Chapter OneThe Anti-Christian,
"Not all who wander are lost.
-J. R. R. Tolkien
† "Hello. My name is Sky, and I'm not a Christian."
Twenty-four-year-old Sky walked up on the stage during our Sunday
night worship service and stood next to me. Sky was creative and artistic,
an intelligent thinker who majored in photography at the University of
California Santa Cruz. He had an introverted personality and was a little
nervous, but he courageously stood beside me, dressed in his polyester
Santa Cruz retro-artist fashion attire and displaying great, extended sideburns
(which I personally admired). I handed him a microphone, and he
began to tell his story with a plain and direct statement. "Hello. My name
is Sky, and I'm not a Christian."
I could feel the ripple of surprise coming from the people as his words
sank in. I suspect that many were expecting to hear Sky share a testimony
of how Jesus had changed his life. But on this night, we had been
talking about the importance of having true friendships with those who
are not church attenders. I had been explaining how Jesus spent time
with nonreligious sinners (Matt. 9:10). What better way to teach on this
subject, I decided, than to hear the perspective of someone who doesn't
believe in the Christian faith? Someone who would actually be considered
a nonreligious sinner.
Sky stood there in front of several hundred of his peers and told them
why he was not a Christian. His reasons, sadly, echoed those I had heard,
and continue to hear, over and over from people in emerging generations
whenever Christianity is brought up.
† "Christianity is a man-made organized religion."
Sky shared how he was raised in a nonreligious home. His parents,
who had divorced when he was young, never encouraged him to attend
church. In fact, they were rather distrustful of Christians and had rejected
the church. As Sky grew up, he was taught by his parents to intelligently
think for himself, and his own observations led him to believe that Christianity
was a man-made organized religion filled with man-made rules
based on opinions and politics.
† "Christians are close-minded, judgmental people."
From all he had experienced, Sky felt that most Christians are closed-minded
and judgmental. Whether the issue was sexual, ethical, or moral
preferences, Christians were always ready to point out how others were
wrong and how they were always right. He shared how he strongly felt it
was silly for the church in this age to cling to its dogmatic opinions. He
felt that Christians were very shallow thinkers to believe that they had
the only true answers.
† "Christians are arrogant to think they alone have
the only true religion."
Sky shared that in his viewpoint, all religions and worldviews should
be considered of equal value and beauty. He felt that the criticism and
condemnation he had heard Christians inflict on nonbelievers was harmful
and inexcusable. He shared that it really is arrogant to think that
Christians alone have the one true religion and the only way to God. For
all of these reasons, he testified, he not only rejected Christianity but was
actually repelled by it. Although he described himself as a very spiritual
person, he made it clear that Christianity was one of the last religions he
would ever consider following. He offered his perspective on Christians as
a word of caution to those there that night, lest they make these mistakes
in their interactions with others like him.
But Sky's story wasn't over yet.
† Some "very different and unusual" people
Recently, about two years after the night he had shared his "anti-testimony,"
Sky joined me in front of his peers once again on another
Sunday night. Like the first time, Sky spoke into a microphone, but now
we were standing waist deep in water in the baptistry. This time, instead
of explaining why he wasn't a Christian and the reasons he didn't believe,
Sky boldly and passionately declared, "I love Jesus and want to serve him
with all my life."
Although he still looked the same with his very cool extended sideburns
(although he wasn't wearing his usual polyester in the baptistry),
this was quite a different Sky than the one who had stood on the stage
two years ago. I could sense his passion as he shared what had occurred
in his life. He even had to stop talking for a brief moment as his voice
choked with emotion. Sky's story didn't include any type of major trauma,
nor had he hit bottom in some area of his life. He simply told the story of
how he met someone where he worked who introduced him to a few Christians
who were what he called "very different and unusual" people.
Sky shared that as he got to know these particular Christians and
became friends with them, for the first time he had actually seen Jesus in
people who claimed to be his followers. He said he hadn't expected that
there could ever be a group of Christians whom he felt he could relate to.
