Over at the “All About Eve” blog, Eve asked me about getting fed as a Christian. I gave her a summary of the posts below, which were written by Vince Antonucci in 2008. These posts are classic Vince. (I hope he doesn’t mind me reposting them here … on his blog, they take up about 400 posts … so I compiled them all and put them here for your reading enjoyment.)
Oh, and full disclosure … I used to be one of those “I’m not getting fed!” Christians, and I encouraged this sort of attitude in the church I pastored. Why? Because I prided myself in being a pastor who provided good feeding. I praised people who came to my church from other churches because they wanted good preaching. I used to say, “We don’t steal sheep; we just grow the grass.”
Of course, today, I have a completely different view of preaching and church growth and how discipleship occurs … some of these changes I attribute to Vince Antonucci (who wrote an endorsement for my book Adventures in Fishing for Men.). Of course, though Vince pastors a church for people who don’t like church, even his church is too churchy for me. But that’s the point.
Maybe churches are not supposed to be a place for those who want to get fed. Maybe the Sunday morning “church” serves a particular role and particular function within the body of Christ to meet the needs of a particular group of Christians for a particular time. But beyond that, the Sunday morning event becomes unhealthy.
Let me be more specific: It is important to be fed spiritually … when you are spiritual baby.
But as you mature as a Christ-follower, you will hopefully become a self-feeder. That is, you will learn to feed yourself.
If a college professor has the same student in his class for 37 years, that professor is a failure. At some point, the college professor needs to pull that student aside and say, “You have learned everything you can from me. You have passed the class. It is time to move on and get started with life.”
So also, if parents continue to feed their children for 48 years after they are born (barring any special mental or psychological factors, of course), that parent is also a failure. At some point or another, those parents must show their children the door, saying, “It is time to be an adult on your own.”
I know that I have been negative in the past on the “institutional church” structure, but if there is one thing the institutional church does better than anyone else, it is the mass feeding of spiritual babes. I would LOVE it if the portion of God’s church which meets regularly on Sunday morning could make this a primary goal of theirs. They would bring in spiritual babes, teach them the fundamentals of the faith, and then kick them out the door. What if churches, instead, of trying to hold on to all the members from birth to the grave, instead held a “graduation ceremony” every year for those who had been there for 4 or 5 years and who were ready to launch out into the world as spiritual adults?
As the church, our goal should not be to feed people, but to mature people, which means they can feed themselves.
Anyway, here is Vince Antonucci’s (now famous) blog series, “WAAAAA! I’m not getting fed!”
But one warning first … Vince’s style in this series is … well … confrontational. Feel free to complain in the comment section below or directly to him on Twitter @vinceantonucci.
I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the battle cry of my least favorite people, the church hoppers, shoppers, floppers, and stoppers … “I’m not getting fed.”
We’ve heard that quite a bit over ten years of Forefront, and I’ve gone through kind of an evolution of my thoughts on this topic.
For a long time I blamed myself and felt guilty about not being “deep enough” and thought maybe it was because I only attended seminary for nine months and can’t read Hebrew or Greek. (One ironic thing, though, is that I would sometimes “use” (i.e. steal heavily from) other people’s sermons, and often it would be guys considered “deep” preachers, or it would be a series from a church’s mid-week or “deeper” service, and people would still say it wasn’t deep enough.)
Then I started to blame the Forefront context. When you’re trying to reach people who are far from God it’s obvious. So, for instance, on a Sunday morning we’ll have some goofy videos (mostly for people who aren’t Christians) and we’ll carefully explain communion (mostly for people who aren’t Christians) and we have a rockin’ style of worship music (mostly to connect with people who aren’t Christians) and then we have a sermon. And even if the sermon is “deep” and really good for Christians, I think some Christians simply cannot see past the context it falls within. They realize that several other aspects of the service were not primarily intended for them, and that this church is passionate about non-Christians, and so it’s impossible for them to believe the sermon IS for them, even if it is. They’re wrong, but I understand it – it’s difficult to take anything seriously when it’s preceded by a dancing gorilla.
But as I talked to other pastors I realized almost everyone hears this complaint.
Even preachers who aren’t as shallow and uneducated as me, and even churches that don’t feature iPod Suppository commercials before the message. So I used to totally think it was I was to blame, or my church was to blame, and to some extent I still believe that’s partially true, but not as much as I did.
