I’ve heard this phrase from people quite a bit over the years, “I didn’t feel fed.” I’ve heard it about churches, pastors, even myself. I find the phrase problematic for a couple reasons. First and foremost being that if you are only eating once a week on Sunday morning and expecting to ever be full, then you are insane. Eating once a week is called starving yourself to death. There are kids in drought-ridden sub-Sahara Africa that eat more than once a week. Now, I’m sure I’ll mention some other issues with this phrase later, but let me take a breath and look at the legitimacy of the claim. I think the heart of that phrase is that the Word of God is not being preached or the bible verses mentioned are so shallowly discussed that no depth of spiritual growth could occur during the Worship Service. That’s certainly a fair claim and obviously there are churches and pastors who fall into that category. After prayer and some conversations, you probably should leave that church. That’s probably an indication that the church as a whole isn’t healthy and wouldn’t be conducive for you to bring more people there, but there are some scenarios where I think you should stay but that’s for a different post. This post is about how your pastor isn’t the one who is in charge of you being fed. God’s Word is your food, and you can buy it at Walmart, get a free App on iTunes or the Android store, or grab one from any hotel in America. #gideons
Here’s my point: You need to read the Bible on your own.
Your pastor and other teachers at your church play a vital role but you aren’t around them enough for feeding. Let’s stick with the children analogy. Babies get fed. They don’t get a choice in what they eat, when they eat, or how they eat. But then kids get more responsibility. They don’t really get to choose what they eat, but now are expected to feed themselves and have some leeway in how they do it. Teenagers get a bit more say, they can microwave their own mac & cheese and chicken tenders. Probably a few days a week they’re expected to sit with the rest of the family and eat what they’re eating, but that’s about it. Then you are an adult and can eat whatever you want, whenever you want, and as much or as little as you want. In the end most circle back and have to feed a baby of their own. I think the same cycle happens with Christians. I think churches should take special attention to provide the basic milk for those who have no one else to feed them; and I don’t personally think this is best accomplished in the main church service, but all pastors think differently I suppose. Whether a new members class, discipleship group, a mentor, or the like; a church should make sure everyone is able to feed themselves. So let’s get back to it. What’s the church’s and the pastor’s role in the spiritual feeding process of the congregation? Here it is.
1) Challenge Them to Develop a Healthy Diet
Pastors should obviously be pushing a healthy lifestyle. Some people eat 3 square meals a day. Others eat 6 small meals a day. I combine the best of both systems and eat 6 large meals a day. I also always eat all the major food groups – candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup. I’ve not met many people who read the bible too much. I guess it’s possible if you are reading it all the time and never go and live it out. Most of the time, I’m dealing with anorexic Christians. They are eating once a week and then trying to cram as much of the sweet, sweet Word in their spiritual mouths as possible. The problem is you will puke all of it up because your stomach can’t take it and it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth and a still empty stomach. You probably should have had a spiritual yogurt (maybe a Psalm) on Saturday to at least prep you for the huge meal on Sunday. Pastors should absolutely be pushing for their people to read God’s Word regularly. I sometimes get so busy that I miss a meal, but man I make up for it. Of course there might be days where you miss reading God’s Word and that’s ok – nothing to confess or feel bad about. But if it happens all the time, there’s a priority problem that needs to be fixed. Your spiritual health is way more important than anything going on in your life. If you can’t take care of yourself, how can you hope to take care of others? My only condemnation of a pastor in this area would be if they have an attitude of not trusting their people to read the bible on their own and instead encourage them to wait for church or Bible study. Nope! Tell them to read their Bible on their own and then bring any questions they have to Bible study or text someone that can help you understand it right then or there. (FYI, you can email me any time to ask a biblical question. Email me here.)