He said that the way they befriended him and lived their lives for Jesus in
front of him, despite their even knowing what he believed, caused him to
think. He said that this is what eventually led him to regularly go to the
place where they gathered to worship on Sunday nights.
† Compelled to be in the presence of believers
Standing in the baptistry, Sky thanked everyone present that night for
the part they had each played in his decision. He explained that they were
the first Christians he had ever seen actually worshiping God in a seriously
spiritual way. He told them how much it impacted him when he would come
on Sunday nights and see people his age singing songs of joy to God, praying
on their knees, and taking Jesus very seriously. He never realized that
Christians seek and encounter God in this way. It was a very unusual thing
to him, seeing this, and it was so unlike anything he had ever experienced
that he felt compelled to keep coming back. He said he was haunted by the
images of people worshiping like they were, so he kept returning.
Sky told everyone how eventually one Sunday night, during a time
when we allowed people to sit quietly and reflect and pray, he made a
decision. Sky particularly liked the times of silence and heart-searching in
the worship service. On this evening, while sitting at a table, he realized
that he wanted to know the Jesus that he was experiencing through his
friends and on Sunday nights at the worship service. He told everyone
how he bowed his head into his hands and prayed (I quote Sky word for
word here), "Lord, I don't understand everything that it is to follow you,
but I have seen your power at work in other people and felt your presence.
I want you to be my savior and to be the center of my life." Sky shared
how he later found out that at the very moment he was praying, his
friends were sitting nearby, all intensely praying for him.
† Sky's story didn't end with a salvation prayer
to get him to heaven
Sitting in one of the first rows that night as he spoke from the baptistry
were Sky's mom and dad. Although neither are Christians, they came
to watch their son's baptism, knowing how much it meant to him. Sitting
near his parents were Rod and Connie Clendenen, Sky's midweek Bible
study leaders and spiritual mentors. Rod is eighty years old, and he and
his wife, Connie, open their home every Wednesday night to lead a group
of primarily twenty-somethings in in-depth studies of various books of
the Bible. Rod and Connie have become a big part of Sky's life, even
though he and they are generations apart in age. Sky felt that as he
explored Christianity, he needed to seriously study the Bible. In fact, he
had made a commitment to read through the entire Bible before his baptism.
It took him nearly two years, but he did it. Sky now helps lead his
Bible study from time to time and is passionate about aligning his life
with the teachings of Jesus. Sky constantly is allowing other nonbelievers
to see how God transformed his life and makes it a point never to get
too consumed with "church" at the expense of those who need to see
Jesus in him now.
† Evangelism to an anti-Christian, antichurch, post-Christian seeker
After I baptized Sky that night, people applauded and praised God
with great enthusiasm. A young nonbeliever with strong antichurch and
anti-Christian views had been transformed into a devoted follower and
disciple of Jesus. And it had happened quite outside the lines of the modern
"seeker-sensitive" prescription for church growth.
There are two ways of understanding the term seeker-sensitive. My
use of the term in this book could be confusing if you don't grasp this. In
one sense, we all should be seeker-sensitive in terms of being sensitive to
seekers as a lifestyle. Jesus was very sensitive to seekers, and we should
be too. But the fact is that the term seeker-sensitive has also become
known as a methodology of ministry, in particular a certain type of worship
service. This second sense is primarily what I mean when I use the
term in this book. Confused? Let's look at some definitions.
Seeker-Sensitive As a Lifestyle
Being seeker-sensitive as a lifestyle means that we are sensitive to
spiritual seekers in all that we do. This can apply to our conversations
with those seeking; it can apply to how we design any style of worship
service. In this sense, it is not a style or methodology of worship; it is
a lifestyle approach to how we live as Christians in relation to being sensitive
to seekers of faith.
