It’s a “mic-dropping” statement; one that seems to trump every agenda, rationale or argument. On the surface, it might seem unassailable. You hear it most often in conversations among believers discussing their level of satisfaction with their church. If they’re content, they might say, “I go there because I get fed.”
If they’re not? “I left there because I wasn’t being fed.”
We owe it to ourselves to go where the “food” is plentiful if we believe that the point of church is to seat us in a spiritual booster chair, fill our stomachs and send us home ready for a nap. Why would anyone choose to attend someplace where they have to be responsible for their own spiritual nourishment, when the promise of a lush smorgasbord is advertised right around the corner?
Seems like a solid enough point of view. But when you dare to dig just a little below the surface, even to scratch lightly at the patina, the whole thing falls apart.
It’s not the Church’s job to feed you. It is the Church’s job to teach you to feed yourself.
In fact, anyone who attends a church based primarily on how well they’ll be “fed” should run for their lives. Here’s why:
People who constantly depend on being fed don’t learn to feed themselves. Period. They get stuck in a permanent toddlerhood. It’s not wrong to expect to be fed if you’re an infant or small kid, or if you’re ill, afflicted or in need of extra attention. But it’s not the way to thrive, and it should never be the norm. We wouldn’t have a lot of patience for an otherwise healthy person who’d walk into a fully-stocked kitchen, sit down with his hands in his lap, demand to be fed and then sit passively with his mouth open. The same goes for a fully-stocked faith community. It’s not the Church’s job to feed you. It is the Church’s job to teach you to feed yourself. At its best, the Church offers encouragement, opportunity and a “pleasing aroma.” It offers examples and instruction but also, in the end, must demand that its people do likewise.
People who constantly depend on being fed won’t develop a discriminating palate. Wanna learn about what’s really healthy? What truly satisfies? How a meal actually comes together? Learn to feed yourself. Get in the kitchen, mess around, make mistakes, take risks — but be intentional about it. Learn the process and you have a whole different relationship to the outcome. Lack of a discriminating spiritual palate leads to all kinds of serious problems: from spiritual obesity, really bad theology and lack of discernment or openness, to spiritual abuse, manipulation and very, very, very unhealthy cravings.
People who constantly depend on being fed won’t ever teach others how to feed themselves. They’ll always be takers rather than givers, constantly demanding more. Their preferences and comfort will always come before the good of the community. It’s radically selfish to constantly expect to be continually fed.
“Being fed” as a primary motivation for attending a church reflects a distorted relationship between a faith community and its members. The Church is created to do many, many things; consistently “feeding” otherwise perfectly-able adults instead of training them to feed themselves and, in turn, help others learn to do likewise, is not one of them. By His words and example, Jesus taught His apprentices to be fishers of men, not feeders of men. The Church should focus on teaching and training disciples who will teach and train disciples themselves. To put it another way, hearing someone remark, “I go there because they are helping me learn how to understand, grow and feed myself and are teaching others to do the same” should be the real “mic-dropping” statement.
But what if “being fed” isn’t the real issue at all?
To be continued …
John Ray is a missionary, spiritual director and the elder responsible for teaching at Grace Church of NWA. John and his wife Jane spend way too much time packing and unpacking, vacuuming dog hair and chasing raccoons off their porch. They much prefer sharing good food and good coffee with friends, reading and trying to keep up with their daughters.