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If our relationships and the means that we create these relationships are not transformative or do not facilitate transformation, we’ve missed the redemptive purpose of the Bible, which is the point of the gospel. As usual, Jesus is our prototype when thinking about best practices for reaching people. His way of doing ministry transcends and supplants our thoughts because He excelled at gaining an audience to transform them.
The way He reached us was by becoming like us. This perspective is what Paul taught in Philippians 2:6-11. Jesus, who was in the form of God, took on flesh so that He could live among us (John 1:14). The Hebrew writer said Jesus took on flesh to save us (Hebrews 2:14-15). It is reasonable to conclude Jesus became like us by becoming us, but this raises a question we all must tangle with to understand how He became us.
Did Christ become just like us—our former manner of life (Ephesians 4:22), or did He become a better version of us (Ephesians 4:24)? This question is essential, one that cuts to the heart of how we relate to others in our Christian community today. There are two main ways in which you can connect with another person.
Where you choose to land on this discussion is a watershed issue that will determine not only how you relate to people, but how effective your ability to help them to mature in Christ. These two ways of relating to another person are worlds apart. Relating to their normal, behavioral instincts does not elevate them to the best possible versions of a human that they could be.
Relating to the heart of someone gives you the best chance to mature the individual into Christlikeness. All of life flows from the heart, which makes heart ministry the primary focus for transformational work (Proverbs 20:5; Luke 6:45; James 1:14).
The seeker-sensitive movement has been around long enough to give us a large sample size of its product. One of this movement’s objectives has been to bend their personalities and presentations to where the ministry relates to the people’s preferences. Some of the ways they have tried to connect are through casual dress, modern music, and hip presentations.
In some ways, these advances have been refreshing, vibrant, and helpful. In other ways, these post-modern approaches have lured unregenerate, nominal, and disenfranchised people into their buildings, but transforming them does not happen. You’ll often hear people in these church communities gush about how the church is reaching out by moving away from their stoic forefathers.
Like most new ideas and approaches, there are pros and cons. It would be naive or reactive to say you can’t learn from the seeker-sensitive movement, especially where it has jarred the old school Christian to give some credence to new ways of doing church. The first question to ask about a church’s style is not your personal preference or familiar tradition but are they preaching the gospel (Philippians 1:15-18).
Our ministry owes some of its success (humanly speaking) to an intentional breakaway from old-school methodologies. I was sharing with a local pastor recently how the Christian community is generally ten to fifteen years behind the culture. I did not intend my statement as a compliment.
There are things we can learn from nominal believers and non-Christians. Our ministry has benefited from the world’s training. We have learned how we think about reaching the lost and saved through the common grace means of marketing, technologies, cyber communities, and virtual training. Our culture has provided vital tools that we need to carry the Word of God around the world.
Attempting to become like the world or trying to relate to people according to their preferences can be dangerous, and it’s not necessarily the pathway to changing someone for the glory of God. But to say you cannot learn from God’s common grace that He bestows on those who may have selfish agendas is wrongheaded.
This worldview also applies to how we think about music. Some churches have amped-up their music and added video splash. These churches have done well in keeping up with what we see in the world, i.e., television, Hollywood, and video games. We have a video channel on YouTube because it’s an essential way to reach folks for Christ.
Noise, lights, videos, casualness, and dope lyrics have helped to persuade many people to come to their local church gatherings. We paint our youth rooms black, and the lights and sound can compete with any secular venue. To walk into some ministries would be like walking into the hippest place downtown.
I’m sure the seeker or angry religious person is more curious by the refreshing appeal of a local church that they perceive to be cool. There can be wisdom in knowing how and why the non-churched person does not care about what you’re doing on Sunday morning.
I do like some of these new ideas and ways of “doing church.” Sometimes I wear flip-flops, jeans, and a T-shirt for our church meetings. It would be exceptional for me to don a necktie, slacks, and a starched shirt. Others would never wear what I wear, and we love each other while not making our clothes the main point of the gathering.
I’m not against more formal apparel and wholeheartedly support anyone who wants to “dress up for church.” There is no biblical mandate, though I know some believers who elevate their traditions to the place of conscience. It makes no difference to me what a person wears as long as it is modest and does not draw attention to themselves.
Additionally, I enjoy every musical instrument—some more than others. I’m thankful to be part of a local church with a variety of worship styles, musicians, and instrumentation. Whether relating through ministry or music, there should be an appropriate—biblical—variety in how a church applies these means of grace.
