Over the past generation of church marketing, there’s been plenty of ink spilled over “seeker-sensitive” churches. Whether the movement and its outcomes have been good or bad is not the point of this article. Rather than deal with the seeker-sensitive church, this article deals with the seeker — the individual with questions — and how we should respond.
Who is the Seeker?
A seeker can be a person of any gender, in any age group, of any socioeconomic status, and of any background. Seekers consist not only of sophisticated suburbanites with college degrees, but of the underprivileged, the undocumented, the hipster, the social reject, the homeless, the religious, the pagan, the Buddhist, the Muslim, and everyone in-between. In a word, the seeker is any one who seeks “what can be known of God…because God has shown it to them” (Romans 1:18). Every human being has an innate desire to know, to understand, and to grasp knowledge of who God is. To seek is to be human.
Understanding the Seeker
God answers the questions. We are all seekers, everyone of us. What’s the difference between we who are convinced of truth, and those who still seek? First off, there’s nothing innately special about us that qualified us to be in the know, and to possess saving faith. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10-11). The ultimate answers to our seeking questions are impossible to draw from our intellect. We must receive truth by faith from God himself. This is the first realization to which we must own up. God is sovereign, and he is the only one who can supply the answers. Ultimately, “the answer” is the Holy Spirit who awakens our hearts, and God’s gift of faith.
Additionally, there are two things we must admit about seekers:
- People have questions. We must realize that people have questions. They may not verbalize them. They may not even know what to ask or how to ask, but the questions linger. Some people may express their questions in the form of accusations, even seeming rude and antagonistic in the way they do so. Some people express their curiosity by trying to appear disinterested. No one has all the answers. Therefore, everyone has questions of some sort.
- People need answers to their questions. If everyone has questions, then everyone needs answers. Note, however, that not everyone wants answers. Most of the time, people are determined to seek “truth” on their own terms, in their own strength, and by their own predetermined set of standards. God’s truth, however, is often not what most people want. Nonetheless, everyone needs answers to their questions. Why? Because the answers to their questions are an issue of life or death — heaven or hell.
How to deal with people’s questions.
So, how does this look, practically? When it comes right down to it, what do you do with, say, Bill, a fifty-something, thrice-divorced, alcohol-addicted, down-and-outer who “tried religion and it didn’t work.” You see him on the street corner every morning, holding his cardboard sign. He has questions. What about Sue, an multimillionaire financial manager whose Buddhist “faith” has disappointed her, as she watches her family and financial life crumble around her. Surely, she has questions.
What do you do when you’re face to face with real people who have real questions?
- Listen first. Then ask questions. Listen some more. Then try to provide answers. In that order. Your first responsibility is to understand them, their questions, and their way of thinking. This is essential. Don’t skip this step.
- Don’t give pat answers. “The Bible says so,” and “the mind of the Lord is unsearchable” are fine and good statements. But often, these statements are used improperly. Often, such pat phrases are used when the person attempting to answer the question doesn’t know the answer, but is trying to pretend that he does. There are some questions that can be answered with “the Bible says so,” but usually, people are looking for the answers to deeper questions. They deserve more thoughtful answers.
- Prove what you say. If you make a claim, back it up. Wispy vestiges of sweet-sounding knowledge snatched from the vacuous realm of your own mind do not constitute truth. Truth is backed up by proof or divine declaration. Your source of proof is God’s Word. When people want answers to questions not directly addressed in Scripture, you can continue to provide evidential arguments and sound logic.
- Admit when you’re stumped, and study if you don’t know the answer. Honesty is far better than faking it, especially in the deep issues of life. Rather than concoct your own answer to a question that you don’t understand, be honest and own up to your inability. There are books, there are smart people, and there are resources to which you can turn. Simply because you don’t know something doesn’t mean that the seeker shouldn’t ask. No questions are off limits, even if your knowledge does have limits.
- Understand the limitations of knowledge. There’s a point at which our minds are unable to surmount the ultimate questions of life. Regardless of whether you subscribe to an evidentialist approach to apologetics or a presuppositional worldview, you must admit that knowledge alone cannot completely satisfy our deepest questions.
- Know when to stop. Some people will badger you with questions until you the day you die or the moment you lose consciousness. Such people may derive a perverse pleasure from hurling questions that have no answers, and gloating in the squirming embarrassment of their interlocutor. At some point, you’ll have to kindly close down the conversation and spend your time doing something more profitable.
Encourage the seeking, but encourage also the finding of answers through prayer and Bible reading. Don’t discourage questioning. Encourage it. A culture which discourages questions is squashing the God-given capacity for learning, knowing, growing, and discovering his world. Questions are good, but answers are better. As a Christian, you understand that answers come from God as revealed in the Bible. Answers come through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That is the ultimate end to which you should point people.