I’ve been on staff at a church for a long time. I’ve seen quite a bit of turnover in our congregation. It’s all part of the normal lifecycle of a busy and big church. One of the main reasons people will leave to find a new one is because they feel like they are not being fed in their current church. For those who are unaware of this term, the idea is that your pastor’s messages should feed your internal spirit, helping it to grow. I don’t agree with this notion, so several years back I began to think about the underlying cause of that way of thinking.
Asking the right question before finding the solution
Instead of coming up with an initial solution, my mind developed a question. If my pastor is feeding me, who is feeding him? If you attend a church, think about your pastor right now. Picture him or her in your mind. If you imagine them as a shepherd, and you are the sheep, it makes sense that your shepherd is looking out for your best interest. It also makes sense that you want to be fed. You are a sheep, after all.
The difference here is that you are not a sheep and the sheep/shepherd idea is a metaphor found in the Bible. Instead of continuing to ask further questions, I realized that my pastor had to be feeding himself. In fact, I learned that the responsibility for my own spiritual growth wasn’t my pastor’s job at all. I have my own responsibility to grow in the Lord. When I think like this, I don’t have to look for a new church each time I feel a spiritual deficit. I have to look inward and determine how the Holy Spirit is teaching me.
Pride = Barrier
How many times has it been my pride that is getting in the way of my spiritual nourishment? Pride is a type of barrier to God’s work. Pride says “me do it”. God told us that He would do it, we just need to believe and follow His direction.
A “me do it” attitude sounds just like my toddler. When we grow, we realize that God has given people helpful gifts to do life with us. We let them strengthen us. It’s called maturing. They aren’t responsible for me, but they are my helpers.
Stepping out from under a well-tested umbrella
When I was in college I remember the season when I had to step out from under my parents’ spiritual umbrella to my own. Until that time, my parents had chosen the church where we attended. I had to find my own. While it was uncomfortable to step out from under such a sturdy and time-tested umbrella, I wouldn’t change the experience. I read new books that my parents wouldn’t have thought to read. They weren’t bad books, they were simply in a different genre of Christian writing. I went to a Baptist church for college group. I learned fundamental teaching about God that I had overlooked during my more charismatic upbringing. All in all, I became my own believer. This carried into my marriage and in starting my own family.
My new umbrella as a parent
As a parent, I’ve learned that I am responsible for my children’s spiritual growth. While my kids will certainly have to step out from under our umbrella someday, now is not the time. They are too young. I’ve learned that I am in charge of teaching my kids about Jesus. I must help them understand the Bible. I’ve come to realize that my church exists to reinforce the spiritual lessons that my kids are being taught in our home. This should not be the other way around. How often have American families sent their children to Sunday school believing that it alone would be enough to help their children live Godly lives later? We can see the fruit of that poor thinking! No, parents should introduce Jesus to their kids and let the church reinforce that relationship. How awesome would it be if it was understood this way in every home? Sunday school/children’s ministry teachers wouldn’t have to bear such weight.
The Bible calls this sort of nourishment moving from infant milk to solid food [1 Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:12-14]. If you are struggling today with a feeling of not being fed in your church, before looking elsewhere, examine yourself. It is true that God may be calling you to a new church home. If that is the case, He will certainly confirm it for you. However, it may simply be that you need to do more work yourself applying the Word of God inwardly. You need to grow in the Lord. It’s true that it’s not easy, but this type of growth is sustainable. You can do this!