Reaching Seekers vs. Teaching Believers

January 16, 2011

David Sorn

Is reaching seekers important? Yep. Is teaching believers important? You bet. Is it hard to find a balance? Harder than you'd think.

Reaching Seekers vs. Teaching Believers

January 16, 2011

David Sorn

Is reaching seekers important? Yep. Is teaching believers important? You bet. Is it hard to find a balance? Harder than you'd think.


Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor of Renovation Church.

I was thinking this week about how much we love to categorize people. We LOVE to put people in boxes.

A year and a half ago, before this church started, I took a handful of people with me and we went around and visited different church plants every Sunday.

Which was fun. Especially for me. Pastors don’t really get to visit other churches a whole lot.

And it was really fun to visit churches and go, “That was awesome.” “That was…not so awesome.”

We went to a lot of our network church plants (there are now 20 of them…, so sometimes people would know who we were and would ask us questions.

And I always hated getting asked one particular question: “So, what’s your church going to be about?”

Oh, I don’t know. Jesus. Reaching people for Jesus.

It’s a church. What else would we be about? Selling Amway or something?

But I get what they’re asking. People wanted to put us in a box. Are you a fog machine church or an organ church? Are you a “5 easy steps to parenthood” church or a we’re preaching for 90 minutes on 2 verses church?” OR, and here’s a big one (and also today’s topic): Are you a church all about reaching seekers (nonbelievers) or are you about just teaching believers that are already there?”

And because we are prone to putting people in boxes, we create teeter totters.

If this is your first week visiting Renovation Church, let me bring you up to speed on our Church Teeter Totters series.

We’re covering different topics where, the church, just like so much of the rest of culture, takes the easy way out and just defaults to one side of the issue, rather than trying to strike out a balance.

Let me set up today’s Teeter Totter if I could.


On the one side we have “Reaching Seekers”

This is the idea that the content (and we’re going to focus mostly on Content this morning since we already focused on the “entertainment” topic 2 weeks ago). But it’s the idea that the content ought to be focused and GEARED to “Seekers”

Seekers are defined as people who are not Christians but are interested. They are SEEKING God.

And thus the idea is, “how could the church even grow if we’re not focused on creatively teaching these people.” “If our mission is to reach them, we better constantly teach to them.” “Why would you not teach to these people? Not doing so would be like saying the best way to get 1st graders to like math is to teach them calculus!”

It’s often called the Seeker-Sensitive movement. And it’s characterized by churches that give the gospel often and focus on the “Basics” of Christianity

But, people react to that and say, “NO! No, no, no, no.” We can’t water down the gospel and just focus on the basics! How are we supposed to grow people in Christ when 95% of the people in churches are NOT seekers, they are believers?”

Those churches are just going to fizzle out over time and people are going to leave once they start craving more beyond the basics! Church has to be about “Teaching Believers!”

And thus, once again, we have a Teeter Totter.


So, how did we get into this mess?

This teeter totter, unlike the two previous ones we covered, isn’t as unique to our culture and current context.

It’s one that the church has wrestled with for 2,000 years. It’s just that as history progresses, we keep fading in and out of balance and bouncing around to different sides of the teeter totter.

This started to become a more prominent teeter totter issue in the 60’s in America when the “Church Growth Movement” started.

People started to figure out… “Hey, if we actually update our churches to the current culture…people will come!” No way! J

And part of that had to do with teaching. Start talking about what people are dealing with. What people are going through.

And thus the seeker-sensitive movement was born.

And churches started really changing the ways they communicated in order to be more “sensitive” to the unbelievers that were in their midst.

And this really took off from places like Rick Warren’s Saddleback in California, and especially from Bill Hybels’ Willow Creek Church in Chicago.


And all of a sudden, all over the place, you had “seeker-sensitive” churches, which meant that you communicated in a relevant way to people who were seeking God AND that you also kept your messages simple, focusing on the basics, and not overly challenging, because you don’t want to scare people away

But, what I think started out with good intentions about better communicating to unbelievers got watered down into becoming overly sensitive to unbelievers

And when you do that, it really does affect your overall message.

For instance, I got invited to be a part of a church’s series planning meeting once, and I recommended a message called, “If Christ gave everything…than we owe him everything.” And another pastor said to me, “I don’t think that’s a good idea…people don’t want to hear that.”

And see, that becomes a problem.

