are being trained to adapt the message and ministry to suit the desires of the crowd rather than the requirements of the Gospel. Churches are being trained to satisfy the appetites of people, when Jesus Christ clearly says that the only way to be truly satisfied is for people to change their appetites to agree with God (Matthew 5:6).

Whole generations of people are being trained that if I’m not happy with God and church, then God and church are going to have to change to accommodate me so I’ll be happy. If God and the church don’t change to accommodate me, then something’s wrong with the process. That’s what you’re planting in people’s thinking.

The truth is that it’s the other way around. The kingdom of heaven is a kingdom. It’s not a democracy or republic. God does not rule by popular vote or opinion. The true citizens of God’s heavenly kingdom are subject to the King, not the other way around. The seeker friendly church model is setting people up to become unable to accept God’s direction and discipline, because it’s founded on the idea that I shouldn’t have to accept anything with which I am not comfortable. There are only a few responses that the sinner can have in the midst of the true Church of God. The sinner can be confronted in church. The sinner can be convicted in church. The sinner can be converted in church. Or the sinner can choose to remain in his or her sins and be offended in church. One thing the sinner cannot and will not be allowed to do in any true church of God is remain comfortable, while they run headlong into God’s righteous judgment over sin.

5th Without realizing it, some of them can actually be helping the devil fulfill his agenda: I know that this sounds harsh, but please bear with me a moment. 2 Corinthians 4:4 tells us that the “god of this age” has blinded the minds of unbelieving people so they can’t recognize the light of the Gospel. So, why does the devil blind their mind? So they won’t be able to recognize their need for a Savior, right? Therefore, if you allow a church that establishes a culture that says “never make the seeker uncomfortable,” then you are actually helping the devil to continue blinding their minds, because confronting one’s sinful nature is anything but comfortable.

6th Even they admit it’s not effective: The fifth and last reason that I can’t get behind the seeker friendly church model is that one of its founding fathers now admits that they were wrong. Willow Creek has released the results of a multi-year study on the effectiveness of their programs and philosophy of ministry. The study’s findings are in a new book titled Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Cally Parkinson and Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. Hybels himself called the findings “earth shaking,” “ground breaking,” and “mind blowing.” And no wonder: it seems that the “experts” were wrong.

The report reveals that most of what they have been doing for these many years and what they have taught millions of others to do is not producing solid disciples of Jesus Christ. Numbers yes, but not disciples. It gets worse. Hybels laments:

“Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.”

If you simply want a crowd, the “seeker sensitive” model produces results. If you want solid, sincere, mature followers of Christ, it’s a bust. In a shocking confession, Hybels states:

“We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.”

Incredibly, the charlatan of church growth now tells us that people need to be reading their bibles and taking responsibility for their spiritual growth.

What’s perhaps the scariest piece of all is that at the end of the report they demonstrate they haven’t really learned all that much. At the end of this report they talk about taking out a clean sheet of paper and redesigning their strategy for doing church. Wasn’t that what started this problem in the first instance? We don’t need to redesign the strategy for doing church. We need a group of believers determined and dedicated to obeying its Original and True Designer.

The church already had a great design. It was designed by Almighty God who is always true eternal and unchanging. It was declared by the prophets. The plan was carried out by the Faithful and Obedient Son Jesus Christ. Progressing the design was committed to the hands of the apostles and by them the foundation was clearly laid for the church:

1 Corinthians 3:10-15 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. [11] For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. [12] Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, [13] each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. [14] If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. [15] If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 (NASB)

So what does a well-built church that is true to the design of the Divine Architect look like?

1. It is true, it is plumb and it is flush next to the cornerstone; Jesus Christ. It boldly declares who Jesus is, what Jesus did and what He commanded (Matt 7:24-25).

2. It declares the Gospel, seeking that the lost will be saved: God is absolutely good and righteous. We are sinners from our core, who constantly violate the righteousness of God. We must be born again and transformed by God through His Son Jesus Christ from the inside out. Jesus came in the flesh, He died on the cross for our sins, and God raised him from the dead. Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father and He’s coming again. He will judge the living and the dead. The true church declares the truth that if we do not abandon our sin and accept the freedom that Christ purchased for us, we will suffer eternal punishment separated from God, and the love that He longs to give us (2 Timothy 4:2-5; Romans 1:16-17; Ephesians 6:20).

3. The true church ordains and follows leaders who are called, chosen and transformed by God (1 Timothy 5:22), not by man. If you look at leadership scripturally (as we all should), every quality of leadership for the church had to do with character (1 Timothy 3:1-18; Titus 1:5-9).

4. The true church worships God in spirit and truth which is what the father seeks (John 4:24; Philippians 3:3).

5. The true church makes mature disciples who learn how to do everything that Jesus Christ commanded (Matthew 28:19-20; Ephesians 4:11-16). This includes denying ourselves, taking up our cross every day, and walking the way that Jesus walked (Luke 9:23; 1 John 2:6). This includes learning to love one another and being united under Christ so that our witness will be affective in the world (1 John 4:7-8; John 17:21).

6. The true church will minister and care for the needy, and especially the widow and the orphan (1 Timothy 6:17-19; James 1:27).

7. The true church will teach people how to really overcome their garbage (1 John 5:4; Revelation chapters 1-3, Revelation 12:9-11).

Beloved brethren, this is the design that God ordained for the true church bearing his name and that of His Son Jesus Christ. We don’t need to take out a blank sheet of paper and redesign how to do church, we need to be devoted and to do church according to the Divine Designer and Architect which is God. When the church operated this way, we almost evangelized the entire known world within the first century. Hey, I know that some of us are allergic to reading and following directions, but this is too important. Eternal lives of people are at stake. We can’t afford to get it wrong.This is the word of God… Use as directed.

Thank you for kind attention, God be with you.

Brother R. Michel Lankford