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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Huge mistake in 'Rediscovering church'

Some of the most shocking news in the Christian world surfaced last year. Wondering what it is? After I recently read the story of how the "Seeker Sensitive" Willow Creek mega-church got started (Rediscovering Church by Lynn and Bill Hybels), I heard about the Reveal Campaign which highlights fundamental errors within the seeker sensitive model. The seeker sensitive guru's got something wrong. Before I assume too much more, please understand the following:
A seeker sensitive church communicates the Christian message in slick, non-religious, culturally relevant and presentational ways. They integrate multi-media, art, drama and pour lots of energy into minimizing religious language, eliminating churchy customs and simplifying messages. A seeker church is a culturally fashioned, highly targeted, palatable meeting to cause non-Christians to say "Oh, church really isn't that bad, it's similar to American Idol, maybe I'll give God a try!" It makes evangelists drawl with jealousy at the results. It kinda sounds like what church should be -- inviting, engaging and understandable. But it does have some apparent side affects. Read on ...

12 years ago Lynn Hybels wrote "For the first time in twenty years, we feel we can adequately address both ends of our mission: we can introduce the lost to Jesus Christ and help them become fully devoted followers" (Page 134).

In 2007, a few months ago, after an in-depth survey of Willow Creek, Bill Hybels said "We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become 'self feeders.'" (Full video explanation by Bill Hybels below). Willow Creek didn't have the discipleship process down like they thought, they spent millions of dollars on programs that weren't helping. Discipleship seems to be the biggest challenge in adopting a strong seeker mentality.

The Willow Creek team, based on the recent research, are currently implementing a personal development system for their members. I'm glad they shared this lesson with us. It's easy to imagine that with so much focus on the seeker, discipleship could get left behind. Striving for a harmonious balance of mission and discipleship seems to be the challenge all church leaders face. Sadly, some are doing neither, at least Hybels is passionate for the lost and willing to admit his mistakes and take action to correct them.

What are the take-aways from reading Rediscovering church?
  1. Bill Hybels is passionate for the church to reach unbelievers. He is an evangelist. His level of passion, and commitment to the church, challenges my level of passion and commitment.
  2. His insights into leadership are inspiring.
  3. He is aggressive in providing learning opportunities for the unchurched.
  4. He received input and direction from other leaders, and adjusted things accordingly.
  5. He established a team of elders.
  6. He allowed scripture to change his thinking.
  7. Bill & Lynn sought marriage counseling -- a very commendable thing to do and admit.
  8. It took a while but it sounds like they finally got what the grace of God was about.
What are the lessons learned?
  1. Bill had an addiction to ministry fruitfulness, the numbers kept growing.
  2. In the beginning their staff structure lacked authority and accountability.
  3. Major sin issues in leadership were not dealt with properly -- the truth was ignored and then hidden.
  4. Unbalanced, seeker sensitive preaching lead to spiritual carelessness in the church.
  5. A workaholic mentality lead to a constant crisis mode and burn out.
  6. Because of the pace of ministry over a long time, many of the marriages in the leadership team ended in divorced, and some lost their faith.
  7. The seeker sensitive approach prohibited global mission for many years.
  8. Their style works for baby boomers, but will it work for gen-xers?
Is seeker sensitive the way to go?

As with all things there are extremes. The church at large does need to do a better job of being seeker sensible, explaining and addressing the needs of non-believers and church guests. Not making people feel alienated, but accepted. Just like the seeker sensitive bunch, I also dislike religious talk and traditional customs. I do find it funny that the book is titled "Rediscovering church" when the model of church they pioneered had never really been done before, it was not so much rediscovered as reinvented.

If God doesn't work today in power, like in the book of Acts, if he doesn't heal, or speak, or break into our lives, or gift us, or desire intimacy with us, then a pure seeker sensitive approach makes some sense. If there is no power, then embracing a primarily slick and sensitive production can generate numerical results -- not something to be ignored.

But, if you believe that people can and should meet with God in a personal and corporate way, in a dynamic and radically transforming moment, in a way that empowers and motivates them to be different, then you'll need to incorporate more than just palatable drama. You'll need more than just sensitivity. You'll need to make room for God's power, for his gifts and for intimate, spirit charged worship and prophetic preaching. Ultimately, that's what people need, power, not production. Christianity in the book of Acts didn't spread because of sensitivity, but because they received power from the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).

If you are interested in the history of Willow Creek, the roots of the seeker sensitive movement and Bill Hybels inspiring insights into leadership then Rediscovering church is a good buy. You can also find more info about the Reveal Campaign.
This could be a neat tool to measure the maturity of a church. Please comment if you have any more in-depth knowledge about how the survey works.

In this video, Bill Hybels explains the mistakes they made, and their plans to fix it:


Maria Kerford said...

Matt, thanks so much for the good review. I love reading but it seems like there are just TONS of books out there and it's hard to prioritize.

Rock on,

Matt Sweetman said...

Yeah, there is a lot to read out there. Read what you enjoy, you are more likely to read it. Maybe write down a list of your skills (including undeveloped ones) and passions, then read books based on the list. For example, you are good at administration and you have a passion for the church, so reading 'Church Administration: Creating Efficiency for Effective Ministry' could be a higher priority, than a book on church planting.

Rocking on,
Matt :)