Seeker Services

Todd at The Todd Blog asks about “seeker-sensitive” churches. Here’s my answer.

Guitar Group

My church has a guitar group. Over the last couple years or so, its focus has changed.

Beginner focused. When we started the group, most of us were beginning guitar players. We spent a lot of time learning guitar basics: how to strum different rhythms, how to finger a B-minor, how to play a barre chord, how to use a capo, etc. We had some more experienced guitarists show up. They never came back. I think we bored or embarrassed them (or both).

Growth focused. As we progressed, we entered a phase where we knew all the “cowboy chords”, needing help only with the more unusual chords or strumming patterns. We’d experiment with more complex songs to keep learning. As the word got out, some beginners wanted to join the group. Initially, it was a frustrating experience for those of us who had advanced beyond beginner status. Instead of learning our new songs and expanding our skills, we’d sit around while the one or two beginners learned how to play a G chord. In response, we started a beginners group that met at the same time. A couple of the more advanced among us would teach the beginners and then we’d come together at the end to play a song that all, even the beginners, could play. We led praise sing at church every two or three months and sang at a retirement home a couple of times. We had twin goals of improving our skills and increasing the size of the group.

Service focused. Now, we’re “better.” The guitar group leads praise sing every month so we’re more focused on learning songs for the next time. Some more experienced players have joined the group and stuck. We spend some time learning more difficult songs. We’re growing in different ways. We have a couple of bass players and we have people who sing. We do a much better job leading praise sing. We’re scheduling a couple more visits to retirement homes.

Unfortunately, not all changes have been positive. None of us seem to have the time or inclination to teach the kids anymore. They don’t show up much anymore. And that might be okay. After all, only so many guitarist fit on the platform.

I Thought This Was Going to be About Church…

The phases of the guitar group could be compared with many churches. The beginner-focused phase describes churches that have only seeker services. This is not a sustaining model unless the goal is to funnel maturing Christians to other churches in the area. “Mature” Christians will find another church unless they are quickly tasked with leadership roles.

Our second, learning and growth-focused, phase describes churches that have services for both the long-time member and seekers. While continuing to disciple maturing members, they also work to attract those with questions. I think those could be fun churches to attend.

Our group’s third phase could describe many churches, too. Rather than focusing on growing the church, they focus on serving. Is this a healthy church model? I believe so, as long as the focus is on serving those outside. One danger is that the focuses turns inward, on “doing church.” Rather than trying to grow the church, its focus become improving the “professionalism” of the church. “Sorry, can’t lead you to Jesus, I have to practice for church next week.”

An good book on this topic is Building a Contagious Church by Mark Mittelberg and Bill Hybels.

What do you think? Does your church have a seeker service? Are you a seeker?

Christianity’s Effect on Foreign Politics

The three contemporary streams of American Protestantism (fundamentalist, liberal, and evangelical) lead to very different ideas about what the country’s role in the world should be. In this context, the most important differences have to do with the degree to which each promotes optimism about the possibilities for a stable, peaceful, and enlightened international order and the importance each places on the difference between believers and nonbelievers. In a nutshell, fundamentalists are deeply pessimistic about the prospects for world order and see an unbridgeable divide between believers and nonbelievers. Liberals are optimistic about the prospects for world order and see little difference between Christians and nonbelievers. And evangelicals stand somewhere in between these extremes. (Source.)

If the intersection of religion and politics interests you, you’ll want to read the article, “God’s Country?” by Walter Russell Mead. The article is published in the September/October 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs.

Hat tip: Johnny & Friends’ blog.

Merry Christmas!

Luke 2

1And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. 2(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 6And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
15And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

And to God

After writing yesterday’s post about Mark 12:13-17, I became curious whether all Bible translators choose to head this as a story about taxes or giving oneself to God. This is what I found:

New International Version Paying Taxes to Caesar
New American Standard Bible Jesus Answers the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes
The Message Paying Taxes to Caesar
Amplified Bible No heading
New Living Translation Taxes for Caesar
King James Version No heading
English Standard Version Paying Taxes to Caesar
Contemporary English Version Paying Taxes
New King James Version The Pharisees: Is It Lawful to Pay Taxes to Caesar?
21st Century King James Version No heading
American Standard Version No heading
Young’s Literal Translation No heading
Darby Translation No heading
New Life Version They Try To Trap Jesus
Holman Christian Standard Bible God and Caesar
New International Reader’s Version Is It Right to Pay Taxes to Caesar?
Wycliffe New Testament No heading
Worldwide English (New Testament) No heading
New International Version – UK Paying Taxes to Caesar

Of the versions surveyed, only the Holman Christian Standard Bible mentioned both Caesar and God. Most of the headings mentions paying taxes; one mentions Jesus answering questions and another the attempt to trap Jesus.

Do the Bible translators miss the point of Jesus’ statement? I would hope not. Imagine trying to find this story by reading the headings if the heading said, “Give to God what is His.”

Also, people tend to remember the story, not the answer. That’s why Jesus told so many parables. We remember the stories. It may take some time for the meaning to sink in.

I like your Christ…

What’s in a name?

What do you think when you hear the name “Jesus”? Unfortunately, your reaction likely depends on whether you know Christ or just Christians.

Pop quiz: Christians are:

  • Confused
  • Inspired
  • Judgmental
  • Loving
  • Christlike

If you don’t check the last item, you’re in good company.

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. –Mahatma Gandhi (maybe…)

Jesus intended for Christians to have a very different reputation.

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. —John 13:35 (New International Version)

How can Christians change their reputation?

16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. —1 John 3:16-18 (New International Version)

How did Jesus fight the culture war?

I’m pretty good at seeing connections. I took the Graduate Record Examination twice, and I remember questions like this:

“Dog is to peanut butter, as cat is to _______________.”
a. Apple butter b. Martha Stewart c. The International Space Station.

I won’t tell you what the answer is, but I got it right.

Thus starts Michael Spencer’s commentary at internetmonk.com, “Looking For The Jesus Connection: How did Jesus Fight the ‘Culture War’?” Michael clearly is smarter than I. Not only does he see the connection in the opening question, but he can explain the connections between Jesus and the confirmation of circuit court judges.

Jesus is Lord. He teaches us to live by Biblical values. Christians, i.e. “people of faith,” want to apply those Biblical values to public life, especially here in America where we have the right to do so. Judges affect our public lives by their many rulings on important issues, especially issues related to life and marriage. Republicans have nominated judges that are people of faith, and their rulings won’t go against what people of faith know is right and good. But the Democrats are against people of faith, and are using filibusters and other tactics to stop those Republican nominated judges from being approved. They are not just stalling the process; they are actively disqualifying these judges over issues of religious faith, and that’s wrong. Therefore, Jesus is for Republican judges being approved, and Jesus is against the Democratic filibuster against people of faith.

I suspect I don’t have to tell you that Michael is writing with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. But I will, because I’m only excerpting his commentary and I don’t want you to misunderstand. After all, those “connections” sound like the statements of some people I know.

Michael concludes his commentary with the statement:

I can’t make the connection between the ministry of Jesus and the political methods and agendas of partisan conservatives. Maybe because the connection isn’t there.

So how does Michael get from A to B, from start to end? I’m not going to tell you because I want you to go read the whole commentary. It’s required reading for those who think we’re not in a culture war and for those who do, but may not be using the right tactics.

Hat tip: Crossroads.