Wednesday, February 01, 2006


I wrote last week about two different ways to approach the mission of the local church: is it to meet peoples’ needs, or is it to intensify their spiritual hunger and help them seek God? (I choose the latter).

This relates to a shift that has taken place in American culture which I’m sure you’ve heard much mention of so I won’t beat it to death, but I’m talking about the shift from modernism to postmodernism. Consider a comment made by one community church pastor whose congregation heretofore had practiced a “seeker-sensitive” philosophy of ministry: “People aren’t coming as much to be convinced of the relevance of Christianity as they are coming with a hunger for God.”

The seeker-sensitive model (I’m generalizing here) is predicated on unchurched people investigating the claims of the Christian faith and needing a safe place (re: the church) to ask questions. Thus, a seeker sensitive church often endeavors to “lower the barriers” by dispensing with overtly religious symbols and terminology in order to better “connect” the seeker to the message of Christianity from his/her vantage point. To be sure, many of these churches have been phenomenally fruitful in reaching unreligious people and, just as certainly, they have served to challenge all American congregations to be more aware of the barriers people face when they finally come to church, i.e., the local church is often far more standoffish than it thinks.

But the good pastor’s comment speaks volumes. People aren’t coming with questions, they’re coming with hunger. They don’t want to hear talk about God; they want to experience God. They are stressed by finances, by their commute, by their jobs, by the frenetic pace which technology (emails, cell phones, internet) has coerced them into feeling they need to maintain.

The seeker-sensitive philosophy tries to meet people where they are and gently teach the Kingdom of God to them in terms they understand. It says implicitly (I’m still generalizing), “There are far more points of connection between the Christian life and your life than you realize.” But now we are past that. Increasingly people don’t want points of connection but of disconnection. They are looking for an alternative world, a radical break from the empty treadmill of work/consumption/recreation they have been duped into believing is the good life. They don’t want a dissertation on the Kingdom of God, they want to sample Kingdom living. They want to participate in the Lord’s Supper, read scripture, serve the poor, learn how to forgive like Jesus, sacrifice for something meaningful, be a part of something eternal. They’re not convinced they’ll find it in the organized church but they will give it a try.

The Psalmist (Ps 63) begins his devotions by acknowledging his hunger: “O God you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you as in a dry and weary land.” He aches for God, and his yearning is rewarded. “My soul is satisfied with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips…” He aches for God, not the church, but he needs the church to help him fill his ache. “So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.”

Lord, let it be so.


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