In the Great Commission, Jesus Christ gives us an obligation to go toward our community and world with the gospel. Jesus’ command, “Go and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matthew 28:19) sends us toward our harvest field with the message of hope and forgiveness in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus says, “as the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:22). In the same way God sent Jesus to seek and save the lost, so Jesus sends us to the same end in our harvest field and throughout the world.
It is my conviction that people who live in our community are at various places in thinking about Christianity. Many different places may be described, but “seeking” is included among these places. I come to this conclusion from my observation of scripture and my experience with our community. In 1 Corinthians 14, the Apostle Paul addresses patterns and practices of an ancient corporate worship service. While addressing the problem of the abuse of tongues, the Apostle says “If, therefore, the whole church comes together…and outsiders or unbelievers enter... (1 Corinthians 14:23-24).” On the meaning of this term “outsiders,” Schlier says, “The idiwtai are those who do not belong to the community though they join in its gatherings. They are… described by the fact that they are not members. In each case the context demands a reference to non-Christians (Schlier, TDNT, III, 217).” These unbelievers may be described as seekers. They have not yet converted to Christianity; however, they have some degree of interest in things Christian. The Apostle was challenging the whole church to modify their patterns or practices for the sake of winning such persons in the early church’s corporate worship services.
Another important passage on this subject may be found in Acts 17:26-27, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him, yet he is actually not far from each one of us.” At the very least, this passage is establishing a purpose for human life that is fulfilled in seeking and finding God. Human beings were designed and intended by God to seek out the things of God. Whenever or wherever this happens it is evidence that God is at work in drawing people to Himself.
Having identified the existence of seekers in the Bible, I must also note that “no one seeks for God (Romans 3:11).” This means that the effects of sin reach into an entire person, deadening a person toward God, apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Any seeking after God must be attributed to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. And since we believe in the sovereignty of God, we believe God’s Spirit is moving in the hearts and minds of his people. So we are not uncomfortable recognizing that people may and do seek God as the Spirit leads; further, we are willing to create a place in our thinking for people who are interested in Christianity. We anticipate people will seek out the things of God and the corporate worship of God by his people, as God the Spirit moves to that end in their lives.
If we grant the existence of seekers, and that persons in this kind of place live in our community and may attend our church, we have the question of how much emphasis our ministry should place on seekers. The options are wide ranging, include seeker-TARGETED, seeker-FRIENDLY, seeker-TOLERANT, and seeker-RESISTANT (Aubrey Malphurs, “Advanced Strategic Planning,” p. 189). A brief commentary on these options is included below:
Seeker-TARGETED: This approach makes the preferences and interests of seekers of primary importance during corporate worship. However, worship is to be given unto God and for the edification of the believer (1 Corinthians 14:26). A seeker-targeted approach may result in watering down the Christian message for the sake of making seekers comfortable. Instead the Apostle Paul says the outcomes of our worship service would be that a seeker is “convicted by all, called to account by all, the secrets of his hearts are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you (1 Corinthians 14:25).” Whatever else this describes, it does not describe an approach that simply and only wants to make seekers comfortable.
Seeker-RESISTANT: This approach makes no attempt to consider the needs or interests of seekers. However, it seems to miss God’s evangelistic mandate, in that corporate worship services do not directly serve the evangelistic spirit of our mission. On the one hand, believers are fundamentally different than outsiders or seekers. This difference between believers and unbelievers is like light in contrast to darkness. However, it does not seem possible to fulfill the Great Commission without building relationships with seekers. Seekers were expected to be present in early Christian gatherings. The Apostle Paul did commend believers to adapt their preferences for the sake of winning the lost (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
Seeker-TOLERANT: This posture seems closer to the biblical picture. There is a way that seekers will need to learn the language of the Christian faith, and gradually conform to the Christian way. We do not seek to compromise our Christian message in the least. But to merely “tolerate” seekers does not capture the attitude we see in the ministry of Jesus and his evangelists in the New Testament. Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Mark 10:45). Mere toleration of seekers does not best capture Jesus’ heart of outreach in the New Testament.
Seeker-FRIENDLY: This perspective seems to present a picture that most resonates with our missionary mandate. I think there is a way to be faithful to the scriptures while still being sensitive to the tastes and interests of our community. I do want to make friends for the gospel and be winsome in my Christian witness. This does not mean compromising the message; however, it does mean adapting our preferences for the sake of winning the lost. Some of the ways I seek to be seeker-friendly include preaching in the vernacular, thinking about music as a language, addressing and welcoming seekers, having quality aesthetics, preaching grace, and celebrating deeds of justice and mercy.
I received a call the other day from a person who visited our weekend services. He wanted to meet with me and went on to share how convicted he was by the faith stories and the message from God’s Word. He wanted to know how to put his faith in Jesus Christ. I had the privilege of leading this man to personal faith in Christ because he encountered God, as a seeker, in our weekend services. Are you ready to be friendly to seekers?