By Bob Burney,

If you are older than 40 the name Benjamin Spock is more than familiar. It was Spock that told an entire generation of parents to take it easy, don’t discipline your children and allow them to express themselves. Discipline, he told us, would warp a child’s fragile ego. Millions followed the guru of child development and he remained unchallenged among child rearing professionals. However, before his death Dr. Spock made an amazing discovery: he was wrong. In fact, he said:

We have reared a generation of brats. Parents aren’t firm enough with their children for fear of losing their love or incurring their resentment. This is a cruel deprivation that we professionals have imposed on mothers and fathers. Of course, we did it with the best of intentions. We didn’t realize until it was too late how our know-it-all attitude was undermining the self assurance of parents.

Oops.

Something just as momentous, in my opinion, just happened in the evangelical community. For most of a generation evangelicals have been romanced by the “seeker sensitive” movement spawned by Willow Creek Church in Chicago. The guru of this movement is Bill Hybels. Hybels and others have been telling us for decades to throw out everything we have previously thought and been taught about church growth and replace it with a new paradigm, a new way to do ministry.

Perhaps inadvertently, with this “new wave” of ministry came a de-emphasis on taking personal responsibility for Bible study combined with an emphasis on felt-needs based “programs” and slick marketing.

The size of the crowd rather than the depth of the heart determined success. If the crowd was large then surely God was blessing the ministry. Churches were built by demographic studies, professional strategists, marketing research, “felt needs” and sermons consistent with these techniques. We were told that preaching was out, relevance was in. Doctrine didn’t matter nearly as much as innovation. If it wasn’t “cutting edge” and consumer friendly it was doomed. The mention of sin, salvation and sanctification were taboo and replaced by Starbucks, strategy and sensationalism.

Thousands of pastors hung on every word that emanated from the lips of the church growth experts. Satellite seminars were packed with hungry church leaders learning the latest way to “do church.” The promise was clear: thousands of people and millions of dollars couldn’t be wrong. Forget what people need, give them what they want. How can you argue with the numbers? If you dared to challenge the “experts” you were immediately labeled as a “traditionalist,” a throwback to the 50’s, a stubborn dinosaur unwilling to change with the times.
All that changed recently. Willow Creek has released the results of a multi-year study on the effectiveness of their programs and philosophy of ministry. The study’s findings are in a new book titled Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Cally Parkinson and Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. Hybels himself called the findings “earth shaking,” “ground breaking,” and “mind blowing.” And no wonder: it seems that the “experts” were wrong.

The report reveals that most of what they have been doing for these many years and what they have taught millions of others to do is not producing solid disciples of Jesus Christ. Numbers yes, but not disciples. It gets worse. Hybels laments:

Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.

If you simply want a crowd, the “seeker sensitive” model produces results. If you want solid, sincere, mature followers of Christ, it’s a bust. In a shocking confession, Hybels states:

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.

Incredibly, the guru of church growth now tells us that people need to be reading their bibles and taking responsibility for their spiritual growth.

Just as Spock’s “mistake” was no minor error, so the error of the seeker sensitive movement is monumental in its scope. The foundation of thousands of American churches is now discovered to be mere sand. The one individual who has had perhaps the greatest influence on the American church in our generation has now admitted his philosophy of ministry, in large part, was a “mistake.” The extent of this error defies measurement.

Perhaps the most shocking thing of all in this revelation coming out of Willow Creek is in a summary statement by Greg Hawkins:

Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet.

Isn’t that what we were told when this whole seeker-sensitive thing started? The church growth gurus again want to throw away their old assumptions and “take out a clean sheet of paper” and, presumably, come up with a new paradigm for ministry.
Should this be encouraging?

Please note that “rooted in Scripture” still follows “rethink,” “new insights” and “informed research.” Someone still doesn’t get it. Unless there is a return to simple biblical (and relevant) principles, a new faulty scheme will replace the existing one and another generation will follow along as the latest piper plays.

What we should find encouraging, at least, in this “confession” coming from the highest ranks of the Willow Creek Association is that they are coming to realize that their existing “model” does not help people grow into mature followers of Jesus Christ. Given the massive influence this organization has on the American church today, let us pray that God would be pleased to put structures in place at Willow Creek that foster not mere numeric growth, but growth in grace.


3 Responses to “Seeker Friendly Church Leader Admits They Have Done It All Wrong”

  1. 1 Scott

    Wow! I spent a number of years in a “seeker sensitive” church. A problem we encountered was that even though we were highly involved in ministry, it was difficult to form solid relationships.There were so many people coming and going, aside from the core group everyone else seemed to change weekly.

