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The Self Fed Church November 21, 2008

You can’t self-feed if you don’t know how.

The spiritual discipline of personal devotion has a flashy new name…self-feeding. Basically it is an old thought, retooled to fit into an emergent church model. The two are not synonymous though. In some cases “Self-feeding” has become a patsy of churches that cannot figure out how to provide “food” for all levels of the believers that attend. 

Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe in personal devotion and prayer. I believe we should read our Bible’s, and spend time in the presence of God. I don’t believe church should be the sole source of spiritual food you intake. However, when a church proposes that self feeding is a substitute for the role a church SHOULD play in spiritual growth and development, then I take issue with it. 

The challenge is this… self feeding is an important part of spiritual maturity, but…  You can’t self-feed if you don’t know how. This is where emerging churches fail it’s membership, we expect believers to jump from salvation to maturity without teaching or providing the tools for them to get there. We also ostracize and turn the mature believers we desperately need TO teach the new believers away. It is the perfect storm.

Often we expect those that have been at our churches for a year or two to be “up to speed”… right? They’ve been in a pew long enough. Now, when they start to complain… that they have heard the same recycled series several times, aren’t getting their serious questions about faith answered, are being asked to serve in areas they aren’t prepared, called or trained for… we tell them, well you need to “Push away from that table, feed the babies in the church and self feed if you feel lacking.”

There is the huge divide that I see in the church today, you tend to have more mature Christians that have been saved for a long time, and you have new believers  who have become born again in the past 1-5 years. Basically, you have believers that the church depends on to do the “work” of the body, mentoring and teaching, and those that need to be fed and grown…and both often complain that they are not getting fed enough. 

Why is this true?

In our attempt to grow larger as a church we have skipped over a few major rungs…like teaching how to develop spiritually, theory and foundational doctrine, hermeneutics (how to study the Bible), how to use study tools, how to teach, how to mentor…. these are not subjects you can breeze over in the 20 mins of sermon time from the Sunday pulpit. It is not enough. Believing may be the first major step on the Christian walk, but in order to grow healthy, balanced babies into adolescence and adulthood, you have to TEACH them before sending them out onto the firing line.

That brings me to teachers. We need them desperately in the post-modern and emergent churches…and we are showing them out the back door as fast as we bring them in the front. Teachers tend to be the older, more traditional Christians that don’t always fit exactly into the “DNA” of the adrenaline set. 

We tend to be a drag, not wanting to throw all tradition and foundation out the window.

We don’t want a million half run programs, we want a few really solid ones. Quality vs. Quanity.

We believe that a healthy church, in balance, is one that continues to educate the mature believer while empowering them to reach out to serve the up and coming ones.

We don’t want dumbed down doctrine, and don’t believe that the quick and dirty brass tacks is enough to grow new believers into effective, mature ones. Why are we warming over doctrine, to make it more palatable?

Amazingly enough, the newer converts want the same thing…. it’s the church leadership that often doesn’t. I believe we need to be relevant, and relational…but we also need to be responsible and reverent. I want all to feel welcome… not ostracize people that have been hurt or turned off by the traditional church… however, we also need to love them where they are, and love them enough to help them grow. When I was in youth ministry one of the toughest challenges was how do you relate but not relent? Why are we afraid of asking people to live their lives to a higher standard?

 I teach a Survey of the Bible class. It is amazing to have Christians at all different points in their walk of faith. What I am realizing is that those who are at the 3-5 year point have a serious hole in their development. They don’t know how to study the word, and they don’t feel like they have a forum to ask the hard questions…like if I am saved, can I still sin? Wow…. with a basic like that… somewhere we have failed.

 As a church we are so busy “Doing the Martha”…. doing the work, the business, the trappings of a cool ministry…. trying to relate to all kinds of new interesting people… trying so hard to be “relevant” … that we are leaving the reachers and teachers, far behind in a wasteland…. armed only with the advice to self feed themselves out of it.

