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5.3.3 Sensitive Seeker Ministry.

It would be easy enough for the Purpose Driven Church to suggest the importance of communicating the gospel message as effectively as possible to an unchurched world.While there is nothing wrong with this concept, where problems arise is in the way the message is delivered and packaged.Warren’s advocates the need to love the unchurched, understand their needs while discovering the key to their conversion. In so doing it is easier to give people what they want as opposed to what they need.

That has to be a major problem for Warren in his packaging of his gospel presentation and this can be seen on numerous levels in his writings.[1]Warren wrote to his Orange County community to discover what their attitude to church life in general[2] and what they would consider to be a good church. He then developed a fellowship structure to meet their needs.

Schuller’s psychology would have been very helpful in the meeting of the needs of the unchurched. Warren quickly discovered how to fulfil people’s expectation of church. The unchurched could meet new friends, enjoy up beat music, hear positive sermons and have their children’s needs met at the same time. This new purpose driven church was offering a gospel that had very practical benefits for the adherent.

“All sorts of personal benefits and blessings would be yours”. [3]The call to repentance and faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross, plus the call to selfless discipleship is not immediately clear in Warren’s preaching. “A good salesman knows you always start with the customer’s needs, not the product”.[4] 

Schuller’s positive thinking and Ducker’s marketing management of people’s situations is not the key to effective evangelism. The New Testament states the opposite, direct evangelism, clear preaching and not disguised promotion of the word, is the biblical way.[5] This unclear presentation of the gospel by Warren creates more difficulties than real opportunities for evangelism.

5.3.4 Obscuring the Gospel.In his real desire to communicate the gospel by meeting the felt needs of his hearers Warren creates the difficulty of obscuring the gospel from the very ones who needs to understand it the most. If the seeker only hears about the positive benefits without a clear indication of the demands for repentance, can Christ and salvation be really known? Could the seeker think he is a Christian without clearly coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ by way of repentance and faith?

5.3.5 False Assurance.If the unchurched are not called to repentance, logic suggests that they are still in their sin ( 1 Cor.15:17) and no matter how good a feeling they may have about the meeting of their felt needs, that good feeling is not genuine assurance.

5.3.6 Wrong Assumptions.

Warren promotes the idea that if you find the “key”[6] in a person’s life there you will find the opportunity to win them to Christ. That understanding does not take into consideration the fact that humankind according to the scriptures has no inclination naturally to seek God, (Romans 3:23) therefore they have no understanding of the measure or nature of divine grace.

The Apostle Paul clearly states that the “gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.” How can Warren through modern contextualised methods make the Gospel so appealing to the unregenerate mind unless its core teaching on sin, repentance, salvation, judgement and holiness of life are deemphasised at best or ignored and substituted with teaching of little or no substance?

5.3.7 Wrong perspectives.

Warren suggests that to understand the unbeliever, we should learn to think like them[7] so as to be able to identify their needs. Developing an evangelistic methodology which is driven by “unchurched Harry`s” ability to understand himself and his needs is seeker sensitive but highly suspect.

By assessing the tastes and moods of the unchurched, Warren allows his ministry to be controlled by those same unchurched people and it will, “determine many of the components of your seeker sensitive service: music, style, message topics, testimonies, creative arts and more”.[8]No where can scripture be interpreted to commend the seeker sensitive model of evangelism.

The apostle Paul never set out to make the gospel appealing to the unregenerate mind, he set out because of his love for the unregenerate to share the vital truth of the gospel in its totality. In 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 Paul plainly preaches the cross of Jesus Christ not for comfort sake but for the salvation of both the Jew and the Gentile. In Warren’s perspective the needs of the unchurched are paramount, for Paul the cross of Jesus Christ and its power and provision to meet humankind’s deepest need of a Saviour from sin was his starting point.

