Seeker Services? Again?

So. I’ve been asked what it means to have a seeker service at my church. I’d love to answer and I will. But first, I’d like to look a little more at this issue of sinners who “came often” (NLTranslation) to hear Jesus speak. Most of us would have to admit — our own church services are not filled with sinners who “come often” to hear our pastors speak. Why not?

Why did those sinners come to hear Jesus?

Of course there were the miracles. Those would have been something to see. And there were the crowds. After all, Jesus didn’t compete with The Bachelor, or American Idol. There wasn’t much else to keep folks entertained. But was there more? I’ve made some observations:

First, Jesus clearly preached the difference between right and wrong. He left no one guessing. In fact, Jesus took holiness to entirely new — and previously unheard — levels of purity. Jesus went way beyond behavior; it wasn’t enough to live a good life. He wanted hearts that were free of envy and hatred and lust and anger. No one else had spoken like this. No one could say that Jesus made sinners comfortable by compromising the truth.

He did not.

But in the last chapters of Luke, I noticed that Jesus did not “go after” sinners. His attention, his focus, his talk was directed toward the “elite” religious leaders of his time. Truth be told, Jesus was pretty hard on these guys.

Maybe the sinners came because the tension between Jesus and their own religious leaders was so thick. Maybe they wondered when the two would come to “blows.” Maybe they wanted to be there to see the hostile action. To watch the conflict escalate.

That would have been entertaining, yes? I certainly would have loved watching. After all, Jesus said that these guys put heavy burdens on their audiences and did nothing to help them carry the weight. They loved attention, adoration, power, authority.

Who wouldn’t like to see the “big guys” taken down a notch?

But I think there was more. I think the sinners felt safe enough to come back for other reasons. Reasons we can learn from. . .

The first is related to the situation between Jesus and the Pharisees. The religious leaders of Jesus time lived in an “us versus them” culture. They were educated, trained. They were pure. They obeyed laws the people didn’t even know existed. The held themselves with an elitist air that said, “Of course, YOU are a sinner.”

But in their education and training they denied their own propensity to sin. They denied their own wickedness.

Jesus broke down that barrier. In Jesus there is only God and men. All men need God. All men are equally sinful. All are equally in need of God’s gracious forgiveness.

In Jesus, sinners saw that they were no worse off than even the most elite teacher of the law. In Jesus, all had sinned. In this way, Jesus went out of his way to INCLUDE his audience.

Secondly, in Jesus, there is hope. Remember that Jesus accused the teachers of the law of not helping, of making the burden harder, heavier. Teachers in Jesus’ day actually may have discouraged the people from finding their salvation in God. By being so hopelessly lost in their sin, and by providing no solution to the problem, sinners went away without hope.

Jesus gave them hope. “I am the way.” “I am the good shepherd.” “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who owned a vineyard in a far country.” “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who finds a valuable pearl.”

Of all that Jesus had to say, his primary message, “God wants to have a relationship with YOU,” was so revolutionary that it had to shake the core of his audience. Jesus told these unworthy, hopeless men and women that there was hope. They could know God too. They could experience freedom. That was indeed, good good news.

So. How do these things relate to today?

1. How often do pastors present themselves as having it all together? Perfect marriages. Perfect character. Perfect understanding. Perfect behavior. Like pharisees of old, they resurrect the “us versus them,” divisions of the New Testament. These are the very divisions Jesus wanted to break down. There is only unholy men, and a very Holy God. We, my friends, are the unholy ones. The sooner we admit it and move on, the more attractive we are to those who struggle with sin. How I would love to hear these phrases from the pulpit, “I struggle with this.” “I don’t understand this.” “I just can’t seem to get a handle on. . .” Admit it guys. It doesn’t weaken our God to admit our humanity.

2. How often do our services remember to give hope? I don’t mean three steps to praying your husband into someone else. Or five steps to becoming a perfect parent. Or the seven qualities of a great quiet time. I mean the hope of transformation generated by the power of the HOLY SPIRIT which raised Christ from the grave. (yes, you can hear my voice escalate here!)

God can do what man can not.

That is hope.

There is hope for drug addiction. For thieves. For liars. For the unfaithful. For the adulterer. For the sick. For the wounded. There is DIVINE power to transform even the most filthy heart into a new person, a new heart.

That my friend attracts sinners. Then. And now.

What else do you see in Jesus ministry that might make sinners safe enough to “come often” to hear him speak?

Let me know what you think! Bette

2 Responses to “Seeker Services? Again?”

  1. Rachael Boyer Says:

    Totally love it Bette! This post resonates with the reasons why I still love Jesus even when “church” and “Christians” fail me.

    What made people want to go hear Jesus was that he made the Kingdom accessible – to everyone. No one was too bad of a sinner to be disqualified.

    I love that Jesus hung out with the very people that the religious leaders avoided: the smelly fishermen, the even smellier tax collectors, adulterers, prostitutes, and little kids. He wasn’t afraid of making bad associations. He certainly didn’t spend his time schmoozing with leaders and name dropping. He cared about people’s needs. He taught them the heart-piercing Truth in clear, easy to understand lessons.

    One other aspect to this conversation is that while Jesus isn’t physically here, a church service might not be the next best substitute. “The Church” is made up of people who hopefully are reflecting Christ’s love to others, making those connections with “seekers” so that they might want to find out more about the God we love and serve. And finding out more could be very different from the traditional service in a church building, however seeker-friendly it might be. It could be a casual study/discussion group during lunch or at someone’s home during a pot-luck dinner. Something non-threatening and hospitable for people who might be freaked out by the idea of stepping inside a church building.

    • Bette Nordberg Says:

      Right on Rachael! Seeker services are just one tiny aspect of our presence in the world, aren’t they? And as you say, maybe not even our most important presence. And it interests me too, that in Luke 12:41, Peter asks Jesus, “Is this illustration just for us or for everyone?” I think there are places where the “just us” need to press in. The “just us” in this case being those who have already dropped down the rabbit hole of commitment. We’ve already pressed past the question of “what do you do with Jesus,” and moved on to the “what does it look like to live out this commitment.” I guess we’re saying, “for every thing, there is a season,” yes? Thanks for the good reminder. Where are we interacting with the “crowds?” For myself, my life is so quiet, so desk oriented, that I have to WORK to get out with the crowds. It takes intention.

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