The Seeker-oriented model of evangelism teaches that in order for an unbeliever to be brought to saving faith, the unbeliever must be guided through an intellectual, psychological, emotional, sociological and spiritual process. During this process, the unbeliever’s resistance is worn down and his internal barriers are overcome. Finally, the unbeliever can be brought to a point of decision, the point of conversion.
But oddly, rather than calling for more preaching of the Gospel, Seeker-oriented evangelism calls for less:
If we were convinced that a gospel presentation and invitation every week was the most effective approach for the kinds of people we’re trying to reach, we’d be doing it. For that matter, we’d do it three times a service if that was the way God seemed to be leading! But that is not the case.
Now, the Gospel is still preached in Seeker-oriented churches —just not at every opportunity.
G. A. Pritchard has done an in-depth sociological study of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, one the largest Seeker-oriented churches in America. Quoting Willow Creek’s pastor, Bill Hybels, Pritchard writes:
"I get bitterly, bitterly attacked from the fundamentalist side for not preaching a salvation message every time we have a seeker service." Some confront Hybels after a service, "You know, the blood of every seeker is on your hands" or "How can you have two thousand seekers there and not give a full-blown message?" Hybels answers, "Because we’re here every week."
But what about the seeker who shows up on the Sundays when the Gospel isn’t preached and ends up going to hell?
Pritchard concludes: In the year I studied, it was only rarely that Hybels or another speaker would proclaim the whole gospel during one message.
All Things to All Men
The proof-text for Seeker-oriented evangelism is 1 Corinthians 9:22: I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. But in order to use this passage to support preaching the Gospel less, one must ignore the immediate context of Paul’s words. Paul says, Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel…, I do all things for the sake of the gospel… (1 Cor. 9:16-23), and, We put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ (1Cor. 9:12). Paul seems to be saying that the preaching of the Gospel overrides all other considerations.
Did Paul go to the trouble of becoming all things to all men only to leave the Gospel itself unspoken? No. The book of Acts and Paul’s epistles prove this. Paul took every opportunity to make the Gospel plain. In fact, Paul says that the Gospel should be spoken at every opportunity!
Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel. (Eph. 6:19)
Seeker-oriented churches are very concerned about preaching the Gospel without compromise —when they do preach it. They respond directly to those who accuse them of having compromised the Gospel message itself:
We have a mandate to please God alone by preaching the pure gospel message alone —whether people like it or not. The ironic thing is that most real seekers are looking for a leader who has the courage to look them in the eye and tell them the truth about their spiritual predicament— and then show them the way to the One who can help them. And even when people don’t want to hear about the cross —and some truly won’t, as the Bible predicts— we need to preach Christ anyway…
Good! But isn’t there more than one way to compromise the Gospel? One way of compromising the Gospel is to modify the Gospel message itself. Another way is to leave the Gospel itself unspoken, to remove the Gospel from its place of preeminence. Seeker-oriented evangelism is guilty of the latter. Mark Mittelberg, executive vice president of Willow Creek Association in charge of evangelism, says:
Not every Sunday is about the Gospel. For instance, we’ll do a series on marriage or the family…. Some churches in the Southern Baptist tradition, for instance, feel that at the end of every service you have to bring it around to preach the Gospel, and challenge people to commit to it. No, we don’t do that every week; partially because we feel that people need to keep hearing biblical truth, they need to hear how the Bible is relevant to their everyday lives.
How can Seeker-oriented churches justify not preaching the clear Gospel at every opportunity? It would seem to fly in the face of even the most basic understanding of Christ’s words, Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Seeker churches deftly respond: But the Gospel is the foundation of everything we do:
Willow Creek tries to surround and influence seekers with the gospel in every way possible: from the relationships formed with our members and the words spoken between them as friends, to the teaching and encouragement available through our variety of small groups, to the lyrics of our music and the impact of our dramas, to the testimonies and lives of our leaders, to the illustrations in our messages, to the explicit presentations at our frequent "target weekends." The Gospel is woven in and through every aspect of ministry.
Jesus Crucified is still there they say, behind the scenes, in the background, and occasionally, even making a cameo appearance. Like Alfred Hitchock.
I ask, if the Gospel is the foundation of everything you do, then why not proclaim that Gospel at every opportunity? Seeker-evangelism’s answer to that question leads us to its theological foundation and its fatal flaw.