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Starting a Seeker-Sensitive ServiceHow Traditional Churches Can Reach the Unchurched
By Ed Dobson
ZondervanCopyright © 1993 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSTARTING A SEEKER-SENSITIVE SERVICE
It was an unforgettable moment. I was sitting on the bar stool in my blue jeans and sweatshirt. I had just finished my "Saturday Night" talk on the subject "Forgiving Your Parents," and I was in the middle of the question-answer time. I looked at the next question card, and it was typewritten. Somebody brought this question with him or her, I thought. It must be important. I read the question: "My mother died when I was young. And my dad remarried. He married a bitch. My greatest joy in life will be when she dies and I stand at her grave and sing the Doxology."
I read the question aloud as it was written-the word bitch and all. When I finished, there was a nervous rumble of laughter from some people in the audience. I had hardly begun my response when the person who had written the question spoke up. "That was my question," he said, interrupting me, "and I don't appreciate people laughing at me. I'm going through hell and it's not funny!" Suddenly there was absolute silence. No one, including me, knew quite what to do.
I looked this young man in the eye and began a ten-minute conversation with him. I apologized for those who laughed. I talked about the idea of forgiving and what that meant for his situation. The conversation seemed like an eternity. When the program was over, a long line of people formed to talk to this man and hug him. I waited until everyone else had talked to him and then I hugged him, thanked him for his honesty, and told him I loved him.
The next week I received a letter from the same man, whose name is David. He told of a painful childhood, religious abuse, and his lifelong struggle with cerebral palsy. He told me that the traditional church was a joke. He said he doubted life has any meaning or purpose. At the end of the letter he said that "Saturday Night" was the only church service he ever attended where he felt loved and accepted-the only service where he felt the sermons were honest. This was amazing, for David had graduated from a theological seminary.
David continued to attend "Saturday Night." He found new faith in Christ. Sometime later, he stood before the "Saturday Night" crowd and shared what God was doing in his life. I was thrilled. I fought back the tears as he declared how his faith in God was sustaining him through his continuing daily struggles.
David would not and does not attend the traditional services at Calvary Church. Without a seeker-sensitive service, our ministry would not have touched David. Why do we do "Saturday Night"? Because of the Davids in our community: people who feel life has no meaning or purpose, who have rejected traditional religion but are open to God and the Bible. In five years of ministry on Saturday night the unchurched people have come by the hundreds. The pain and struggle of these people is reflected in a dramatic way by the questions they ask. These questions are not typical "church" questions; they embody the issues of everyday living. I have looked through hundreds of these written questions, and this is a representative sampling:
I don't care about God giving me a second chance. I want to know where your God was when I was 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and I was sexually and physically abused. Why should I give God a second chance?
I'm gay. Is that okay?
How can I know for sure that God is a reality and not just a psychological crutch?
Why couldn't you go past 7:00 p.m. to try to answer a few more questions?
It used to be that you knew someone liked you if they had sex with you. Nowadays sex is like shaking hands. So how do you know whether someone likes you?
Open meetings in an open society take oral questions from the floor. You give the impression you want to control the questions, which makes your intellectual arguments seem dishonest. Would you shift to an open format of oral questions?
How do you overcome fears and walls formed from past hurts? How does one let go of fear and begin to trust? Why does God often limit himself to humans?
How can I love someone who hurts me?
How do you honestly break up a long-term relationship because you are not in love with the other person?
Do you think Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam, etc., are a front for the devil?
I dip my forefinger in the watery blood of your impotent redeemer. I write above his thorn-torn brow, "The TRUE prince of evil-King of the Slaves. Satanic Bible, Book of Satan."
Why is it that people dress up for church on Sundays, but not Saturdays? I realize this is an informal service, but what is the difference?
If someone asks you to tell them the honest truth and you know the truth will hurt, what do you do?
What if the burden or difficulty someone is facing is harmful to others and after continual prayer to take it away it is still hurting people?
Does God punish us with trials and tribulations?
Is it wrong to have sex before marriage if you're engaged? If so, why?
Why a Seeker-Sensitive Service?
There is no question that the Willow Creek Community Church has radically challenged the thinking of traditional churches. The church in South Barrington, Illinois, offers a model of ministry that is "consumer" oriented. It attempts to relate the gospel in a culturally relevant way to unchurched men and women. And judging by the thousands who attend, the church has achieved unique results. People flock to its seminars, buy its materials, and emulate its model. Why? Why develop ministry based on this model? I continually examine my own motives in our ongoing endeavor to be seeker sensitive on Saturday nights. Several compelling reasons have emerged from my efforts to understand why.
1. We are trapped in an evangelical subculture. As evangelical Christians we are isolated in our own little world. That world is basically out of touch with the broader culture. We have our own heroes, books, media, music, language, educational institutions, and taboos.
Heroes: James Kennedy, Charles Stanley, Elisabeth Elliot, James Dobson, Chuck Swindoll
Books: Zondervan, Baker, Eerdmans, Word, Thomas Nelson, Moody
Media: Televangelism, radio, Christianity Today, Moody Monthly, TBN, CBN
Language: "Exegetical," "born again," "reformed," "dispensational," "anointed"
Taboos: Guys with ponytails and/or earrings, dancing, nuclear disarmament, simplicity
All these add up to a language and culture understood by, defended to, and passed on for another generation of evangelicals. It also removes evangelicalism further from the unchurched community. Nonevangelicals have never heard of our heroes, read our books, tuned in to our television and radio programs, bought our music, or given a second thought to our taboos.
Excerpted from Starting a Seeker-Sensitive Service by Ed Dobson Copyright © 1993 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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