I hate the term “seeker sensitive.”
That may shock you considering I was on staff with Andy Stanley and North Point for 13 years. But we were never “seeker sensitive.” That was never the goal. And I’ll tell you why.
“Seeker sensitive” requires churches altogether avoid any insensitivity. And that’s a problem. The Gospel itself is relatively insensitive. “You’re a sinner in need of a Savior” isn’t considerate. “Sin requires a payment” isn’t kind.
Therefore being sensitive isn’t a great church goal. In fact, it’s a terrible goal.
But neither is being insensitive!
Just Tell The TRUTH!
I get that emotion. And I’ve been told that hundreds of times (primarily through social media). A few Christians come at the truth emphatically with plenty of arrogance. But that’s only a few.
In an attempt to emulate our Lord, most Jesus followers want to love people well and lead them to the truth.
The question is how.
In a politically-correct world, it can seem to be “sensitive” is to give into the culture. This feeling drives believers to be belligerent about the truth. Yet we know that few, if any, people have been argued into faith. Or beat’n into believ’n.
Which puts us between a sensitive rock and a fundamentalist hard place.
Full of Grace, Seasoned with Salt
Paul’s words for the Colossian Christians couldn’t be more appropriate for us today if he tried.
3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. – Colossians 4:3-6 (NIV)
There is plenty to unpack in these few sentences. Perhaps the most crucial being “conversation.”
Leading with the truth so quickly becomes a confrontation. Paul’s insight helps us avoid the fight to always be right.
If we can lead with plenty of grace, sprinkling in some truth along the way, our conversation may lead to more godly engagement. And that’s where God does some of his greatest work!
Preaching a Conversation
That’s the beauty of preaching a conversation. When I train pastors and communicators on message construction and delivery, we focus first on connecting the content to the crowd by creating interest through insight.
That sounds like a mouthful in one line. But the point is pretty simple. Rather than lead with what’s true, we begin with connection and interest to create a path (or conversation) to the truth and application.
I love taking a conversational path to the truth because it helps ensure when we get there, we’ve built some relational capital through grace, earning the right to be heard in the process.
A Better Goal: Seeker Comprehensible
At North Point, I’d suggest we were “seeker comprehensible,” not “seeker sensitive.”
We weren’t afraid to discuss challenging topics or address sin. We just did it in a way that brought everyone into the conversation, helped everyone understand the dynamics, and gave everyone a potential application.
Before we wrap up, let me give you a few tips on growing in comprehensibility:
1. Explain What You’re Doing
If you’re going to dunk an adult underwater (I.E., Baptism), take a moment and explain what you’re doing, what it means, and why it matters. The same goes for communion, worship, or anything else that we Christians do without thinking twice.
2. Identify Obstacles to the Truth
One of the most gracious things we can do is call out the inherent challenges to following a biblical truth. When preaching, I often say, “This teaching is hard for me.” Or, “I wish Jesus hadn’t said this next line.”
Being honest about the challenges helps create a conversation with your congregation.
3. Write and Prepare a Dialog, not a Monolog
I know you’re not literally preaching or speaking a dialog. Still, when you think about your content more as a conversation than a speech, it will help you craft a more engaging journey.
Lane Jones at North Point Ministries taught me this after my first sermon at North Point. The following day I asked Lane for his evaluation. He said, and I quote, “It was really good and REALLY clear. But I’m not sure anyone really like you.”
He may have been kinder, but that’s what I remember. It didn’t hurt my feelings, though. I wanted to improve. And Lane was right. I was very bold and clear. That’s fine if appropriate and paired with emotional and relational engagement. To improve in this area, Lane suggested that the next time I preach, I pretend I am sitting in a coffee shop with a good friend explaining a concept through a conversation over a cup of coffee.
That was a game-changing thought for me. I was immediately more relationally and emotionally engaged with the crowd my next time out.
4. Throw a Wider Net
When you’re writing your message, consider how to gain interest from as many types of people as possible. Use this same approach with your content application.
We call this “concentric circles.” If you’re preaching about relationships, you may give examples of how your topic affects dating, marriage, parenthood, the workplace, and the neighborhood. If you’re speaking about fear, you may mention fears associated with health, jobs, finances, and relationships.
When you bring people in through connection, you stand a better chance of having a conversation.
Grace For The Win
Truth is always true, whether a person is willing to listen or not.
Leading with grace and understanding helps us earn the right to share the truth from a position of love and concern. I’ve been on the wrong end of plenty of well-meaning Christians. I’ve also felt the pull of grace and love that led me to desire the truth.
If you lead a church, seek to be seeker comprehensible. Be always full of grace, but use salt for seasoning. This is how Jesus did it. It’s how Paul taught it. And it’s how we’ll change the world, one conversation at a time.