5.3.8 Worldly Attractiveness.

Warren mistakenly attempts to make the gospel attractive on the world’s terms and because the needs of the unchurched are a priority in his ecclesiology he is driven to develop his model from a man centred position. Instead of finding himself immersed in the word of God he finds himself immersed in customs, culture, social sciences, pragmatism and marketing.[9] 

If his involvement in community culture is purely to assess how far in belief and practice the unchurched are from the truth and then to deliver the truth that contradicts their lifestyle, that is biblical evangelism. On the other hand if his only reason for his research is to make the gospel more appealing, then Warren has major problems and is falling short of rightfully dividing the word of truth.

Warren’s objective to make the gospel appear attractive in worldly terms is a non evangelical position to hold and finds no support in scripture. How does Warren make the gospel of Jesus Christ attractive and even popular to an unchurched post modern world where people believe that all religions have something good to offer?

How can a de-emphasised gospel presentation procure allegiance to God if it doesn’t tackle the bigger questions of morality, ethics and doctrine. The post modern society needs to be challenged with the gospel and not the gospel absorbed by it.   

5.3.9 The upside-down Gospel.

In Warren’s desire to reach the unchurched through seeker sensitive services, it would seem that the process used highlights the things always of secondary importance. In the mind of the organisers, the comfort of the unchurched, the music, the lighting, the sound systems, the parking facilities seem to play a very important role in the marketing of the purpose driven message. Warren even suggests that the church won’t grow unless these things are in place.[10]

These helps are certainly necessary for the visible church but for the invisible church to be made visible different priorities exists.In Acts 2:42-47 the invisible church made visible had attitudes of selling all that they had to help those in need in the fellowship, there was no need to create an artificial environment that simply made people comfortable for an hour or two as they visited the fellowship.

Warren’s belief in HUP and his “Saddleback Sam” has its place, like drawing like into the fellowship, he may be right to some degree but the New Testament would suggest that if people are genuinely converted to Christ the colour of skin, education, social standing is really meaningless.

Paul, a Jew had a tremendous ministry among the Gentiles and one could not get much further away from a HUP experience when the multi cultural nature of the New Testament churches is examined. This multi cultural experience pays tribute to the marvellous nature of Grace and the changing power of the Gospel.

5.3.10 Constructed Conversion.

In the light of Warren’s understanding of conversion, as recorded in chapter 4 as one of the three non negotiable spiritual experiences, it would seem that what he believes in private is not reflected in his contextualised message to the unchurched.Warren suggests that “making a service comfortable for the unchurched does not mean changing your theology, it means changing the environment of the service”.[11] 

Warren desires to physically and spiritually make his unchurched friend comfortable and that is understandable, but the psychology behind this developed comfort zone is such, that it protects the unchurched from the discomfort and conviction of their sinfulness thereby removing the possibility of real and genuine repentance leading to conversion.

Comfort is not the issue, conversion is the challenge and to enter into such an experience, intense discomfort spiritually is experienced. As Warren has suggested by making people feel comfortable you don’t have to change your theology but what it does mean that you have to change your theology of conversion.

If the seeker sensitive service is made so comfortable for the unchurched and that is achieved by meeting their felt needs, then repentance would be the last thing on their minds. To achieve that, teaching on repentance and conversion one would have to be de-emphasise doctrine or as Schuller states, “when I preach repentance I do it so positively that my hearers don’t recognise it as repentance”.[12] 

5.4 Warren’s Process of delivery.The “seeker friendly message” is a diluted message, de-emphasising scriptural teaching to protect the feelings and needs of the hearers. Because of the deficient content of the message delivered by the Saddleback ecclesiological system, the main emphasis of the movement moves to focus on the method of delivery of programmes.[13] There are a number of important stages in the developed methodology of Warren’s ecclesiology and all of these stages are seeker friendly.