Mature believers will “self-feed” more effectivly when they are refreshed and rejuvenated in God’s word. Often it is the more mature members often are the ones in spiritual desert. They feel left out in this “seeker sensitive” church  model. All the work, and none of the sustenance. And what do we dare tell them? Obviously you are not self feeding…you are not serving… The modern architects of this seeker model, Willow Creek  (link to CToday article) in Chicago have just come out with a change of course, realizing that they have left their foot soldiers without MRE’s and ammo on the battlefield.  They now plan to gear their weekend services to help mature believers grow their faith.

Why now? Was it because their study revealed that 63% of their dissatisfied mature membership has considered going to another church? Did they realize that… by leaving them behind their services and ministries started to show fatigue, their offerings took a dive? Are their tried and true veterans leaving the church because they aren’t feeling like there is anything left for them…and the leadership won’t listen?  

So what can we do? How can we close the back door while leaving the front opened as wide as it can be? Not by another campaign, or thirty day blitz, or rewired program. First and foremost, as a corporate body seek the Lord fervently for His direction… not just a day, or a week…but until He answers. When He does answer, be willing to change course even if it goes against your grain. Try listening to the believers at your church that make up it’s fabric…not just the new cool members… Listen to those that have put in the time and resources…listen with an open heart and mind. Instead of being a personality driven church, be a God driven church…changes of heart must start at the top. Provide teaching at all levels. Invest in keeping the mature Christians in your church, try studies geared toward them. Have open “no questions barred” forums, where believers can ask the tough questions of faith…. and don’t provide pat Christianese answers, but dig deep together.

These are just some suggestions, I would be interested in hearing some of yours as well. Let’s be open and invite people to jump into this wonderful walk of faith…. but lets also take the time and resources to help them to become complete, balanced and healthy…

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13 Responses to “The Self Fed Church”

  1. Dana Portis Says:

    You nailed it!! After four years of faithful service to a church I thought would be home forever..we are leaving. To go where?? We do not know, but we can’t take the rollercoaster, genx, adrenaline seeking model as our feeding church anymore. When care goes out the window from the top down for the flock that have been acting as the shepherds, it is time to give and grow somewhere else.

    Thanks for your very thoughtful commentary on a very real and sad current situation! Blessings to all who read…keep on seeking HIS face and growing in love!

  2. What a timely post this was for me to read. I’m so glad I “found” you! I’ve been mulling over some of the same things lately, so it was good to watch your thought process unfold.

  3. Just found your blog–a two-fer: Marine Corps and church.

    You have nailed this one. I am the fortunate teacher of a senior high class that has requested as their last two subjects an eight week study of the five points of Calvinism followed by a detailed Bible study of Revelation. I am blessed.

    The I saw your post on your husband’s return to the sandbox. I will add you and yours to my prayer list.

    Mac

  4. Lisa B Says:

    Amie – Well written. In the Great Commission in Mattew 28 -Jesus commanded us to Go and make DISCIPLES ….. TEACHING them to do all things that He commanded them to do. Jesus also told Peter in John 21 to FEED MY SHEEP not self fed. Infants don’t come out of the womb knowing how to feed themselves. You have to TEACH them how to fed themselves and that takes time and care. Love and Blessings

  5. Godsgirl19 Says:

    I agree with what you are saying too. I’ve noticed that for many years it has been popular for a church to appeal to mainly seekers. But it wasn’t till the past couple of years I’ve realized there should be so much more to my relationship with God than what I was experiencing. I have been saved for 19 years, and it has taken me this long to figure that out, for God to finally begin to mature me! Part of this is my own stubborness in following God, but part of it may be a lack of teaching in the church.

  6. chelseykarns Says:

    You should definitely read “The Courage to be Protestant” by David Wells. It touches on a lot of things you mentioned in your post, which I really agreed with.

    I’ve been attending an incredibly God-honoring church for two years, and it is there that I’ve learned the role church should play in sanctification.

    The first time I ever walked out of my church after hearing a sermon, I had a strange feeling inside. Later, I realized what it was – conviction. Since then, I’ve learned from my church the importance of the whole counsel of God, how parents should raise godly children, etc. It comes from the pulpit but also from the Sunday schools, which I think so many churches are getting rid of – not realizing the cost.

