The following is my thoughts on the so-called signs of the SSM (seeker sensitive movement) that appeared in a letter to the editor in our local paper, the Americus Times Recorder. (Read the entire letter for the context — http://derekvreeland.blogspot.com/2006/08/destructive-nature-of-seeker-sensitive.html). For the sake of brevity, I am going to give each of the “signs” a title.
1) New buildings
The issue behind new buildings is more of a question of function. Historical church buildings have a lot of nostalgic value, but can create a lot of modern head aches – electrical problems, parking problems, ventilation problems, plumbing problems, and lack of space for audio and visual equipment. Other problems include space for youth and children, which were not local church concepts 100 years ago. There are a lot of practical and functional reasons for churches to build new buildings. I think a lot of Christian do not like it when a church builids a new building, because they are envious.
2) Church logos
How many churches actually have a logo? This one isn’t really a theological issue, but if somebody wants to make it into a theological issue then I would say that the more contemporary cross that are “a little sloppier in design” would be closer to the cross of Christ than the crosses in most churches today (mine included) with the clean lights and geographic symmetry. Are contemporary logos destroying the church? I don’t think so.
3) Targeting a certain demographic
The SSM has been criticized for years for leaning too much on marketing techniques. There is some merit there (more on this later), but is it wrong when a church targets a certain demographic such as 20 – 40 year olds? I would say no. I think the issue is a matter of stewardship and strategy. First, how is a local church going to be a good steward of her time, buildings, programs, money, staff, etc.? Second, how strategic is it to target younger people who may be more open to accepting Christ than older people? The issue is not so much do we focus on the old people are not. Old people can still be ministered to even if younger people are the target. You can do ministry in both demographics. Jesus did this for a time. He told his orginal disciples to go to the house of Israel only when they were first preaching. Then in the Apostolic Church we see Paul with a targeted ministry to Gentiles and Peter with a targeted ministry on Jews.
4) New Age Movement
This one is a bit puzzling. I do not know of a seeker-oriented church that embraces new age practices. I do not know of a seeker-oriented church that would not be classified theologically within the evangelical Christian tradition. As evangelicals, they hold to the doctrine of the exclusivity of Christ—Jesus is the only way. No crystals. No swammies. No Shirley McClain.
All churches must change or die. That is a reality. Our core doctrine doesn’t change, but if a local church is going to faithfully communicate the gospel to an ever changing culture, then the church will have to change—not what it believes—but how it communicates. If you do not want change in your church then become a monk, live in a cave and bake your own bread. Change is a culturally reality. If the Church did not believe in change then we would all still be speaking Latin when we went to church. confitemini Domino! (That’s Latin for “praise the Lord!”)
6) Resistors in the church
There is a point of decision on behalf of church members in relationship to the direction being taken by the church leaders. I believe in dialogue and discussion between church members and church leaders, but there comes a time when church members needs to say “Yes I am on board” or “No I am not.” And if they are not, then they should find a different local church–one that fits them better. The beauty of the body of Christ is that there are many different local churches with different values, strategies, vibes and styles. If a person is not walking in harmony with the vision or direction of a local church and they want to stick around and complain about it – then by all means the church leaders should ask them to leave.
7) The Purpose Driven Life (PDL)
The PDL has run its course. Much like The Prayer of Jabez, it has come and gone. We all read it and now we are sitting back waiting for the next big thing. (I bet it will be an Andy Stanley book!) PDL was a good read. It is a good overview of the five purposes for the church: Worship, Discipleship, Fellowship, Ministry & Missions. Good stuff. I can’t argue with Pastor Rick Warren’s vision of the Church. Again you can critique certain parts of Warren, but overall he is thoroughly biblical and orthodox. Don’t listen to the conspiracy theorists who want to make him into some kind of wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Willow Creek started this whole seeker-sensitive deal. I tell a recent story about Willow’s pastor, Bill Hybels in a recent blog (http://derekvreeland.blogspot.com/2006/08/my-response-to-destructive-nature-of.html)
8) Feel-good activities
SSM churches do promote feel-good activities. The strategy is debatable, but these activities are considered pre-evangelism. I love the strategy. The thought is to plan events at your church that would attract people who are not Christians, events such as concerts, recreational activities, picnics, etc. SSM churches do this so that Christians can build relationships with non-Christians in order to win them to Christ. I find that most churches (SSM influenced or not) have similar kind of “feel-good” relationship-building activities. Typically this is called “fellowship” although biblical fellowship includes more than just sitting down and eating fried chicken.
9) Broken relationships
I absolutely hate it when Christians lose relationships with friends who disagree over matters of the church. I hate it, but I know it happens. To prevent it I have found that it is good to have an open mind when people talk about their strategies in doing church. It is good to listen. It is good to allow for some freedom in doing church. It is good not recognize the difference between theology and strategy. A certain strategy can shape your theology, but it is good not to over-spiritualize strategy. In the end if an agreement cannot be reached and the disagreement is intolerable, then separation is the unfortunate last option.
10) The Message Bible
I am a fan of The Message Bible. It was written by Eugene Peterson, a very biblical and very careful pastoral theologian. The Message Bible is great when it is used for the purpose in which Peterson wrote it. In an interview, Peterson was asked if he read his own translation, The Message Bible. He said that he doesn’t, but that he wrote it for other people. He said in his own devotions he reads from the Hebrew and Greek text (how cool is that!). He explains that he wrote it to be a supplemental tool (my wording) to communicate the gospel in a post-Christian world. I know all of the “KJV only” people begin to salivate and get ready to rumble when we begin to talk about other translations of the Bible, but the church has nothing to fear from The Message Bible. I would only add that it is good to use it as a secondary translation and not the primary translation that you use for devotions and teaching. I think Peterson, the author, would concur. And this is how it is used in most churches.
There is more on the SSM to come! I do want to discuss what I think is the biggest weakness of the SSM. It is because of this weakness, that I do not consider myself a SSM guy. Nevertheless, I support the SSM as another orthodox expression of God’s church and one of many ways of doing church in our world.