The Seeker-Sensitive Response
In response to this case for strong, biblical preaching, the seeker-sensitive supporters often respond by making one of three different appeals. The first is the teaching style of Jesus. The second is the sermon of Paul on Mars Hill (Acts 17), and the third is I Corinthians 9:19-23. They believe that since Jesus did much of his teaching in parable form, then pastors today must also preach through story. For them, teaching interesting stories is the way to meet people where they are on their spiritual journey. Paul’s example brings further support to this view of preaching, because he did not come out and call the Greeks sinners; rather, he made the truth easy for them to understand by appealing to their Greek culture. They also argue that “becoming all things to all men” means that pastors should teach on the level of the unbeliever; after all, they argue, this passage is about evangelizing to unbelievers. However, this is the precise issue with their logic. These proofs of theirs relate to evangelism, not the unique calling of a pastor/teacher within the framework of a church.
Firstly, Jesus was many things, but a pastor/teacher was not one of them. Jesus was more of a prophet/evangelist. Therefore, He is not an adequate example to follow with regard to this position. He came to fulfill the law (Matt. 5:17); bring salvation (John 6:38-40; 10:10); be obedient to the Father (Luke 22:42, John 5:20); to preach the kingdom of heaven to both the poor, the Jews and the Gentiles (Matt. 5-7; 11:5; 13:18); and ultimately to suffer, die a criminals death, be buried, and raise the third day (Matt. 16:21-23). In light of these texts, it is interesting that none of them speak of Christ as a pastor/teacher. In fact, it is quite revealing that Jesus spoke in stories in order that the Jews would not understand (Matt. 13: 10-15). Jesus told stories so that His audience would not understand, not so that they would. This means that the seeker-sensitive argument fails with regard to Jesus’ example. As a matter of fact, Jesus taught truths of the kingdom that were so difficult to understand that many of His followers left Him (John 6:60).
Secondly, Paul was an apostle/evangelist not a pastor/teacher. Therefore, looking at Paul’s sermon at Mars Hill is also not instructive concerning the role of a pastor. Thus, when Paul says to the Corinthians that he has, “become all things to all men, so that [he] may by all means save some,” it is within the context of evangelism –as the seeker-sensitive supporters agree. In fact, in the next verse Paul says that he does all things, “for the sake of the gospel.” In verse 16 Paul says, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.” Thus, Paul the apostle/evangelist bookends this key passage for the seeker-sensitive argument (1 Cor. 9:19-23) by stating clearly that he preaches the gospel. He is not ashamed of the gospel. And why would he be, “for it is the power of God for salvation…” (Rom. 1:16). Paul was never ashamed of the gospel and always preached the gospel, but he was willing to give up his own comforts or customs so that the gospel would not be hindered (1 Cor. 9:12). The point is that the seeker-sensitive supporter confuses the roles of the evangelist and the pastor. All believers are called to go out and evangelize (Matt. 28:16-20; Acts 1:8). However, pastor/teachers are called to do something different. They are instructed to build up the body of believers; one of the key opportunities for being obedient to this instruction is from the pulpit on Sunday mornings. The seeker-sensitive pastor is failing to be truly obedient if he is evangelizing from the pulpit when he is supposed to be preaching the Word.