2) Teach Them How to Eat Complicated Meals
I’m allergic to shellfish but watching people dig into lobster I can honestly tell you it’s a skill set. People who are good at it can get a ton of that delicious sea-insect meat, but people who don’t know what they are doing will eat a $30 chicken-nugget sized piece of lobster mostly filled with that bottom feeder’s poop. (It’s honestly the poop of the poop it already ate.) Some foods are more complicated to eat than others. Most fruit and vegetables are just too complicated for me to eat. Hand me an apple that I can just bite into. Waiting on food to even cook is almost too long for me. (I eat way too much fast food.) When it comes to Scripture, not every nugget of truth is prepped and ready to go for you. Some passages take some time to unpack. Really understanding a difficult passage is totally worth it. Asking your pastor for help is necessary sometimes but the pastors role should be more about teaching you how to unpack difficult passages. I watched a youtube video once on how Gordon Ramsay presents lobster at his restaurants. It was amazing (and again, I’d go into anaphylactic shock and die if I ate it, and even got red ears just from watching the video but it was fascinating for some reason.) As a pastor I want to teach people to do the same with Scripture. I do this in several ways:
1) I generally preach expository sermons which means I’m marching through a book in the bible
2) This teaches people to read verses in the flow of thought and not take individual verses out of context.
3) I constantly hearken back to what the passage meant to the original hearers. It doesn’t matter what it means to us, it matters what it would have meant to them.
4) I finally fight for personal application within that context. It reveals that the Word of God is living and active but that we can’t mold it into what we want it to say – it can’t mean what it didn’t mean.
3) Show Them How to Digest Heavy Foods
My food nemesis is the elusive and other-worldly monte cristo. I don’t know if it’s breakfast or if its lunch or if its dessert, but it is dense and delicious and I can never eat the whole thing. I can barely eat half. Some of you are going to google the “monte cristo.” Some will be confused why I am trying to eat a book or critically acclaimed movie. Some of you will be confused because that innocent looking sandwich should pose no threat to a hoss such as myself. But looks can be deceiving. The Bible is the same way. Some innocent looking passages can be very deep. Some of the simplest verses can be the most weighty. The book of 1 John might be written on a fourth grade level but when 1 John 3:6 says, “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him,” you need to stop and chew on that one for a minute. I could not eat a steak after eating a monte cristo, and there are some passages of Scripture that just stop you in your tracts and you need to deal with before moving on. I think pastors need to share common passages that do this, and share passages that are doing that to them currently. Pastors should help people work through these passages and give practical steps to actually live them out. I can’t get over a monte cristo until I do some light exercise and let that bad boy work its way into my small intestines. Spiritually speaking I need to understand it, apply it, and then live it out. Pastors can teach how to do this once a week so that when new issues arise, the church member can do it on their own.
4) Expose Them to Healthier Snacks
Until I went to Costa Rica I never had a sweet plantain, until I went to Israel I never had ful, and until I went to Craft Street I never had sweet potato tots. There are some things I would never eat until pushed into it. Pastors should be doing the same. Hosea and Habakkuk are awesome. Josiah and Hezekiah are awe-inspiring. The hypostatic union and pneumatology are interesting. Pastors should be wetting the appetite of the church-goers. When I watch those recipe videos on Facebook, I can literally salivate and then I usually go buy McDonalds french fries. Pastors can do the same thing. Expose them to some savory treats and then encourage them to dig deeper on their own.
5) Connect Them with Health Coaches
I don’t know about you, but I need motivation. I do much better working-out with other people, having clear goals, and being kept accountable. If I ever got serious about losing weight or eating healthier or working-out regularly, I would need all that. I think the same is true for the reading of Scripture. I think you need discipleship. It might not be impossible all on your own, but it certainly helps to have some serious guidance. This is what the church community can provide. This is what pastors can do to help their people be fed. Help them connect with people who can motivate, encourage, and challenge them. If I’m eating by myself, I’m a little more reasonable. Get me with some of my boys, we can take down a few hundred wings, a couple pizzas, and some apps. Want to feel full for days? Get with your pastor and some of his friends and play poker or meet at Chilis or Starbucks or wherever they hang out and just listen. But when the timing is right start asking questions. Ask questions about confusing verses or things you just don’t understand. Don’t think that any question is stupid. Pastors never know what people know or don’t know and will be happy to answer even the simplest question. The key is to get with people who love the Bible too. Their love will rub off on you.
So at the end of the day, get full on the Word of God. Don’t depend on anyone else to be fed. Don’t blame anyone else but yourself if you’re not.
Stay hungry my friends.