5.4.1 Assumptions. The emphasis that Warren’s ecclesiology places on the seeker services is the belief that the unchurched are seeking truth. The basic assumption that post modern man is seeking for spiritual realities creates the belief that the church must invest time and effort to compete for his allegiance. The idea of selling Christianity as the ultimate consumer experience is reflected in the development and promotion of Saddleback’s methodology.

Warren’s ecclesiology suggests, that if we market our product well (The de-emphasised Gospel) people will naturally realise that this is what they have been searching for and choose it before some other possible religious selection. Christianity becomes another consumable product to lift from the shelf.[14]

A product among many other products, the church must market itself better to make it look more attractive to the seeking consumer.Barna suggests, “that by allowing the people themselves to dictate the path along which they would grow spiritually, and entrusting the means and integrity of that growth to the church leaders, every one emerged a winner”.[15]

Self need determines ministry, the sinner dictates the form, direction and quality of Christian ministry and according to Barna the church should embrace these helps with joy. The outcome would be the unchurched embracing the message they proposed through their felt need analysis. Hybel’s reflects, “After studying the other options carefully, seeker after honest seeker comes to the conclusion that it takes more faith to deny Christianity than it does to embrace it”. [16] 

Warren has a complete chapter of how to develop a seeker sensitive service, he leaves nothing to chance, the service is geared to reach the unchurched, he offers multiple service times, good parking facilities, a Sunday school functioning at the same time as the services, and an emphasis on good community advertising is preferred. The development of the service is all about flow and impact on the hearer.

Visitors have to be made comfortable in every way, Warren suggests that, “first impressions are very difficult to change”.[17] He deals with visitors by “reserving the best parking spots”, he stations greeters outside the building, information tables, directional signs inside and outside the buildings, have taped music playing as people come in. Have loud music so that people have to talk above it becoming more animated.

Warren has many issues with regard to the preparation of the centre to greet the unchurched; the idea behind all the preparation is to create “expectation, celebration, affirmation, incorporation and restoration”.[18] The marketing and psychology behind all these efforts is self evident and necessary if the message is not de-emphasised in any way but because it is, then even more effort has to go into preparations to hold the consumer.

Warren suggests that, Saddleback gives people something what they cannot get else where.[19]That may well be true but is all this comfort and entertainment sufficient to help people really and personally meet with God in Christ?The problem for Warren is based in his assumption that people are really searching for God, that in itself would contradict the scriptural understanding when Paul said that, “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, there is none righteous, none that seeketh God and none that doeth good”.[20] 

Scripture teaches, that Warren’s consumers do not earnestly seek God and are because of their sin spiritually dead,[21] rebellious,[22] and as the apostle Paul suggests, “futile in their thoughts so that their foolish hearts were darkened”.[23] This New Testament picture of humankind is light years away from Warren’s seeking consumers. If that is so then a seeker friendly approach to fallen human kind is at best flawed, confusing and ultimately carrying only selected facets of Biblical truth which may have a detrimental affect on the long term spiritual journey of the consumer.  

[1] Warren, The Purpose Driven Church & The Purpose Driven Life.
[2] Warren, TPDC, 192-193.
[3] Warren, TPDC, 224.
[4] Warren, TPDC, 225.

[5] Acts, 2:37, 3:13.

[6] Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 220.
[7] Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 189.
[8] Warren, TPDC, 253-254.
[9] Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 160.
[10] Warren, TPDC, 254.
[11] Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 244.
[12] Schuller, Self-Esteem : New Reformation.
[13] Guinness, Dinning With The Devil, 26.
[14] Barna, User Friendly Churches, 109.
[15] Barna, User Friendly Churches, 109.
[16] Hybels & Mittleberg, Becoming a Contagious Christian, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1994, 175.
[17] Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 257.
[18] Warren, TPDC, 270-271.
[19] Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 47f.

[20] Romans ch.3:10-11, 23.

[21] Col.2:3.

[22] Eph. 2:1-3.

[23] Romans 1:21.

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©2008 Church Education Trust