This last category of “misfit” is, technically speaking, not a member of the church. The spiritual seeker refers to those individuals who come to a local church, participates at some level, and yet is still not sure what all they believe about God and the gospel. Many will contend, understandably so, that the church should not cater to such individuals. I will contend that a more nuanced position is appropriate. The church needs to be sensitive to the spiritual seekers among us because their presence provides us with an opportunity to lead them to faith.
I fully understand the concerns that many of my friends have with regard to catering to the spiritual seeker. The church, we are often told, is for the believer. The services are designed to help disciples grow, and not primarily intended to help unbelievers become disciples. It is certainly a valid point, and catering to the unbeliever in the service can lead us to make unwise decisions, to water-down truth, and to overlook the continued spiritual development of the mature. There is real danger here, and yet I want to push back. There is something to be said about engaging carefully with the spiritual seekers who attend our church gatherings regularly.
There is a real temptation for churches to become inward-focused. To emphasize discipleship at the expense of evangelism, to emphasize “us” over “them.” To become primarily concerned with church as institution, church as social clique, or church as our comfortable routine. When this happens we miss the Bible’s call for the church to be an outpost of the Kingdom, a beacon of light (Matt. 5:14). The spiritual seekers among us remind us that we must look beyond our own comfort, our own routine, our own desires, our own mission and remember that God has left us here to be missionaries. The church is “missional” by nature! It must be. This is not simply some buzzword that churches can decide to adopt, it is the very heart of who we are supposed to be as the people of God. We are to proclaim Christ to the world, inviting others to know Him, and calling them to peak at the in-breaking of His Kingdom. Gathering with the church is one way that they can experience aspects of this Kingdom and hear about this Christ.
What does this sensitivity to the Spiritual Seeker look like? I think it involves three things in terms of misfit ministry: (1) acknowledging them in our worship; (2) attending to them in our gatherings; (3) inviting them to participate in limited ways. Allow me an opportunity to unpack these elements carefully.
The worship service ought to be clearly designed with the believer in mind. The unbeliever cannot truly worship God and so focusing on them would be both unhealthy and strange. A worship service should center on engaging believers to worship together. Yet, there are ways that we can acknowledge the presence of spiritual seekers. Explain elements of the service that won’t make sense (communion and baptism for example), or aspects that need clarification (why do we sing, what is a sermon, why do we read the Bible?). This gives the spiritual seeker more clarity and understanding about what we do and why we do it. There are different ways to do this (statements in a bulletin, notices on the projector screen, or verbal clarifications from the platform, to name a few), but the key idea is to help the understand what they are experiencing. We can acknowledge them too by speaking to them directly in the sermon. Preaching with them in mind at times, and challenging and encouraging them to wrestle with their hearts, thoughts, doubts, and faith. We can keep them in mind as we select our music too, selecting songs that will make sense to individuals and connect our faith to their present lives. Worship can be a great evangelistic tool, even if that is not its primary function.
We should also think about how to attend to their needs in our weekly gatherings. The presence of spiritual seekers among us is a phenomenal open door to serving them and building bridges to the gospel. A guest serves kiosk, clearly marked, and with inviting volunteers can be a great way to connect seekers with services. Are they looking to talk to someone, pray with someone, or find a class to attend? Do they need counseling services, food pantry assistance, or pastoral consult? Making seekers feel welcomed is a great way to help them believe they have come to the right place in their pursuit of truth. Our goal is not to make the church about seekers, but in an effort to keep primary things at the center we can end up ignoring the most tangible opportunities for evangelism ever.
Finally, we should be sensitive to spiritual seekers by inviting them to participate in simple ways. Participation is a great way to help people see, more tangibly, the connection between our faith and the lives they lead. We want them to understand that faith is not just some abstract, cognitive element but that true faith has hands and feet. Obviously, unbelievers can’t represent the church in specific ways, they aren’t part of the body of Christ yet, but can they serve in mercy ministries? Can they participate in food the pantry or various service projects? Can they serve food at the shelter? Help rake leaves in the fall? Volunteer at Trunk or Treat? Can we help them connect with other believers in service projects and realize that Christians put their belief into practice? The goal is to give them more and more exposure to the church and what Christianity really means. It’s more than attending church, though it’s not less than that, and it’s more than just reading the Bible, though it’s not less than that. Participation can help to connect the dots for seekers in meaningful ways. Select participation can be a great way to care for seekers.
Spiritual seekers should be among us! We want them here for their good, but we also want them here to remind us that the mission is about more than our corporate gatherings on Sunday. We want to remember that the church exists to point others to Christ. If we aren’t sensitive to the Spiritual seeker we can forget this key aspect of ministry and become so inwardly focused that our churches become backward and possibly dead. Be sensitive, then, to these misfit “members.”