Today I discussed various church formats with a good Christian friend. We tossed around seeker friendly models versus traditional services. We talked about church light where preachers teach surface level sermons trying to connect Biblical themes with modern culture. These approaches were contrasted with more traditional fellowships were on fire preachers bring strong word and deep Biblical teaching. Is there such thing as the right model?
Sometimes I hear mature believers talk about getting back to New Testament Christianity. They long for the good ole days when every fellowship met in houses and people had all things in common. There are those who seem to always be chasing the perfect model. They go to conferences and try to learn the latest techniques. But when we end up looking for what “works” are we just chasing shadows?
I don’t believe that what moves people to a deeper relationship with God in one place always works when transplanted to other environments. The church in Asia is different than the church in America. Yes, even though we are one body, there are different parts. And they express their style and purpose in different ways.
Just because something worked at Willow Creek or Saddleback doesn’t mean it will be the answer for your local fellowship. Jesus used various techniques when healing people. There was no healing formula. Jesus admonished the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2 & 3 with different things because there was no one set cookie cutter church.
My friend did point out that there were some common traps that should be avoided for the various models. Each brings strengths and weaknesses. Even when mixing elements, you must be careful to read the warning label. For example, seeker friendly churches can be great places to introduce non-churched people to Christianity.
A warm, friendly environment can get people past built-in bias or fears that might otherwise keep them from church and ultimately a vibrant relationship with Jesus. Seeker friendly churches know how to bridge the gap and expose “heathens” with the relevancy of Scripture and Jesus Christ. No window dressing can make God relevant. God is relevant because of simply who He is. But we wacky Christians can do things that scare people off.
On the other hand, seek friendly churches can be a trap if the fellowship is not deliberate about moving people along a path of personal spiritual growth. Churches that appeal to seekers tend to struggle with how to balance the need for seekers to feel welcome while giving members opportunities to grow.
If seeker friendly churches are not careful, they quickly can become incubators for lukewarm Christians seeking just enough religion to feel inoculated from hell but not enough to be radically saved. Nobody likes the stench of a room full of dirty diapers. And without mature Christians, seeker friendly fellowships can be very shallow pools in which to swim.
More traditional fellowships have a beauty and simplicity to them. There is something really uplifting about knowing you are singing a song that other Christians have sung for hundreds of years. Restoring ancient practices can connect you with the vivid history of the Christian faith. It can put your life in perspective and help you see how your life is just a dot on the page of time. Yet the picture would not be complete without you.
Modern settings complete encourage the idea of community and fellowship. Too many people go to church week after week surrounded by strangers. They shake a few hands but never get connected. Espresso bars, couches and pool tables help change the feel of a gathering. Postmodern thinkers love to sit around and discuss theology over a cup of coffee. Acoustic worship turns the focus from the raw power of the music to the truth in the lyrics. All of these expressions have pitfalls too.
It can be easy for fellowships without a strong heart for outreach to look inward too much and ignore a hurting world. They develop a “them versus us” mindset where they rush to judge. They become Pharisees and forget the heights from where they have fallen. They slowly float away from grace and develop a critical spirit.
Modern can get so worked up by music that services become little more than a flesh fest designed to appeal to the senses. People worship God for the warm fuzzy feeling it gives and not because He deserves to be worshipped. These fellowships sometime become too casual and lose reverence for God.
Going back to the original question, “Is there really only one Biblical method of gathering as a church?” Another friend of mine said the other day that he believes the method can change as long as you don’t stray from the message. But how does this philosophy work when many today say that the method is the message? Some even say the method says more about what you believe than the message. By being too seeker friendly are we offending God?
When you get right down to it, all of these different expressions work if Jesus is the focus and love is the bond that brings people together. Really the big problem for most fellowships is not the goal but the starting point. Many church leaders look to man and no God for their inspiration. Every good work must start in the hands of the Master. Anyone laboring in anything other than a work of God is laboring in vain. And God’s work always starts with a call from God.