By T.A. McMahon,
Co-founder of The Berean Call
Author’s note: The state of the modern church has bothered me for several years. I am watching the “church’s” impact disintegrate into an ineffective, God-neglecting institution apparently, to me, more interested in marketing strategies than discipling.
The church’s purpose is not to save the lost. That is God’s job. The purpose of the true church of Jesus Christ, the Bride of Christ, is to train and equip the saints, who then go out and win souls for Christ.
In my view, the modern church, not the Bride of Christ, has lost its way and its true purpose. I’m reading lots of pastors and other church history authorities who are writing the same message.
Read part two of Mr. McMahon’s article below and see if you agree with me.
There’s another item that many pastors seem to be missing in their excitement over “growing your church through attracting the lost.” Although numbers seem to rule in this seeker-friendly mania (an amazing 841 churches in this country have reached the “mega” category, with 2,000 to 25,000 weekend attendees), few have realized that the sizeable increase in church attendance is not due to the influx of the un-churched .
During the last 70 years, the percentage of this country’s population attending church has been relatively constant at about 43 percent. A spike of 49 percent in 1991 (years prior to today’s initial seeker-sensitive enthusiasm) gradually declined, returning to 42 percent in 2002 (www.barna.org). From where, then, do those mega-churches, which have outfitted themselves to accommodate the un-churched, get their members? Mostly from smaller churches that aren’t interested in or that can’t afford the fleshly attractions. And what of the supposed horde of un-churched Harrys and Marys who have been assembled? They constitute a very small part of mega-church congregations. During his year of researching Willow Creek, G. A. Pritchard, in his book Willow Creek Seeker Services (Baker Book House, 1996), estimated that the targeted un-churched made up only between 10 and 15 percent of the 16,000 or so who attended weekend services!
If this percentage is typical among seeker-friendly churches, which likely is the case, a rather disturbing situation has developed. Thousands of churches here and abroad have completely restructured themselves as outreach centers for the un-churched. This, by the way, is not biblical. The church is for the maturing and equipping of the saints, who then go out to reach the lost. Nevertheless, seeker-sensitive churches have turned to entertainment and conveniences in order to attract Harry and Mary and make them feel comfortable in their new church environment.
In order to keep them coming back, they have avoided the thorough teaching of Scripture in favor of positive, uplifting messages designed to make them feel good about themselves. As un-churched Harry and Mary continue to attend, they get only a vague hint of biblical truth that might bring conviction of sin and true repentance. Worse yet, they get a psychologized view of themselves that undermines that truth. However, as grievous as that situation is, it doesn’t end there.
The vast majority of those who attend seeker-friendly fellowships profess to be believers. Yet most were drawn to those churches by the same worldly allurements that were meant to entice the un-churched, and they continue to attend, being fed the same biblically anemic diet created for the wooing of unbelievers. At best, they receive the skimmed milk of the Word; at worst, pablum contaminated with “profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called” (1 Tim:6:20). Certainly a church can grow numerically on that basis, but not spiritually. Furthermore, there is no opportunity for believers to mature in the faith in such an environment. In defense of seeker-sensitive churches, some have argued that mid-week services are set apart for discipleship and getting into the meat of Scriptures. If that indeed is the case, it’s a rare exception rather than the rule.
As we’ve noted, most seeker-friendly churches focus much of their time, energy, and resources on accommodating unchurched Harry and Mary. Consequently, week after week, the entire congregation is subjected to a diluted and leavened message. Then, on Wednesday evening, when a fellowship is usually reduced to quarter or a third of its normal size, would it be reasonable to assume that this remnant is served a nourishing meal featuring the meat of the Word, expositional teaching, and an emphasis on sound doctrine and discipleship? Hardly. We’ve yet to find a seeker-friendly church where that takes place.
The spiritual meals offered at mid-week services are usually support group meetings and classes for discerning one’s spiritual gifts or going through the latest psycho-babble-ized “Christian” bestseller such as Wild at Heart rather than the study of the Scriptures.
Perhaps the most insidious aspect of the seeker-friendly approach to doing church is an attempt to impress the unchurched by looking to and quoting those regarded as the experts in solving all their mental, emotional, and behavioral problems: psychiatrists and psychologists. Nothing in the history of the church has undermined the truth of the sufficiency of God’s Word for “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Pt 1:3) more than the introduction of the pseudo-science of psychotherapy.
Its thousands of concepts and hundreds of methodologies are unproven, contradictory, unscientific, and thoroughly unbiblical, as we’ve documented in our books and in previous articles. Pritchard observed that at Willow Creek “Hybels not only teaches psychological principles, but often uses the psychological principles as interpretive guides for his exegesis of Scripture….King David had an identity crisis, the apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to do self-analysis, and Peter had a problem with boundary issues. The point is, psychological principles are regularly built into Hybels’ teaching” (p. 156).
During my own visit to Willow Creek, Pastor Hybels gave a message that began with Scripture and addressed the problems that result when people lie. However, he mustered his chief support regarding the harmful consequences of lying from psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, the author of The Road Less Traveled (Simon & Schuster, 1978), who declared in that book (pp. 269-70), “God wants us to become Himself (or Herself or Itself)”!
Saddleback Community Church like-wise is entrenched in the psycho-therapeutic. Although claiming to be Christ-centered rather than psychological, it has one of the largest conglomerations of Alcoholics Anonymous-based 12-Step recovery programs in the country. The church sponsors more than a dozen support groups, such as Adult Children of Chemically Addicted, Codependency, Co-Addicted Women in a Relationship with Sexually Addicted Men, Eating Disorders, and so forth.
Each group is normally led by someone “in recovery” from the “addiction,” and the resource materials for understanding the “disorder” include books mostly authored by psychiatrists and psychologists (www.celebraterecovery.com). Although “in denial” about his use of“pop psychology,” much of it permeates Rick Warren’s work, including his seven-million bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life , which is largely about self-fulfillment, promotes Celebrate Recovery , and is sprinkled with psych references such as “Samson was co-dependent” (p. 233).
The overriding message from psychologically driven Willow Creek and Saddleback is that the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit are insufficient for delivering a person from a habitual sin and for transforming his or her life into one that is fruitful and pleasing to God. Again, what these churches say and do is exported to hundreds of thousands of church leaders around the world.
A large part of the evangelical church has developed a pleasure-laden, cruise ship mentality, but it will result in a spiritual Titanic. Seeker-friendly church pastors (and those tempted to climb aboard) need to get on their knees and read the words of Jesus to the church of the Laodiceans (Rev:3:14-21)
). They were “rich, and increased with goods,” yet failed to recognize that in God’s eyes, they were “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” Jesus, standing outside their church, where they had unwittingly displaced Him, offers them His counsel , the truth of His Word, which alone will enable them to live their lives for His pleasure . There can be nothing better here on earth, and for all eternity. TBC.
If you missed part 1 of this series, follow this link to read the post.
¹The content of these posts comes from copyrighted material from the Berean Call website.