This caused me to take a closer look at the types of people who complain that they’re not getting fed, and increasingly I believe the problem lies in them. In the next few posts, I’ll explain why. Until then, leave big tips for your waitresses.
Last time we started a series on people who say, “I’m not getting fed!” and I promised we’d start to look at the type of people who make that complaint.
Babies complain that they’re not getting fed. When my kids were babies, my wife and I had to feed them. I had never been around babies and so this was brand new for me. Suddenly I was pretending a spoon was an airplane and a cheerio was a chug-a-chug-a-choo-choo! When we didn’t feed our babies on time, they let us know it. They cried. As they got a little older they learned not to cry about their displeasure but would verbalize it, “Ma-ma, I’m hungry. Da-da, feed me!”
Babies complain about not getting fed. My son is now nine and now when he’s hungry he asks, “Dad, can I get something to eat?” My answer, of course, is, “You’ll eat when you have a job and can pay for your own food!”
Only babies complain about not getting fed. There should be a progression in life, and in spiritual life, from needing to be fed, to feeding yourself, to being able to feed others.
And so when someone in a church says, “I’m not getting fed” my thought is, “Then you BETTER be a baby.”
It never is. The people who complain about not getting fed are never new Christians. Never. Isn’t that funny? The people who complain about not getting fed are never the baby Christians, but always the older, supposedly more mature Christians.
Can you picture if I, at 37 years old, called my mother every month or two and complained, “I’m not getting fed!” Or if I e-mailed her and said, “Sorry, but I’m leaving this family because I’m not getting fed. In fact, I haven’t gotten fed in some time here.” Sound absurd? Well, it’s the freakin’ reality in most churches in America!
I illustrated this in a sermon once. I started my sermon by carrying a baby up with me, and fed it a few spoonfuls of baby food. At the end of the sermon I asked for a volunteer. One of the Navy Seals in our church raised his hand, so I brought him up, sat him on my lap, and got ready to spoon feed him baby food. It looked totally absurd. And, again, that’s the freakin’ reality in most churches in America!
Earlier today I posted about how only babies need to be fed by another person, and only babies complain about not getting fed.
This reminded me of when I was a brand new baby Christian … (I was twenty-years-old) … and I was immediately put in a situation where I had to feed others. The reason was that I was leading people to Christ and, compared to them, I was the “long-time Christian” (even though I had only been a Christian for a few weeks!).
I had no choice, at least not that I knew of, and so I studied the bible like a mad man, put together studies and lessons, and gave them (as crappy as they may have been) to others. You’ve heard of the blind leading the blind, well this was the baby leading the babies.
And what I learned is this: A person grows WAY MORE from feeding others than they ever grow from being fed. So, I guess, if you want to really be fed – feed someone else.
Sometimes babies can feed others … but only babies should need to be fed.
Picture this: Tonight you’re watching the local news and you’re startled by the report: Every restaurant in your area is closing down. Not just your favorites, not just some, but ALL OF THEM. You would obviously be disappointed. Going out to eat is fun. And often the food you get in a restaurant is better than what you make at home. It’s also nice to have a night where you don’t have to make your own meal. And not having to pack your lunch everyday is a convenience you enjoy. So, of course you’d be disappointed.
But what if the next day a friend came up to you, “Did you hear that all the restaurants are closing?!? What will I do?!? I’m going to starve! I’m not kidding, I will die because of this! I can’t live without restaurants!” And you’re friend is serious. He’s not joking or exaggerating.
What do you think of your friend? That he’s got some serious problems, right? That he is ridiculously lazy, right?
Well, in my not so humble opinion, when a Christian says, “I’m not getting fed” this is truly what they’re saying. I mean, sure, it’s nice to go to church and get some bible fed to you. We all enjoy being lazy once-in-awhile. And most preachers can give you a better bible study than what you can do on your home at home.
So there’s nothing wrong with going to church and “getting fed.” But if you’re dependent on it, if it’s the only way you can get fed, if you don’t know what to do without it, you’ve got some serious problems and you are ridiculously lazy.
