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…