Over at The Gospel Coalition, recently, Erik Raymond chronicled an encounter with a non-Christian friend who had been visiting a church for a while but then decided to not go back. In the conversation that ensued, this “seeker” said he grew tired of the church experience being too shallow.
In response, Raymond wrote:
This makes me ask uncomfortable questions. Why are they doing this? Who are they doing this for? Why the music? Why the teaching? Why the whole production? Is Wilson right . . . is this whole thing not for the seekers after all but for the consumer-minded Christians? Are we holding back doctrine because the Christians want us to? Are we not using tough theological words for the Christians? Are we singing peppy but airy songs devoid of the real stuff of life (suffering, trials, apostasy) for the Christians? Are we accumulating teachers after our own desires? Is this what itching ears looks like? (2 Tim. 4:3).
It breaks my heart to consider this perspective. I think of an unbeliever going to church, a Christian church, and walking away disappointed because it lacked a seriousness, weightiness, and gospel content. It was so practical that it was irrelevant. What in the world are we doing?
It’s a good point to ponder: Does being seeker-sensitive actually result in seekers coming to know Jesus? Even if we don’t call ourselves seeker-sensitive, we Baptist argue over things like the “alter call” and expository vs. evangelistic sermons based upon the notion of reaching the lost within our church gatherings.
This raises the question: How much should we focus our church services on the seekers and non-Christians among us?
The Bible doesn’t go into great detail about what the early Christians did whenever they gathered as a church, so we certainly must allow for freedoms among our forms. There is no singular right way of doing church. Some hints we find come from Acts 2:42-47 where the baptized gathered daily house to house and in the temple for sharing of the word (the apostle’s teaching), their lives, their possessions, their food (also involving the Lord’s Supper), and prayers. Then in 1 Corinthians we find Paul speaking of partaking in the Lord’s Supper while gathering (chapters 10-11) as well as edifying one another with spiritual gifts, songs, lessons, prophetic revelations, discussion of such, tongues, and interpretations (chapter 14).
So we might give a basic rubric for church gatherings: songs, teaching, prayers, discussions, food (including the Lord’s Supper), serving one another, and caring for one another.
But what about gearing these things for the non-Christians?
In 1 Corinthians, Paul addressed a spiritual gift one-upmanship among the church members, which was especially centered around tongues. As spectacular of a gift as speaking in tongues could be, Paul said, “In church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue” (14:19). Later he said that if no one was present with the gift of interpretation then the person with a message to share in tongues should keep silent (14:28).
In the midst of this, Paul exhorted:
In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (14:21-25)
It is in Acts 2 where we see tongues most clearly directed at unbelievers. Yes, it was in part a sign that the Holy Spirit had come upon God’s people just as Jesus had promised, but as the apostles spoke to the crowds and the crowds heard in their native dialects, some scoffed but some also came to believe. In that day, 3000 people became followers of Jesus and part of the church—a great evangelistic result!
But from what Paul told the Corinthians, life in church gathering should be different. He didn’t dismiss tongues outright as something they should never do when gathered; but he placed boundaries on tongues and minimized their usefulness next to something more edifying such as prophecy.
So the very thing that Paul called a “sign for unbelievers,” he said to minimize or not even use in the church gathering (if no one could interpret). Instead, focus on edifying the believers.
With this is the interesting note: Paul expected non-Christians to be among the church gatherings, at least at times. Perhaps this could be in the form of family members or household servants, or possibly even friends or neighbors wondering what these regular gatherings with signing and teaching were about. Yet, Paul warned: If you focus on what is a sign for them while you’re gathered, they’re going to call you mad. If, however, you focus on edifying each other through prophecy and the like, they may well be convicted and come to realize that God is manifest among you.
In other words, Paul essentially said the best way to be seeker-sensitive is to focus your church gatherings on edifying believers.
Yes, expect unbelievers to be among you, and make everything you do and teach as clear as possible to edify those present and avoid confusion (14:6-11), but “strive to excel in building up the church” (14:12). Focus more on the believers than the non-believers present. So, may we let our songs be theologically rich, our teachings driven by explaining and applying the word, and our love for one another great. May our “church” gatherings be just that: a meeting of the people of Jesus for the sake of loving God and loving each other.
And through this, let us pray for conviction upon any lost among us that they truly might experience the presence of God and through such conviction, fall on their face before the one, true Savior-King.