Seeker sensitivity was all the rage in churches for a while as pastors sought to remove emotional barriers to entry. After all, the gospel is offensive enough, they said. Why not make our churches as welcoming as possible, right?
But in many ways contemporary American churches went too far, watering down the message of the cross and creating environments that were unintentionally seeker insensitive to two large segments of society:
SEGMENT #1: THE BROKEN
The buzzword of many churches seems to be “upbeat” or “positive.” Positive message, upbeat music, fun for the kids—something for everyone. And so you sing energetic praise songs with happy major chords and lyrics about dancing and shouting (although many would never actually dance and shout in church). You can accidently create an atmosphere that says to those who are hurting to just, “Perk up and put on a happy face.”
We would never mean to be insensitive to the seeker who is coming for the first time because her son just committed suicide, and she doesn’t know if she can last another day. Or the man who has been a Christian for 20 years and still struggles with depression. But we are insensitive if our services provide no hint that sin, grief, doubt, lament, and repentance are welcome and even necessary.
Just as God assures the martyrs in heaven, we assure each other with God’s Word.
The answer is not a defeatist Christianity, but the honesty before God that we find in the Psalms. Even in Revelation, martyrs in heaven ask God “Oh Sovereign Lord . . . how long before you will judge and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:10)
We need to lament the injustices in our city and across the globe. We need to confess and repent of the sin in our own lives. We need to acknowledge the brokenness in our homes, our schools, our nation. Then, just as God assures the martyrs in heaven (Rev. 6:11), we assure each other with God’s Word. Our songs of praise become all the more enthusiastic when we sing them as a celebration of assurance that Christ does hear our cry, that his blood still atones for sin, that his coming is near.
SEGMENT #2: THE MEN
A generation ago, churches began to overtly appeal to females because statistics said they were more likely to attend services than males. They combined these statistics with a philosophy popular with many bar owners that states: “Get the women to come, then they’ll attract the men.”
There are at least two things wrong with bringing this idea into the church:
First and most importantly, that isn’t what Jesus or Paul did. They had many female disciples and friends, from Mary to Lydia, yet they actively raised up and invested in young men to plant and lead churches.
No one is more sensitive to the needs, the fears, the hopes of everybody than the One who relentlessly searches for one lost sheep.
Second, even most bars don’t carry that philosophy to the extreme that some churches do. We’ve heard many women discuss churches they’d attended that were such over the top, frilly caracatures of femininity that they were too “feminine” for the females. They offer dumbed-down Bible classes that are more Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants than sisterhood of believers, and songs that reimagine Jesus as the hero of a romance novel or a sensitive “best guyfriend.”
If this strategy works in attracting some women, who then bring their husbands, fathers, brothers, sons or boyfriends, feminized churches hold little chance of keeping these men. Offering a men’s breakfast one Saturday a month isn’t enough to make them sit through four Sundays’ worth of songs about being held close to Jesus’ bosom while he whispers sweetly in their ear.
LET CHRIST WORK
This isn’t to say that churches should become stereotypical “man caves.” If we’re sensitive to all seekers, that means we want to get our own egos and preferences out of the way as much as possible, and let Christ work.
No one is more sensitive to the needs, the fears, the hopes of everybody than the One who relentlessly searches for one lost sheep. He is calling the Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, to make us all one in Christ Jesus. This is true seeker sensitivity.