This was originally published Jan. 26, 2015.
There is a rampant problem among the Christian church at large today that some might call the “attractional” model of church. More people are probably more familiar with the term “seeker-sensitive.” This is also a philosophical tenet of the Church Growth Movement which you can learn more about in my post from a couple days ago.
Too many churches and church leaders think if they make church more appealing to non-Christians they’ll attend and eventually be converted.
This is s driving philosophy of nationally known pastors like Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and Andy Stanley and their respective mega-churches. Stanley’s writings and interviews have made it clear he thinks the church should be for the “unchurched.” He’s even claimed pastors are no longer supposed to be shepherds of their congregations. And Warren speaks freely about the fact that he set out to build a church for “Saddleback Sam,” actually polling people to find out what they wanted in a church.
Now, I cannot see into these men’s hearts and understand their motives. They may be completely well-intentioned, but their motives don’t matter. The model is unbiblical for at least two reasons (there are likely others I haven’t thought of yet): 1) The Bible clearly defines the church as a body of believers and it a place for their equipping to go out into the world and share and live out the gospel. 2) You cannot make the gospel attractive. It is a message that divides people because it demands belief or rejections.
Let’s start with the first point. The Bible clearly lays out the definition of the church as the body of Christ. No unsaved person is a part of this body. There are many verses about the body of Christ including Romans 12:4-5, 1 Corinthians 12:12, and throughout the books of Colossians and Ephesians.
The Bible then tells that body to gather together. Hebrews 10 states (underlines added for emphasis), “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
The Bible also stipulates that gatherings should incorporate certain elements, such as communion (The Lord’s supper), preaching, prayer, fellowship, worship, etc. Acts 2 says the believers devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer. And the pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) especially issue commands to pastors regarding the teaching/preaching and care of those groups of believers.
So if a church makes non-believers the people their church is for, they’ve gone off the rails. And many of them have. Take Elevation Church and its Pastor Steven Furtick. Furtick who has blatantly stated that once a person is saved his church does not exist for “them. If you click through the link you can hear that for yourself along with his condescension and derision of Christians who want to “stuff their faces” with doctrine. And if you listen to Furtick’s preaching (I don’t recommend it!) this attitude shows – in addition to Bible-twisting, narcigesis. Sadly many other pastors have made similar belittling comments about congregants who want deeper study and understanding of God’s word. Here you can find several of those examplesto read for yourself.
Moving on to my second point about these churches trying to make the message attract non-believers.
I began working on this post as I thought more on Andy Stanley’s comments that we need to teach people that the foundation of Christianity is an event rather than a book. The more I pondered it, the more problems became clear to me. One of those problems was what appeared to be a willingness on Stanley’s part to adjust the message to make it more attractive.
This is a huge problem, because that is not what Jesus, nor what the apostles taught us to do, according to scripture.
The church is not meant to cater to the whims or sinful desires of unbelievers. It is clear by the many appeals to “brothers,” when Paul writes to various churches that those gathered in churches were Christians. It is true that every church should be full of people who welcome anyone who visits (unbelievers and believers alike), are friendly to them and it should be a place where the true gospel is taught and preached at all times in the hopes that they might hear it and be converted. But a church should not be designed for unbelievers and meant to attract them.
You cannot give non-Christians what they want and still be giving them truth. Because the unconverted heart is wicked and does not want to be confronted with its sin, God’s holiness and warnings of judgment and called to repentance. Several passages make it clear that the message we are to preach is foolish to many and will be rejected. Yet, the gospel message must still be preached.
1 Corinthians 1:17-24:
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
For it is written,“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
The Bible also warns us in Matthew 10 that the true gospel divides even families. It repels some at the same time that others receive it with joy.
Church leaders who set out to make the gospel more attractive always claim they won’t change the message — that they’re just making the delivery, or the messenger or the trappings or the building more likable to the unconverted. But what invariably happens is that the message itself shifts.
In the case of Saddleback and Willow Creek, that shift in message is so obvious it’s been written on extensively. Nathan Busenitz’s overview of how both churches’ present the gospel is particularly helpful to illustrate the shift.
That shift is inevitable because the focus has moved from what it ought to be: From: faithfully and obediently preaching the true gospel to everyone in a manner consistent with the Bible and allowing God to work in people’s hearts as he wills. To: how will this message be perceived and thought of by the non-Christian.
This is why the messages invariably become self-centered “what you can get out of Christianity” messages or how-to’s for improving your life rather than you are lost, but by God’s grace you can be found!
Just like attempts to attract non-Christians to our churches is wrong, so is changing the message we have been commanded to share to make it more palatable to them.
As Gary Gilley’s book “This Little Church Went to Market” pointed out in its examination of the seeker sensitive and church marketing style, “The gospel is not bringing people to Christ in order to meet their felt needs.” I would argue it also isn’t the reverse. It also isn’t flattering them or selling them something in order to get them to buy in to Christianity later. This is not the biblical example of the gospel message or how to communicate it.
Paul made it clear his message and methods were simple in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”
And again in 2 Timothy 4 he says, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”
Why? Because, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
Scratching itching ears is exactly what these churches start doing when they forsake the biblical model for the church and its preaching.