People who say, “I’m not getting fed” are lazy. Seriously, think about it. The people who say this only get 30 minutes with their preacher a week, but they expect their preacher to feed them. They have 167 ½ hours the rest of the week, but their spiritual sustenance is supposed to come from their preacher, in only 30 minutes. They can’t figure out some other way of getting spiritual nutrition the rest of their week despite living in a country where we can legally own bibles (and the average home has three!), where Christian bookstores are all over the place, and where the internet provides a never-ending supply of spiritual resources.
So, what kind of people say “I’m not getting fed”? Thumb-sucking babies, and pampered-pouting lazy Christians.
Tomorrow I’ll tell you how I really feel. Until then, save me the aisle seat.
So I’m doing the greatest blog series in the history of the world. The series is on what pastors hear so often, “I’m not getting fed.” Last time I asked: “Who says this?” and answered, “Thumb-sucking babies and pampered, pouting lazy Christians.” Today I have one more answer: Christians who miss the point.
What do I mean? Some people misunderstand “spiritual maturity.”
What do you think are the signs of a person who is truly spiritually mature? This is something I’ve studied and thought about a lot, and here’s what I’ve come to. The three greatest signs of spiritual maturity are: (1) Intimacy with God, (2) Obedience to God, (3) Serving other people. The way we’d say that at Forefront is, “Love God, Love People.”
Jesus said that all the commandments hang on this. Loving God is a relational thing and leads to intimacy with Him. (So it’s sharing His heart, and sharing my heart with Him.) Jesus also taught us that to love God is to obey His commands. (So one way to measure spiritual maturity is how quickly you obey God.) Jesus also said He came to serve and we’re to follow His example. (So getting past self-centeredness and learning to put others before ourselves is what we’re after.)
We could argue about this (I guess that’s what the comment section is for) but I’m sticking with my answer, because it’s what I’ve found in the Bible.
Unfortunately, this is NOT EVEN CLOSE to the definition most American Christians have for spiritual maturity. How do they define it? I’ll tell you later today. Until then, I’ll give you $5 if you can get yourself on Cops.
So how do American Christians define spiritual maturity? I don’t know how it happened (but I’d be interested to find out*) but somewhere along the line we have equated spiritual knowledge with spiritual maturity.
We see this in all kinds of ways.
Who is in the person who leads the small group? Well, the person who knows the most, of course.
Who is revered in your church? The person who knows the most, of course.
Bible college professors are held up as spiritual giants. Why? Is it because of their intimacy with God? No. Because of their obedience to God? No. Because of their service to other people? No. We don’t know any of those things about them. What we know is that they know a lot. And that’s enough.
We believe the person who knows the most about God, the most about the Bible, is the most spiritually mature. And the only problem with that is that it’s wrong. Knowledge does not equal maturity. I have known lots of people who know lots about God and the Bible and are not remotely Christ-like. (And, by the way, I can think of someone who knows a ton about God and the Bible, could it be … Satan?!?)
Next time I’ll talk about how this misunderstanding of spiritual maturity has wreaked havoc for Pastors and churches and Muppets and people who press olives in Greece and …
* (this is a footnote!) – Do you think it’s possible that part of the reason we’ve defined spiritual maturity as knowledge is because that way we don’t have to obey? Instead of obeying what we know, we just learn more!
I said last time that in America we’ve (wrongly) equated spiritual knowledge with spiritual maturity. We think that the more you know, the more godly you are.
Because we’ve created that culture, we have Christians whose goal is to know more and more, and that’s why they come to church on Sundays. So … if our sermons don’t stuff more Greek and Hebrew and obscure (and probably useless) bible history into their heads, they’re not happy. (And many, many preachers are worshipping these people by giving them exactly what they want.)
So, actually, for these people, “I’m not getting fed” really means, “To feel spiritually mature (and superior) I need to expand my store of virtually useless bible information so I can impress my friends and win Bible Jeopardy and you’re not giving me the facts I need!”
This is SO ridiculous.
I also think it’s a MAJOR reason why so many Christians feel spiritually empty inside. It’s because they’re approaching Christianity like it’s something to be studied, rather than lived – and God becomes someone to know about, rather than to know.
Okay, I have to rant on this more, but I’ll do it a little later (in fact, two more coming today). If you don’t want to hear any more about this, I’ll understand if you stop reading my blog – but you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. So good luck with that.