    After much prayer God lead us to another church, an Assemblies of God. Praise God, we are now in a solid Biblically-sound church, where people are changed each and every service. Our numbers are increasing, also, but not near like it was at my previous church.

  2. 2 Elizabeth

    I come from a country church in South Australia and heard of the testimony of Ps Bill who died in a prayer meeting in Canberra, Australia as Ps Danny was sharing. The testimony of Ps Bill, was on how God is not pleased with the church and mentions that the churches are built on sand.

    I have just read Bob Burneys article about the’ Seeker friendly church leader admits they ……
    I found the content of the article interesting and challenging but I am concerned in the way that Ps Bill Hybels has been called in comparison with Spock as a guru. One thing that I admire in the times I have heard Ps Bill Hybels preach, is his love for people and his passion for Christ. At least he has acknowledges the error in teaching. I found your pointed comments regarding the re- thinking etc. to be somewhat, critical and judgmental. People read these articles and are influenced by how we present them. I try to be careful when bringing an opinion. I am reminded always the there are seven things God hates and one of those is an abomination to the Lord, at that is those who bring discord amongst the brethren.

    My children were raised in the era of Dr Spock which we didn’t adopt, pity he is not here to see the results of his suggestions. The mans testimony that died said God is not please with His church. To me that means all of us. We are all involved in this shaking, so let us be as honest as Ps Bill Hybels and get on our knees and repent. Let God build the church and we will do as we have been asked, to make disciples.

    Yours Faithfully in His Service
    Beth

  3. 3 Tom

    Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Messiah!

    First, may God bless Brother Hybels. What an example of humility. That would be very difficult to do for any of us.

    Back to the Bible. BACK TO THE BIBLE! Preach the Word, the whole counsel of God. Keep it simple–the Kingdom of God is made up primarily of simple people. We must be rock solid on the unquestionable doctrines of salvation and holiness; allowing the mysterious or difficult to remain in the hands of God in areas like predestination vs free will and pre/mid/posts trib…etc.

    You can’t just “rethink all your assumptions”. You have to take the Word of God, and measure all your assumptions and practices against that. For example:

    The leadership of the churches should be a group of males. Elder, Pastor, and Bishop are three views of the same office (Acts 20, Titus 1, 1 Peter 5). The various spins depart from that…Pastor with a board of Elders…Bishop, with a Pastor under him…etc. The bishops/pastor/elders are to be by city or area, not by congregation. (Titus 1, etc).

    Holiness. Men should lead their families by the example of simple faith in Christ and clean living. No sensual behavior, no materials that encourage lust; work to support the family, take the lead in discipling and disciplining the children. Women should dress modestly, wear a covering when praying, submit to their husbands, focus on the home. Men should wear their hair short, the women long. Simple…why do we strive so hard to avoid this area of God’s commandments?

    Zealous for spiritual gifts; seeing them working…but managing them according to the Word, esp. 1 Cor 14; and no one gift for everyone.

    Music must be BIBLICAL in content. Style doesn’t matter, as long as the music fits the words, and can be readily sung by average people.

    Every kind of evangelism… quietly letting your light shine– and the kind of bold, in-your-face evangelism that causes people to get mad.

    That brings me to the main problem, in my mind, with the seeker-friendly movement. It is really just a way to avoid the reproach of Christ (persecution), but still think we are preaching the gospel. Face it–Jesus said we will be hated and persecuted. We are in withdrawal from a millenium of Christian domination of Western European society. At least pseudo-Christian domination. We have a tough time letting go of being in favor with the powers of this world. Hey, anybody can see what the Bible is teaching! It is so simple. But it is so tough! So impossible without the aid of the Spirit which the Father so graciously granted us!

    We need to just simply believe, live, and preach what the Scripture says. Many will loathe it. Maybe even find a way to get around our US Constitution and imprision or execute us. Maybe many of us will lose our promotions or our jobs. I think that is what the Seeker Friendly movement (and others like it) are really based on. Just plain cowardice. Talking about myself. I detest my fear of man, and am crying out to God to deliver me, and give me some of that real power to be a witness. I don’t care if it comes with or without tongues! And maybe I don’t have the strength to go out and risk persecution at this moment, but I won’t twist the Scripture in order to make myself more comfortable in my utter need of God’s grace.

    Tom

Leave a Reply





Youtube Highlights

Archives

3K2 theme by Hakan Aydin