Shortly after I became a Christian in 1982, my friend Lore told me she knew of a church that I just had to visit. The name of the church was Willow Creek Community Church, a new “mega-church” which had started in the mid-70’s and was a “new way of doing church.” Though it was almost an hour’s drive from our hometown of Antioch – in the town of South Barrington, Illinois – before too long I did visit the church and was definitely impressed – I remember giving a whopping (for me, at least) $50 to their building program when they passed the hat. I would eventually end up attending Willow in the late 80’s after graduating from college.
And it was during that latter time when I met John Cox, a recent grad of Fuller Seminary and a Willow intern who told me that he wanted to start a Willow Creek-style church either on the West coast or the East Coast. Didn’t matter that much to me – I was young and carefree (and single). John settled on Washington, D.C., and I followed him to start Cedar Run Community Church in Chantilly, Virginia.
Behind the scenes, “Willow Creek-style” meant “seeker-targeted church”, “seeker” being the new, cooler, and I guess less-judgmental name for non-believers. Other churches might have been seeker-sensitive, but Willow was targeted toward the lost. The seeker-targeted liturgy (for all churches have some form of liturgy) meant that we didn’t sing more than one congregational song in the weekend service, we always had a drama, the preaching was generally topical around a felt-need, and when someone read Scripture, they also gave a little story/illustration to accompany their reading (It was in doing these sermonettes that I really first began cutting my teeth on preaching). A regular mid-week worship service with much more singing and somewhat expositional preaching and communion (never served on the weekend) was also part of the plan. Willow had perfected the seeker-targeted format, and in fairness, it seemed to “work” for them. Through the years, while attending Willow or another seeker-targeted church similar to it, many people would come to Christ (one of whom would be my father who was attending Lakehurst Community Church in Waukegan when he became a believer).
But I eventually began to question the whole idea of the seeker-targeted church. Willow was seeker-targeted because that was the goal of the worship service and of the church in general – to bring seekers in. But I began to wonder if that really should have been the goal. Of course, we were to reach out to lost people, but was that to be the main goal? Doubts had begun to form in my mind. I read John Piper’s classic Desiring God, and more than that, I was cutting my teeth on Reformed theology. The end result was a Copernican shift in my world view. The seeker-targeted church was ultimately people-centered and seemed logical. But did I want logical…or biblical? I began to see that the Bible (and therefore God Himself) was not people-centered, but radically God-centered. Of course, God loved people, or as Willow put it again and again, “Lost people matter to God,” but the glory of God was becoming my highest value, and that was right, because it was also God’s highest value. (See Jonathan Edwards, The End for Which God Created the World)
As Piper put it so beautifully in his book, Let the Nations Be Glad…
“Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more…”
So in reading the 14th chapter of 1 Corinthians, I see this…
But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 (ESV)
The seeker-targeted church sought to have seekers come to church, not a bad idea, just not the highest idea. I’ve come to see that the highest goal is that God should come to church, because when He visits a worship service, incredible things happen. Along the way, I’ve toyed – never seriously – with the idea of a book called The God-Targeted Church, but I don’t think I’ll be writing that anytime soon, so maybe someone else should.
Book or no book, I do know that this is what I want our church to be – we want to so pray and preach the Word and worship and proclaim the gospel and love one another that God the Holy Spirit visits every weekend.
And the end result of this will be that when a lost person does visit Edgewood (and by God’s grace they do every weekend) he or she will declare quite truthfully…that God is really among us.
For Monday, May 25th: 1 Corinthians 15