Would the Apostle Paul Plant a Seeker-Sensitive Church?

The most effective means of bringing people to Christ is planting new churches.  At least that is what the experts tell us.   There was a time when I  believed this with all my heart, but I am not so convinced anymore.  Many of todays “modern” church plants are extremely ineffective.  

This week alone, approximately 100  new church plants will begin holding public services in America.  Most of these new church starts are based upon a seeker-friendly or purpose driven style of ministry.   In simple terms, the seeker-sensisitve church model is based on designing a service for the non-christian.    It has to be attractive, appealing and most of all “relevant” to the unchurched.  The unchurched decides what is relevant for them, and they have decided that a message about a cross, their sin,  a God that holds them accountable for their lives,  hell or how to make peace with God is not relevant.  They want nothing to do with that type of message.  They want to know how to raise their kids, how to have a better marriage, how to be succesful.  Essentially, they are interested in anything that will make their life better now.  Today’s modern church plant is striving to give them what they want, at the expense of what they truly need.

This model can attract large crowds, but it is not effective in leading large numbers of people  to true faith in our crucified and risen Savior.  Still, it is the most popular model among today’s church planters.  Which begs the question:  Is it a correct model? Is it a biblical model?   Should we be using it?  The Apostle Paul was a prolific church planter.  If he were planting churches today, would he be using this seeker-sensitive model?  If you read his works, and study what he did, you would walk away with one clear conclusion:  No, he would not.  In fact, he would write a scathing letter of rebuke to any church that was utilizing this method.

Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington talk about this in their book “The Great Exchange.”  I was so moved by their words that I share them with you here.  It is a great book, I highly recommend it!

“…The truth, not the skillful presentation of the truth, is what matters.”

“It cannot be denied that Paul was capable of using powerful rhetoric.  This very letter (I Corinthians) includes several such examples.  But in the preaching of the gospel, Paul deliberately did not employ his command of human philosophy, his oratorical skills, or even his intellectual power of persuasion.  This fact often seems to go unrecognized today in an era when attempts are made to make the gospel more palatable in the name of seeker sensitivity.  But Paul never did that.

Paul was convinced that foreign matter or rhetorical refinement would only serve to distract from the message of the cross and thereby subvert the gospel.  He was also convinced that the gospel had absolute sufficiency in itself to bring conviction to the sinner’s conscience and salvation to the sinner’s soul.  The true gospel required no embellishment and no sugar-coating to make it easier for the masses to swallow.  It required no rhetorical grease to slide it past the resistance of those opposed to its message.  To Paul, such modifications only cause men to value style above substance and to glorify man, the messenger, above Christ, the message.

In remarkable contrast, Paul declares, “The word of the cross is…the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).  What a remarkable statement!  God’s almighty, supernatural power is connected to a specific “word”- the message of the cross- the preaching of the great facts of Christ’s atoning sacrifice as the provision of God’s love for guilty sinners. When this gospel of Christ’s great atonement is preached, God’s miraculous power to regenerate, restore, and renew sinners is displayed in those who are saved by it.

This is the true gospel, the only gospel that unleashes the power of God by which those dead in sin are saved from their guilt, the consequences, and the enslaving power of their sin.  Therefore, Paul was “not ashamed of the gospel” because this message of the cross “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…”(Rom 1:16).  Substitute anything for the cross or add anything to the cross, whether good works or human philosophy, and the preaching is stripped of God’s power–for it is no longer God’s message.  It ceases to be the gospel….

Is it not abundantly clear that this approach was effective, that the power of God was demonstrated, in the wake of Paul’s preaching the word of the cross? Does history not record the long-range, world-changing impact of Paul’s message of Christ and him crucified?  This stands as a lesson and a testimony to those who would influence the world today.  We dare not compromise the message of the atoning power of the cross by molding it around the perceived viewpoints of our audience.  Instead, like Paul, we should deliberately limit our presentation to the simple elements of the gospel and display Christ and him crucified in a clear, undiluted form:  God’s holiness, man’s sin, Christ the sinless God-man, his finished work of sin bearing, his resurrection, and our response by repentance and faith and ongoing transformation.  Anything more or anything less risks deadly error.”

Thats how I see it, how about you?

From the book “The Great Exchange:  My Sin for His Righteousness“,  by Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington, pp 128-130.

See these articles for more on this topic:  The Great Exchange: My Sin For His RighteousnessWhatever Happened to the Message of The Cross?Would They Have Killed Jesus if HE Preached the Same Message the Church Preaches Today?;   The Solution For Itching Ears 2 Timothy 4:1-8

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About Jim

Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the serious issues that exist within the American Evangelical church. It is a place for like-minded people to share their thoughts on a host of issues relating to this subject. Jim is available to speak at weekend services, and retreats at no cost to churches in Florida. Contact us for more information.

Posted on February 8, 2011, in Christianity, Contemporary Church Culture, The Cross, The Seeker-Sensitive Church Model and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Interesting article…I have to agree the Church in general has taken a wrong turn with watering down the Gospel. Unfortunatley many of our leaders are running things based on the fear of man rather than the fear of God. We are too impatient to wait on the Lord for direction and provision instead we cater to the world in worldy ways instead of allowing for the power of the cross to do its work. Anything man tries to supply can never compare.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with both of your comments.
    The apostle Paul would turn in his grave if he came and saw what we have done with the gospel, as would many of by-gone preachers.

    Watered it down? Sometimes its not even recognisable as the Word of God at all.
    However, today at church we did have a real gospel message from Romans 10 v 8 – 10 “In fact, it says. The message is very close at hand, it is on your lips and in your heart. And that message is the very message about faith that we preach. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.”
    And the message went on a bit from that, also using John 14 v6. “Jesus told him, “I am the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE, no man comes to the Father, except through me.” Amen.

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