You never win when you try and adapt God’s word to make it “work better.”

I mean, let’s step back, how dumb of an idea is that?

“Let’s slightly change God’s word, I mean, if we make a little change here, cut that out here, than, it’s really going to be fruitful! Aha! Perfect!”

Adapting God’s word to suit your own agenda is like a 2 year old trying to edit his Father’s graduate school thesis.

Just not a good idea.

Because when we become overly focused on being sensitive we start leaving out core parts of the message.

The most common example of this is the doctrine of hell.

It’s becoming more and more common for churches to just ask people to become a Christian by saying, “If you want God to love you and give you joy, then come forward and let him be the leader of your life!”

Well, that’s good that’s right. That’s true.

BUT…….. It’s not the whole story. The rest of the story is that we all fall WAY short of God’s standards, and thus deserve punishment. Hell. Eternal separation.

BUT, out of love, God sent his son to take our place, and die for us, and if we would believe in that, and repent (ask for forgiveness/change) from our wicked ways, that God would 100% forgive us, enter into a relationship with us, and let us spend eternity with Him in heaven.

It’s actually much more compelling of a story.

Here’s why: If Jesus is ONLY another option in which I could get some of my needs met, as soon as life hits a rough spot, guess what I do?

“Enough of Jesus! I’ll try something else”

But if he came and rescued me from hell, that’s a totally different story

So, our role is not to just tell people what they want to hear, but to teach God’s word.

A great example of this in 1 Kings 22. Evil king Ahab is deciding whether he should attack Ramoth Gilead, so he inquires of his 400 prophets. But they’re really more like “yes men.”

King Jehoshaphat suggests they find a real prophet of the Lord, but Ahab doesn’t want to because “he never says anything good about him.”

When they go to find him, this happens

(1 Kings 22:13-14) – NIV

13 The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look, as one man the other prophets are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favorably.” 14 But Micaiah said, “As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what the LORD tells me.”

And he ends up telling him bad news, but he KNOWS that he is bound to speak the truth. It’s his duty.

And, so are WE bound to teach God’s Word, no matter what

It’s one of the reasons we often go through books of the Bible here… resume going through Acts again in a few weeks.

Because you don’t get the luxury of skipping stuff

We much teach his Word

(2 Timothy 4:1-4) – NIV

1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

Powerful stuff. We are never going to change this world by adapting God’s word to what our itching ears really want to hear.


So what happens is: we look at those churches that do so much to reach unbelievers…they’re always talking to them. It seems like every message is for them. It’s always at such a basic level…and we look at it, and we say…

“That! That! That church that’s always teaching John 3:16 every week. That church that’s doing a series on “The basics” 4 times a year. That! That is....WRONG!”

And yet…again. We create a Teeter Totter of RIGHT and WRONG.

BUT, it’s not that simple. Because not every church takes it to the extreme of “Watering Down.” AND, there are problems with the other side too.

A church that is overly-focused on only teaching believers results in a major, major problem. The death of the church. Churches all over the country are closing at an alarming rate.

Way more churches close every week than open. Which is why we need to plant more churches.

One of the reasons SO many churches are dying is they become self-serving. The people cry, teach me, teach just to me, more theology courses for me, program just for me, me, me, me!

And unfortunately there is a real strength-of-leadership vacuum in the Church, so churches do just that. They give in. Forgetting their mission was first… to reach new people

…and the people themselves forget that, huh, someone first reached them, and churches slowly turn inward. And when you turn inward, you die.

It’s sometimes a slow…graying/aging death. But it will come.

The church’s mission (like I said at the very beginning) is Jesus. And it’s to reach people for Jesus.

In fact, let’s step back and ask ourselves this question? Why do we want to get discipled anyway?

Why are you studying the Bible, going to House Groups, praying? Studying Scripture? What’s it for?

Is there going to be a test at the end???

NO! We do it because 1) He is holy, so we should be holy. 2) We do it, so we can one day help bring more people Christ. That’s why.

Our mission to get out into the fields and bring people in:

(Matthew 9:37-38) – NIV

37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

So, it can’t just be about teach just believers, believers, believers. And go deep every week into graduate level topics.

I’ve talked to non-Christians before who’ve gone and listened to those at this end of the teeter totter where it’s all about teaching really complicated stuff every Sunday morning.

I talked to guy once who was seeking God and was invited to a DVD Bible study about teaching the Bible, but week after week the speaker went way over his head.

