How do we think about our church meetings? Are they for Christians or for those seeking God? On the one hand I see the death of the ‘seeker-sensitive’ movement from powerhouses such as Willow Creek in the US, where church was done primarily for the seeker. On the other hand I hear voices calling for greater ‘holiness’ within the church service, decrying how we have ‘sold out’ for the sake of getting people in the front door. (Ironically these voices come from churches that have not seen a seeker through the front door for many years.) How do we think about church?
The Bible is clear that church is for Christians. It is the assembly of the saints (1 Cor 1:2. Note that Paul’s letters are addressed either to the church(es) in… or the saints in… used interchangeably – saints just means Christians). When the activities of church are discussed they are focused on other Christians (e.g. Col 3:16). But before we close the Bible and declare that we don’t need to consider the seeker, look at the way that Paul keeps an eye toward the outsider in Corinth:
But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” (1 Cor 14:24-25)
What is it that Christians need at church? They need the gospel:
“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” (1 Cor 15:1-2)
What is it that outsiders need to hear? They need the gospel:
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Rom 10:14-15)
So straight away we see that there is more overlap than we first think. What is the best way to conceive of our church meetings, then? I like to think of them as doing our family business. We get together as God’s family and do the things that God’s family does together. But just as God is hospitable to us (as shown in Jesus welcoming us into God’s family), and we as individuals are to show hospitality, we as God’s family show hospitality to the outsider. So we avoid any unnecessary offence, confusion or weirdness. We leave the offence up to the gospel. We don’t ridicule non-Christian culture or ideas, but instead treat them with generosity and then allow the gospel to critique them. We don’t speak using insider language or jargon unless necessary, and then we explain what it means. Where we have the freedom to do so we do things in the normal cultural way. (e.g. use the musical style closest to the radio, give people something to drink when they come in). We don’t have it perfect, but I think this is a helpful way to begin thinking about it.