I’ve addressed relating through ministry with a brief sound bite about the seeker-sensitive movement, and what I can learn from them. I mentioned how I could learn from different worship styles, too. Connecting with others in a way that makes sense to the audience was a gift that Jesus understood and applied. This aspect of the life of Christ is where the church is failing. It does not matter if the music is conservative or contemporary. It matters not if it’s a necktie church or a jean church. The one thing that matters is your ability to connect to where a person is authentically living.
Let me state it clearly: if you do not connect with a person at the heart, you will not engage them in such a way that will bring transformation. They may fill your building, but they won’t experience change. They may be comfortable with your kind of music, but an authentic relationship with Christ will be a clanking symbol. Will you study these passages about how Jesus connected with folks?
The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man” (John 7:45-46).
But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man (John 2:24-25).
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
The reason Jesus was able to connect with His audience was not that He related to His audience according to their preferences. I seriously doubt He went out of His way to try to connect that way. He was not a traditionalist or a seeker-sensitive guy. Christ had a more in-depth view when it came to relating to folks.
His words penetrated the hearts of men, and the folks under His tutelage took on His style. They modeled His transformational ministry (Acts 2:37). Any ministry must facilitate transformation for it to be biblical. The point of the Bible is about transforming lives. To measure biblical success, you want to carefully and objectively answer these three questions:
The inability of youth leaders to do transformational ministry is one of the most significant weaknesses in youth ministries. Many of these teens and college ministries have people leading them who don’t know how to disciple; they are not disciple-makers. It’s not necessarily their fault because they have not lived long enough to gain life experience or nobody has come alongside them to show them how.
How can an unmarried twenty-something know how to parent a twelve-year-old or a sixteen-year-old. Just because the youth leader was twelve or sixteen once upon a time does not make that person qualified to counsel youth. If you believe any twenty-something should be able to disciple someone younger than them, then your logic says any fifty-year-old can disciple anyone younger than them, which you know is not true.
Too often, churches leave the youth ministry to a bunch of good-hearted people who do not know how to lead a child or teen into transformation. Their default approach to relating to the kids is external, behavioral entertainment. The leaders become a bigger version of the kids they are leading: they have fun with them because they do not know how to address matters of the heart.
You’ll find a similar problem in music ministries. The songs do not pack a theological punch, which can’t satisfy hearts that need God. The lyrics are too repetitious and doctrinally watered-down. People love them, mostly because they don’t know any better or because the tunes are catchy and easy to learn and repeat.
There is a place for entertainment in our lives but not in the pivotal church contexts where it’s time to meet God in all our brokenness and need. This problem may be more systemic than you think. We build our lives on what we know about God, whether that knowledge is theologically-precise or not. If we are not growing theologians, we compromise our ability to transfer what we know about God to the next generation.
This problem is not primarily with the seeker coming through the doors on Sunday; we should not blame him as though he’s the issue. The problem is with you and me—the leaders in God’s church who do not know how to walk a person through a problem. Can you counsel (Romans 15:14)? Do you know how to walk a person through a situational difficulty?
My goal here is not to embarrass you or put you on the spot. Will you take the time to honestly assess yourself? I’m not asking if you can sing well. I’m not asking if you can build a cool PowerPoint presentation. I’m not asking if you can run the games at your youth gatherings. All of these things have their place, but at the end of the day, the music will stop, the video will fade to black, and the games will be over.
What will you do at that point? Can you take a hurting person and connect with them, where they live—at their hearts? If you can’t do this, then ultimately, you will not be able to help them. They may like you. They may even think you’re cool. They may be crazy in love with your church, but if you can’t disciple them through the problems they bring, your Christianity is no better than the cool stuff in our culture. If all you have to draw them in is a sanitized version of the world, you’ll not anchor them in Jesus. They will eventually leave.
Christ was cool, relevant, and modern. Christ was also educated in the Bible and able to dissect any soul to bring the care the seeker needed. Christ did more than draw a crowd. He was able to transform people. He connected and counseled, and the fruit was objective and compelling, and you can do this, too (John 14:12).
Let’s say God did not give you the gift to disciple well. First of all, let’s admit how that’s a subjective assessment. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say you don’t know how to disciple someone. If this is the case, there are other questions for you to ponder.