I sat across from another guy who told me he was seeking God, so he decided to finally go to church with his family, for a whole year, and learned absolutely nothing because it was completely over his head.

Let me tell you something. Consistently going over seekers heads is not “HOLY,” it’s Heartbreaking.

And honestly all-too often Christians just want to feel good about the boxes they are in. The categories they fit in.

Rather than finding our identity in Christ, we find our identity in the type of church we are. Oh, we’re an expository teaching church. We only do verse-by-verse, so…so, hmmph.”

And lots of times, it really does come down to labels than anything else.

There was a church in northern Illinois once that called their Sunday services “Seeker Services.” And all the believers complained. So, they got rid of the name and said they would do normal services again.

However, the pastor said he changed none of his content, and everyone loved it once again. J


I think one of the first steps we need to do is just stop trying to overly categorize everyone.

I gotta be honest with you, it’s just been nauseating studying for this series and reading people from both sides of the teeter totter just expound hate upon their fellow Christians.

I always thought our common enemy was the devil not each other.

If we’re going to grow up and BE the church, We’ve got to grow beyond (and maybe u can help) the simple motivation tactics of only inspiring people to move by getting them to react to the other side.

We’re not really moving people, we’re just getting them to react to the opposition

Did you ever see those videos in 2008 where they went to anti-Obama rallies and anti-McCain rallies and interviewed just hate filled people.

And they would say, “What don’t you like about Barack Obama or John McCain”

This, and this, and this, and this. “So what do you think the solution should be to fix our country?

“I don’t know, but not this!”

A few years ago, when I was in the very beginning stages of THINKING about starting this church, I was commenting to my friend Kevin Thomas (the lead pastor of enCompass church…spoke here) about how my church was NOT going to do this and NOT going to have this and NOT going to….

And he wisely told me, you have to be careful about rallying people around exclusively what you’re NOT going to be. Because pretty soon you’ll realize you’ve really rallied them around…well…nothing.

And that’s what much of our confused teeter totter churches like in America.

“We’re all really angry about the other side, but we’re not so sure what we’re actually doing.” But BOY DO WE KNOW what we’re NOT doing!

That’s not vision. That’s not mission. That’s just a bunch of angry teeter-totter Christians.

We aren’t going to change the world for Jesus Christ if the only way we can get each other excited is by saying, “At least our Church isn’t A, B, or C”

And I think if we all just slowed down a little bit, and everybody settled down, and we thought about it some…this is not that hard of a teeter totter to solve.

One of the reasons we’ve made it difficult to solve is because people are setting up a false teeter totter.

This happens all the time in debate (whether it’s about politics, sports, or churches, or anything). In philosophy, it’s called the Straw Man Argument. It’s a tricky debate tactic where you set up your argument against an argument that’s not completely true, and thus your argument looks like the OBVIOUS winner.

And that’s happened a LOT with this particular teeter totter.

Let me show you how people set-up this false teeter totter

On one side: Focusing on the Word of God and letting the Holy Spirit work

On the other side using human techniques to communicate to people

But when you look at it that way…is anyone in their right mind ever going to vote against focusing on the Word of God and His Spirit? NO!

But it’s not really the argument we’re looking at. We’re not comparing relying on God vs. using current human communication techniques (that’s somehow void of God)

Both are good if used properly

We should really rely on God’s word and His Spirit, AND it’s also NOT wrong to use communication techniques of the day and be somewhat interesting to people you are talking to

I have no idea why, but we have a lot of Christians who feel like it’s a sin to be relevant.

It doesn’t HAVE to be a sin to be relevant, but it’s always a sin to be boring.

And if we relaxed some, we might see, yeah, we each have our niches, BUT we’re more in agreement than we think on this issue, we just use different words than each other.

One of the best explanations of this issue I’ve seen is from Lee Strobel (Lee wrote Case for Christ. One of the best intro books on apologetics)

“We don’t want to transform the message into something that it isn’t; rather, we want to translate the message so that the seeker can understand it.”

So, it’s not about adapting or changing the message to make it less offensive, but it is about making it understandable.

And there is ABSOLUTELY nothing wrong with making the message of Christ more understandable!!

Let me make something clear, that should be obvious, but it isn’t. Mostly because we like to put things in boxes.

Explaining something does NOT mean you are only catering to seekers. It’s just good teaching.