So earlier I started going off about how people define spiritual maturity as spiritual knowledge and how they end up feeling spiritually empty (and thus say, “I’m not getting fed!”) and it’s because they’re approaching Christianity like it’s something to be studied, rather than lived – and God becomes someone to know about, rather than to know.
Think of it this way. Let’s say my marriage is going poorly. So my wife and I go to a counselor. We tell him we don’t feel close at all and want more out of our marriage. So he says: “Here’s what you need to do. Each of you should hire someone to do a 30 minute presentation on the other each week. Attend that seminar, learn all the facts you can about each other, and your marriage will be great.” Good advice? No. The stupidest thing you’ve heard since you learned that Brittany and Jaimie Lynn Spear’s mother is putting out a book on parenting? Maybe.
The way to make a marriage better is … quality time together, really talking, listening to each other, having date nights, serving each other, submitting, finding common interests.
So when Christians don’t feel close to God and want more out of their relationship with Him the answer is a “deeper” sermon on Sundays? Are you kidding me?!? The answer is that you need to get “fed” by your preacher? Really?!?
“You should go to a church with deeper messages.” Is that good advice? No. One of the stupidest things you’ve ever heard? Maybe.
If thing with God really is a relationship (or anything like a relationship) than what we’re after is not knowledge, its intimacy. And you can’t get intimacy through a sermon.
Wait, I have another way of saying this. I’ll tell you later.
Okay, this is like the 400th post in this series (sorry) but we’re talking about what spiritual maturity looks like and why people say, “I’m not getting fed” and how if you’re not feeling close to God or where you need to be spiritually, there’s no way my 30 minute sermon can help you.
Earlier I used a marriage as a metaphor, here’s another one: If you feel woefully out of shape physically, and once a week you attend a seminar on how to work out, or how to eat healthy, but then the rest of the week don’t live any different, can you complain about the seminars?
Of course not! A seminar can’t get you in good shape, you have to DO what the seminar is talking about, and you have to do it consistently.
And so … stop giving me your “I’m not getting fed” crap and go home and spend lots of time face-to-face with God, and you WILL grow in intimacy with Him. And then you’ll realize that there’s something far better than knowing about God, and it’s knowing God.
(Sorry, I lost it there for a minute.)
So I’ve gone on and on about this “not getting fed” thing and I have to start wrapping it up. Here’s the question: What do we do when someone says, “I’m not getting fed”?
Well, I have two answers.
First, we need to make sure that we’re teaching people HOW to feed themselves. I’ve made it quite clear this last week or so that I don’t think it’s my job as a pastor to “feed people” on Sunday mornings. But I DO believe it’s the churches job to teach people to feed themselves. And so, when someone says, “I’m not being fed” I need to ask myself, “Have we taught this person to feed themselves? If not, then I have to take a lot of the blame for this, and I need to do something about it.
At Forefront, we’ve tried to make sure we’re teaching people how to feed themselves. For instance:
- We do a sermon, or an entire series, almost every year on how to read the Bible. In 2007 we did “The Bible for Cavemen.” In 2006 we did a 3 part series called, “Off the Shelf and Into Myself”…
- In our “Next Steps” class we have a session on how to have a “Quiet Time” of bible reading and prayer.
- Each week in our program we provide six “ready-to-do” Bible studies that give you a passage to read, about six questions to help you dig into and apply the verses, and a study note or two offering background/context information.
- This year we made and are going to distribute a “Pursuit” book, a spiritual growth handbook that teaches six spiritual disciplines, including bible study (why to do it, how to do it, etc.).
- We had a guru at this kind of stuff come in and do sessions with our staff, and a session with leaders in our church, on how to develop intimacy face-to-face with God.
(I’m sure there’s more we could do — what are some of the ways you all are teaching your people to feed themselves?)
So when someone says, “I’m not getting fed” the first thing I do is ask myself: Have we taught this person how to feed themselves? If the answer is no, I’m the problem. If the answer is yes, well, we’ll talk about that next time.
I think this is the last post in this insanely long series on the issue of people saying, “I’m not getting fed at this church.” Last time I talked about how I think it’s the church’s role to equip people to feed themselves, and if we’re not doing that, I need to take some blame for a person in our church who isn’t being fed.
However, if our church IS equipping people to feed themselves and a person still says, “I’m not getting fed,” – what would I say?
“Let me show you the door.”