  7. David Says:

    First-time visitor to your blog…and glad I stumbled across it!

    As a pastor in South Carolina, I totally agree with you. My concern has been for some time that the “go feed yourself” crowd has lost their sense of balance with evangelism and discipleship. Others within the “go feed yourself” crowd, I’m afraid, are too spiritually shallow themselves to feed others. Whatever the reason, I’ve grown tired of hearing it.

    You make an excellent point, and I will certainly stop by your blog from time to time for a visit.

    God bless!

  8. merganzerman Says:

    Great comments on this blog post. It was good. As one of those “mature” Christian male teachers (mid 40s) you may be referring too, I certainly get puzzled, even saddened, but the lack of interest of the younger set to desire feeding on the meat and potatoes found in God’s word. Quizzed on the Christian basics, it surprising how little they know. Then, when difficult circumstances arise, and they do come, like a leaf fluttering in the wind, they are tossed to and fro. And it doesn’t have to be. By being connected to the vine, Jesus Christ, we can tackle any storm that comes our way. In talking with other Christian leaders, we are a church body that simply needs to grow up! Thanks for addressing this issue.

  9. christina banzer Says:

    Wow how true and sad that this is the way it is in many churches. Being a baby myself I didn’t know and wasn’t taught how to have a real relationship with God in any of the churches I attended. Only that I needed to believe in Jesus and serve in my local church. Until now, 5 years and 6 churches later, I have finally found a church that is biblically based, centered around God and God is allowed in…He is the center!! It is not a “seeker friendly church” it is a God centered church. Everything that is taught is right from the bible and not made to fit a certain type that may get scared off, or offended by what the bible teaches. in one year at my church God has met me where I’m at, he has challenged me, he has used the pastors and the people of this church to teach me to grow. I have learned how to have a personal relationship with God (my father) how to talk to, pray, read, fellowship, worship, and truly seek after him daily. To include him in every aspect of my life, to pray without ceasing, listen for his answers, discern, and have complete faith in him. I’ve also learned to come when he calls, which has me attending bible college this fall. And I am faithful that I will be learning much more in the years to come as I will not be leaving (unless God says to) This is the true CHURCH God has called us to be.

  10. Wow! There may be no effort in our salvation… but bothing will ever substitute the mandate to put effort in our spiritual growth! It takes God-filled, prepared, gifted, passionate teachers… as well as responsive, willing, open, hungry learners. The body of Christ places a higher priority (the NT word is “preference”) on people growing in Christ over even the winning lost. As I read your post the floodgates of Scripture pour over my mind…

    Philippians 3:7-8
    7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ

    2 Peter 1:3-9
    3His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. 5For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.

    Hebrews 5:11-6:1a
    11We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. 1Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity,…

    Be blessed Amie… God is using you.

  11. heather clack Says:

    Amie you are such a wonderful teacher…….I am so grateful that you are who you are. I love your take on the self-fed church. I am a new christian (almost 3 yrs)…When I was saved my soul was so thirsty that I seeked God with all my heart. I was almost manic in my search for my Lord. I go to a church that offered many ways to grow..Bible studies, life groups, bible bootcamps!!! Friends, women who mentored even when they didn’t know they were. I am so in love with my God,my father, my savior. 3 years ago I was on a path of death, and today my eyes are set on my God. The key for me, Heather Clack, was to stop waiting for the “God experience” get active in my own life. Ask God for faith, to grow close to Him. These were not natural things to me..quite opposite. I stepped out my comfort and joined classes and studies. I do not believe the church or a person motivates you. You cannot blame or give glory to a church for your spiritual walk. This belongs to yourself and your Savior. Someone told me of a study that said the more spiritually mature you become, the more dissatisfied you become with your church….Kinda freaks me out…When people are dissatisfied please, do not become stumbling blocks for your christian family.
    Love you Amie!

  12. Candice Says:

    What can I say but Amen! I enjoyed your analogy on closing the back door while leaving the front open as wide as it can be. Perhaps in your next blog you could address the cracks in the floorboards?

  13. Janelle Says:

    Thank you so much for this thoughtful and well-written post. I just love it when I Google upon a good blog!


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