I get asked this a lot actually. People say, “I hear you explaining things a lot, so we must be a seeker church”

Think about it this way: If you went to your mechanic and he just used words you didn’t understand, would you say, “This must be a really good repair shop!”

If you went to your cell phone company to get a new phone, and they just talked about advanced phone operations you didn’t understand, would you say, “This must be a really good cell phone service provider!” No!

Which is why I have no idea why people crave that out of churches!

I sometimes hear ppl say, “Ooo…he just explained what sanctification meant.” It’s too bad that the ch. has gotten to this point where we need to explain this..

Listen, if you’re in a church were everyone knows what sanctification means, that’s not a sign of spiritual life, it’s a sign of death.

It means you have absolutely no new growth

We’ve got to find a balance to this issue. And part of that balance means we also can’t be afraid to teach tough topics.

If you only teach 1st grade level material, everything stays at first grade. But if you start really empowering and growing your believers, guess what?

They start reaching their friends, and they bring their friends to church. BUT, now you’ve also got people who know nothing about God and the Bible in church, and what are you going to do about that?!

You have to speak to a diverse group of people.

So, Here at Renovation. We’re purposefully not targeting a specific audience. Let’s just think clearly on this. We are such a teeter totter culture, that we just want to pick one or the other all the time. But why would we do that??!? We have spiritual diversity in these chairs.

We have lots of believers. But also lots of brand new believers. We have people who are just checking out God. Why would I just talk to one group?

Years ago, people used to always say to me, “Are you going to have a seeker sensitive pastor someday or a deep theology pastor?”

And I used to say: “Are there seriously only 2 choices?!?”

Why can’t we be a church that acknowledges we have a wide variety of people and tries to hit the middle?!? And that’s what we try and do!!

So if I mention phrases like “the exodus” or “gentiles” or “original sin,” I’m going to explain what that means. It might be review to you, but that’s ok, it’s new to a lot of people.

Some of the best churches I know cover the deepest of topics, but they also do an incredible job of explaining themselves along the way. That’s just good teaching. That’s not seeker this or believer that…

& if you’re seeking God, or new in your faith, there are going to be times where I say things you don’t understand or don’t get yet. That’s ok

That’s one of the reasons we have House Groups to supplement this balance.

If you’re a seeker or new believer. You should have questions.

I was there once. I had TONS of questions.

And few of them got answered on Sunday mornings.

They got answered by my friends, like Tim Larson, in Bible studies. They got answered in my prayer group at college.

One of the reasons that this has become a teeter totter issue for so many churches is so many ppl are so focused on only going to Sunday morning church.

And if that’s all you’re doing for discipleship, than yeah, I can see how this would be a huge debate.

But when you have an opportunity to get in a house group on Sunday, or Tuesday, or Thursday, and say, “Hey, what did David mean when he said….” And a person who’s been a Christian for 30 years can say, “Oh, he meant this.” Well, then, this just isn’t that big of an issue.

And in this week’s house group DVD I’m going to talk a lot more about the implications of having a diverse group of people in a small group


But listen, we’re not going to be perfect in this teeter totter. I’m not going to stand up here every week and eloquently speak to everyone’s hearts no matter where you’re at.

And you want to know something? I’m totally fine with that.

Sunday morning is not, and should not, be your only source of spiritual development, yet another thing people have forgotten, and thus get overly uptight concerning this issue.

Sunday morning is one “meal” a week. Hopefully it’s a good one. But it’s one meal a week.

For example, I go to culver’s every Thursday. It’s where I write my messages.

And it’s also a meal that I look forward to every week.

I look forward to it, “but I also know I can’t live for a week off of just a Culver’s cheeseburger on Thursdays.”

And listen, neither can you live off of just a message on Sunday mornings

Set a daily prayer routine, make house groups part of your weekly routine, pick up a Bible pyramid on the way out, and have a plan for Bible reading. Read a chapter a day.

I honestly think this teeter totter becomes much less of an issue if we stop thinking that Sunday morning is “The church”

It’s just a part of the church. A good part. But just a part.

So, as we seek to try and figure out this tricky balance, let us use wisdom and try and speak in a way even unbelievers can understand.

But let us never be afraid of God’s word. And let us trust in it as supreme.

As Paul writes in Galatians

(Galatians 1:10) – NLT

10 Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.

Amen. Let’s pray.

Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN

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