Yes, I suggest that they find a different church.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve reached a point where I suggest that they find a different church. That may not be the most compassionate or pastoral thing to do, but I’ve got a bunch of people who want to experience intimacy with God, and want to obey Him, and want to serve people and change the world, and I need to spend some time with them, not with a lazy baby who wants me to help them succeed in bible trivia.
I hope I don’t sound too self-righteous, but it’s kind of like Nehemiah, when people were complaining about what he was doing and asking him to give them time and he said, “‘I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?’ Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.” (Nehemiah 6:3-4)
I’m sure some people thought, “That’s not very Christ-like,” (yes, I know that there was no such thing as “Christ-like” back then) but Nehemiah was a man on a mission, and you weren’t on the mission you were off his radar.
Jesus told people that if they wanted to follow Him they had to carry a cross. We tell people that if they want to run with us, they have to feed themselves. Will that turn away some Christians? Definitely. Do we want to turn away Christians? Definitely.
I want to have a church full of two types of people: the lost, and missionaries to the lost. When someone goes to a foreign country to be a missionary, they aren’t going over there to get fed. They are going on a mission, and realize that they’ll have to feed themselves. If you’re gonna be a part of Forefront, you’re going on a mission and must realize that you’ll have to feed yourself. And if that ain’t you – don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya.
There have been so many comments and questions on this series that I promised I would try to respond to some. First, let me first say that I don’t consider myself some kind of Christian Yoda who knows all, so I’m just sharing my thoughts, not the “right answers.” Second, I don’t have a ton of time right now, so I’ll only be able to respond to a few and only give short answers. Third, I may post a few of my favorite comments later during the day. So here we go:
“Why should people bother coming to church (on Sunday mornings) if the pastor isn’t supposed to feed them?”
Answers: Wow, there’s a lot. And I think this question actually shows how we’ve gotten confused about church… so: (1) I’m not saying the pastor shouldn’t feed people or that it’s wrong to get fed at church. I’m saying that it should be something extra for Christians, not what they depend on for their spiritual sustenance. Just like going to a restaurant is a nice change of pace to get fed on a lazy day and get some food you wouldn’t get at home… (2) I think we want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, and meeting with other Christians on Sundays helps us with that – singing together, fellowshiping, etc. (3) Sunday mornings can be one of the places where the pastor gets to teach people how to feed themselves. (4) This is like saying: “If a basketball coach isn’t going to teach his players how to play basketball during half-time, why should the players even go into the locker room?” Well, maybe the players need to be inspired? Maybe they need to be reminded of what they already know? Maybe he needs to get in their face? Maybe they need some encouragement? (5) I could keep answering this question forever, I’ll stop.
“Does Forefront spend as much time developing Christians into missionaries as it does reaching out to non-Christians?”
Answer: No. But we need to. Please pray for us that we do a better job with this.
“Maybe lazy Americans … or single moms … or you name it … need to be fed by their preacher because they’re lazy … or don’t have time … or you name it.”
Answer: I feel for people who don’t have time or whatever, but the issue is one of intimacy with God. If I’m too lazy or too busy to spend quality time with my wife, we’re not going to have a great marriage. We could go to a weekly 30 minute seminar on marriage (or a weekly counseling session) but if we don’t spend decent quantities of quality time together outside of the seminar (or counselor’s office) we’re still not going to have a great marriage. So … even if you go to a church with the greatest preacher ever, if you don’t spend a lot of time with God outside of Sundays, you are not going to have a great relationship with Him. And it’s about a relationship with God. Now we can trick ourselves and pretend it’s about knowledge, but it isn’t.
“Why does Forefront produce people who have a ‘I’m not getting fed’ attitude?”
Answer: I think we produce less than most churches, but yes, we do have some. Why? Maybe because (1) We’re all naturally selfish and lazy (including me!) and so it’s easy to fall into this kind of thinking for anyone, and (2) Christian culture is so pervasive even our people get bitten by it – we live in an odd time where you can be exposed to other church’s preachers on the radio, podcasts, Christian books, etc. and so the church you go to is not going to be the only influence on how you think and approach God & Christianity.
“The last time I checked, God doesn’t talk back. Not lately, anyway.”
Answer: I disagree. God still speaks to us today. If not, it wouldn’t be much of a relationship, would it? God still speaks, the issue is whether we’re listening…