Seeker-Sensitive As a Style
Currently in our culture, when someone refers to a seeker-sensitive
worship service or approach, they many times are referring to a methodology
or style of ministry-a strategy of designing ministry to attract
those who feel the church is irrelevant or dull. This often involves removing
what could be considered religious stumbling blocks and displays of
the spiritual (such as extended worship, religious symbols, extensive
prayer times, liturgy, etc.) so that seekers can relate to the environment
and be transformed by the message of Jesus. Generally, seeker-sensitive
services function as entry points into the church, and the
church offers deeper teaching and worship in another meeting or setting.
This is primarily what I mean when I use the term seeker-sensitive
in this book.
Sky did not come to know Jesus and become part of a church because
of a well-rehearsed drama sketch, polished four-point preaching, flawless
programming, or new padded theater seats. It wasn't because we met in
a well-lit, contemporary, bright and cheery church facility where we
removed the religious symbols, stained glass, and churchy atmosphere to
make "seekers" more comfortable. It wasn't because we used secular songs
in the church meeting so he could relate to them, or cut musical worship
to a minimum in the fear that it would cause someone like Sky to be
turned off. In fact, Sky experienced almost the opposite.
When he attended his new friends' worship gathering, he experienced
more of a "post-seeker-sensitive" approach to ministry and worship services.
This approach is really nothing new at all; in fact, it is simply going
back to more of a raw and basic form of "vintage Christianity."
Going back to a raw form of vintage Christianity, which unapologetically
focuses on kingdom living by disciples of Jesus. A post-seeker-sensitive
worship gathering promotes, rather than hides, full displays of
spirituality (extended worship, religious symbols, liturgy, extensive
prayer times, extensive use of Scripture and readings, etc.) so that
people can experience and be transformed by the message of Jesus. This
approach is done, however, with renewed life and is still "sensitive" as
clear instruction and regular explanation are given to help seekers
understand theological terms and spiritual exercises.
In fact, I later learned from Sky that if we had offered the type of
things typically associated with a "seeker-sensitive service," he wouldn't
have been interested. If he was going to take the time to go to a church
service, he told me, he wanted to experience an authentic spiritual event in
which he could see if God was truly alive and being worshiped. If he
attended the service his Christian friends went to, and discovered that we
took away the crosses and anything that looked religious and didn't open
the Bible and had fewer times of prayer and singing, he would have felt
Christians were either embarrassed by or were trying to hide what they
believed. To him, this would have been hypocritical and even a turn-off to
How ironic! So many of the things I had once worked so hard to eliminate
in order to be seeker-sensitive, to avoid offending or confusing a
seeker like Sky, were exactly the things he found the most influential in
his decision to become a Christian. For Sky, a seeker-sensitive (style, not
lifestyle) approach would have been a complete failure and possibly even
detrimental. Sky comes from a generation that grew up in a changing
post-Christian culture, a culture different from that of the generations
that grew up when the seeker-sensitive movement started. We need to
recognize that we are moving into a post-seeker-sensitive era.
By no means do I discount the value of seeker-sensitive-style ministry.
I know for a fact that God has used it in phenomenal ways and will
continue to use it. But our culture is changing. Previous generations grew
up experiencing church as dull or meaningless, and so the seeker-sensitive
model strove to reintroduce church as relevant, contemporary, and personal.
But emerging generations are being raised without any experience
of church, good or bad. As in Sky's case, when he first went to church,
his desire was for a spiritual, transcendent experience. To have removed
the overtly spiritual would have seemed very strange to him.
† The emerging church exists in a post-seeker-sensitive
In the following chapters, we will learn more about what led to Sky's
conversion and what he was drawn to in his Christian friends and in the
worship services they attended. We will look at what people in emerging
generations are finding attractive (and not so attractive) about the Christian
faith and today's church. Sky's story is not isolated; all across America
I am hearing similar accounts repeated over and over. I believe Sky's
former opinions about Christianity are quickly becoming the norm. If you
aren't yet hearing opinions like Sky shared, it is only a matter of time
before you do.