Of Food and Feeding
How many times have you heard the line “I need to go where I’m fed”? Or its corollaries:
“I wasn’t being fed.”
“I just wasn’t growing there.”
“I just needed some meat.”
“I wanted something more in-depth.”
First, an encouraging word to all of you pastors out there: we have ALL had this said of us, our teaching, and our churches.
Even those known for being consummate teachers, able to serve up the Word like a five-course meal, have heard it from those walking out the exit, such as: Andy Stanley, Chuck Swindoll, David Jeremiah, Bill Hybels, John Ortberg, Rick Warren, Francis Chan, Charles Stanley, David Platt, Max Lucado…
…you can fill in the blank with any teacher you have ever admired or learned from.
They will each tell you the same thing.
“I’ve had people leave because they told me they weren’t being fed.”
(I can imagine someone walking out of church the day C.S. Lewis gave his famed sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” and saying it wasn’t expositional enough).
So what’s up?
First, spiritual narcissism.
There is a consumer mentality within the Christian subculture that views the church as a feeding station that exists for no other reason than to keep them stimulated, titillated, and … yes, fed. This is, of course, a highly subjective assessment, and turns “teaching” into little more than a food bar as we search for what we like to eat in order to put it on our plate. Even worse is how this “feeding” often results in little more than weight gain as opposed to fuel and challenge for missional exertion.
But second, it reveals a fundamental breakdown in how “feeding,” at its best, should be taking place.
While pastors are charged to teach and lead, that is not where discipleship and challenge is meant solely to reside. The nature of healthy, biblical community – as painted in the New Testament – comes through the “one-anothers.”
*love one another (John 13:34)
*bear with and forgive one another (Colossians 3:13)
*encourage and build up one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
*spur one another … encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25)
*confess sin to one another … pray for one another (James 5:16)
That sounds to me like discipleship is a communal effort, with every participant having a clear sense of communal responsibility.
Yet according to a new LifeWay Research survey, almost three out of every four churchgoers say that while they have significant relationships with people at church, less than half are intentionally helping other believers grow in their faith.
Digging further into the study, existing churchgoers don’t make an effort to press into new relationships (only 1 in 6 strongly agreed that they try), and almost one out of every three say they do nothing to help others grow.
In other words, we are not very “one-anothering.”
So the next time you hear someone say, “I’m not being fed,” ask them what they’ve done to feed themselves, or even more pressing, whether they’ve put into play all that they’ve already been served.
Actually, that would be snarky. But I give you permission to think it.
But here’s one question you should ask – and not of them, but of yourself:
What have I done to help feed those younger believers who really need it?
James Emery White
Ross Rankin, “Survey: Many at church not helping others grow,” Baptist Press, April 25, 2013, read online.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.