Thursday, January 17, 2008

Five Important Things The Seeker Church Movement Got Right

Actually, these are more like five "right ideas" or five "right tracks" the seeker church movement started down before it veered hard and crashed into the wall. The yes, but's will be a reflex for most of my readers (as they are for me), and I have tried to anticipate them in my explanations, but for the most part, this really is a post about some good gifts this movement has given us.

1. The Refocus of Every Member Ministry on Spiritual Gifting

Before this approach to order became practically ruthless in its well-oiled-machining of the church, the emphasis of making sure people placed in integral offices of leadership in the church were actually gifted for those offices was a great recovery of a long-neglected biblical teaching. Before this evaluation of the church's assimilation of its members to service, churches just plugged willing souls into open slots, an expedient ruthlessness of its own that did enough damage itself. Rather than make an ear out of an eye with ear aspirations, the seeker church movement at least brought with it a re-focus on Paul's teachings on the spiritual gifts in service of the church.

2. An Emphasis on Community Through Relational Groupings

Yes, the small groups movement today is a boondoggle waiting to be more widely exposed. But let's give some credit where it's due. The death of community was not the seeker church's fault unless it was the whole Church's fault. And whatever problems we may (rightly) see in one-size-fits-all, artificial "small groups as community" programs, the very notion that community is what church life is all about, that people must connect relationally and "do life" together, is not something the emerging or missional movements innovated. It was the church growth movement, borrowing from the house churches, parachurches, and the 70's Jesus Movement that recovered the notion of relational community over against the traditional church's persistent substitute of "classes."

3. An Incarnational Rethinking of Evangelism

Have these churches by and large bailed on the gospel? You bet. But in their nascence, they had the very good idea that biblical evangelism was less about revivalistic "repeat this prayer" ticket-punching and more about living lives of witness to Jesus. By dispensing with the weekly altar call, and by attempting to train its congregants in relational evangelism, the seeker churches evince an admirable trust in the Holy Spirit for conversion and a proper expectation of its members to carry the message of Jesus beyond the church walls and into their daily encounters with the lost.
In this sense, seeker churches are practically proto-missional.

4. A Recovery of the Value of the Arts

This is not precisely an ecclesiological development, and the emphasis on the arts has clearly exploded in many cases into full-on entertainment-driven Sunday morning church "performances" and regrettable secular marketplace doppelgangers in the Christian entertainment market, but coming with the development of the church growth movement was the recovery of the value of artistry within the Church and by the Church as more than just polemic or propaganda. Again, we can obviously debate the quality of the art being produced these days, which clearly pales next to the art created by Christians in previous ages, but the valuing of art, the interest in art, the appreciation of art as not being worldly or unseemly is something that accompanied the church movements of the 70s, 80s, and 90s over against the culturally combative fundamentalism of the traditional church.

5. An Insistence that Faith is For All of Life

The execution has been terrible. Christians today are culturally conditioned and practically indistinguishable.
Yet the early emphasis by the church growth movement was that Christianity applied to all of life, not just to one hour a week within the church walls. The emphasis on "life application" teaching, which gradually and awfully subsumed proclamational preaching of the gospel, was itself a step onto the right track. It is ironic that the regular practice over the years has only further created more Christians living compartmentalized lives, as the original notion toward application actually came out of a desire for our faith to direct, inform, and impact our families, schools, and workplaces.

I and others like me spend lots of time "bashing" the seeker-centered church. I do believe this is necessary and deserved, or I wouldn't do it. But charity and honesty are necessary compatriots of reformation, and while I consider myself in revolt against the very movement I participated in and emerged from, this is my attempt at listing 5 values I am thankful to the movement for instilling in me.

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