The question is asked: Is there a biblical model for seeker “services”? Indeed, one could say there is. Paul’s address to the Athenians on the Areopagus (Acts 17:16-33). Let us see what we can learn about a “seeker sensitive” and “seeker connecting” approach to preaching the gospel — one that Paul models.
First, Paul finds himself in an idol-filled city of international repute and his approach is to contend with them (argue with them) both in the synagogue and in the marketplace. He found himself in direct disputationm with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. They invited Paul to the Areopagus — the academy of its day.
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
Second, Paul overtly connects with them by speaking (I’m not sure I’d say “affirming” — maybe) of their being “extremely religious” (seekers at some level). He supports their religiosity by their objects of worship.
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.
Third, from this platform of connection, Paul tells them the truth: the God they are searching for in their spirituality is Israel’s God, and he is Lord of all and does not dwell in shrines made by human hands. He does not need such things because his the giver of life to all. Adam is the ancestor of all.
So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. 24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.
Fourth, observe this move by Paul: “God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” That is, Paul overtly affirms that God makes humans in such a way that they will seek for him. If Paul can say no one seeks God (Rom 3), he also says God made humans to seek him — and he finds evidence for such in the religiosity of the Athenians.
27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.
Fifth, Paul grounds human seeking for God in the fact that we are all “in God” — this kind of language smacks of pan-en-theism (which means we are all in God), even though we must be careful to distinguish what Paul and his world meant by how some understand it today. That we are made by God and “in him” means Paul can infer that God is not gold and silver and stone.
28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ 29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.
Paul is not done. He’s not done when he’s got his audience thinking they are all connected to God. He summons them, sixth, to repent. In the past God has overlooked paganism, but it is time now — now that Jesus has come — to repent from sin. And he summons them to repentance in light of a final judgment. The reason we know of a final judgment and that life is eternal is because of the resurrection.
30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.
Those who did believe, you can bet the last verse in your Bible memory verses packet that they were led into New Community for discipleship and training for missional living.
Lots could be said, but at least we should be careful enough in our Bible reading to observe how it was that Paul preached the gospel (at least on the Areopagus).
What do you think? Is this a model for seeker churches? Are they consistent with it?