Thursday, January 17, 2008

For I Was Hungry and You Told Me to Self-Feed

The true diagnosis of weak worship is not that our people are coming to get and not to give. Not a few pastors scold their people that the worship services would be lively if people came to give instead of to get. There is a better diagnosis.

People ought to come to corporate worship services to get. They ought to come starved for God. They ought to come saying, "As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God" (Psalm 42:1). God is profoundly honored when people know that they will die of hunger and thirst unless they have God. And it is my job as a preacher to spread a banquet for them. I must show them from Scripture what they are really starving for -- God -- and then feed them well until they say, "Ahhh." That is worship.

-- John Piper, The Dangerous Duty of Delight

Bob's recent post, I Thirst, really resonates with me. An excerpt:
I realized after last Sunday that I am hungering and thirsting to hear the Gospel message (rather than fervent pep-talks about being a person of character, or something).

It is, after all, by means of Gospel preaching that the Kingdom of God is advanced. It is my means of Gospel preaching that men and women are effectively "revived," and it is in Gospel preaching that the Christian church fulfills its essential calling. And by "Gospel preaching" I do not simply mean the repetition of the Easter story, but I do mean the careful and disciplined application of the Calvary truths to our lives today. Or, in other words, the provision of New Testament answers to this simple question: What is the significance to me here and now that Jesus was nailed to a cross 2000 years ago? Preacher, that is not a subject you are going to exhaust in a 4-week sermon series. That is, as a matter of fact, a river of living water!

Can you hear the frustration in my blogging tone? Desperation, even?

Yes. Not only can I hear it, I feel it.

(This is going to be somewhat disjointed, as (a) it's sort of a ranty subject for me, and (b) I haven't had coffee yet.)

I've come full circle on the "I'm not being fed" thing.

Some thoughts . . .

1) There are some lazy, consumerist, adultolescent Christians whose "I'm not being fed" is nothing more than a whiny excuse for growing bored with their church's programs and not serving.

2) There are some mature, self-sacrificing, wise Christians whose "I'm not being fed" is a sign a church has gone off the rails.

3) We need more pastors/preachers who can tell the difference.

4) The renewal of the idea that "Christians should self-feed" is trailing the appraisal of Willow's REVEAL survey. Plenty of pastorpreneur bloggers are repeating the line, which seems to me to clearly miss exactly what the survey results appear to be saying -- people aren't growing.

5) Taking a survey that aims to gauge customer satisfaction with the church, with the alleged intention to fix it, finding results that say customers aren't satisfied with the menu, and then saying those people should eat at home seems . . . weird.

6) When so many churches are failing at cultivating authentic Christian community these days, and when individualistic, consumerist Christianity is threatening the endurance of evangelicalism, it seems a really dumb idea for churches to be urging more individualism.

7) The truth is we are responsible for each other, we do have the obligation to bear each other's burdens. This means, at the very least, that the Church, which is made up of Christians, has an obligation to feed and care for Christians. The impression is that many churches prefer to leave Christians on their own.

8) This appears to be a great irony to me: Seeker-centered churches will say that because their worship services are for seekers or newer Christians, the sermons cannot engage in as much biblical depth as would be appropriate for more mature Christians, yet what is preached in such services is typically not the milk of the gospel but a meat-and-potatoes sort of "application of the Bible." Stuff to do. Why would we expect nonChristians and new Christians to have the framework from which to really apply the Bible?
What I mean is, what benefit is a series on "How to Win at Work" if the people expected to carry out the principles therein don't really understand the point of the Christian life is Jesus? It seems to be a feeding of meat to people who aren't ready for it anyway.

9) Jesus is enough to feed everybody. Preach with Jesus as the center, and everyone will get fed.

10) The idea that churches don't exist to feed Christians is just a lie. And the preachers/pastors who ridicule the notion are being ignorant. Jesus flat-out told Peter that if he loved Him, he would feed his sheep.

11) Self-feeding is overrated. It is the whiny excuse of lazy, consumerist, adultolescent churches.

We must preach the gospel to each other, all the time. Without fail. We need to hear it, we need to ponder it, reflect on it, be moved by it to worship Christ. Pastors and preachers, why are you failing to give it to us, to all of us? It is the one thing we need. Call it milk, call it meat, call it whatever you want, but it is the cure for cancer you are telling us to research on our own when you've got it in your back pocket. It's in that Bible you use like it's Bartlett's.

Immature Christians, new Christians, old Christians, mature Christians, nonChristians, unChristians, preChristians, postChristians -- whatever! The one thing that feeds us all is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Please don't withhold it from us. And if you will give it to us each week, and shepherd us in ways that equip us to give it to others ("preaching with words when necessary"), nobody can ever say "I'm not being fed" with any integrity ever again. You will finally get to scoff at someone's claim to not being fed. Deal?


salguod said...

Excelent. Absolutely excelent.

Your constant gospel focus has done me noend of good, sir, thank you.

And don't stop. :-D

salguod said...

Uh, that's 'no end' of good.

Forgot to spell check. :-(

Jared said...

I won't. :-)
And thank you, salguod.

jagis said...


man you are a full gust of fresh air. I am 28 with a strong desire to proclaim God's word. My wife and have been struggling with this for several years now. We keep looking around and we feel like we are shouting "preach the gospel! please!" and no one hears us or even knows were there. I was told all the lies about being a "fat baby" who "just wanted to be fead" and the truth is I want to be equipped. I think we have thousands of christians out there that just want to be equipped. they don't even know it because they have been told that to desire so is selfish. and there true desires have been confused by the idea that they are just lazy and don't want to go home and do the work. How sad is it that you have all these desires to talk about God's word and hear messages about God and his truths revealed through scripture and you can't find a place to do it in. Please keep up the posts, they are of great encouragement to the what I believe is many who know there is more to God and community, and worship, and service.

co_heir said...

I don't think you are going this way, but we also need to be careful not to go to the other extreme of saying that the Sunday "meal" is the only one we need. One meal a week guarantees a lack of growth.

We need to be able to feed ourselves as well as be fed by the pastor.

Jared said...

Co-heir, that is sort of what I meant in writing shepherd us in ways that equip us to give it to others ("preaching with words when necessary").

I would never suggest a Sunday sermon meet the requirements of feeding the sheep. But it's a big first step, and it is also typically the topic discussed when the folks I'm criticizing here start saying Christians should self-feed. They typically are defending the status quo of seeker-centered worship services and life application sermons.

co_heir said...

You're right. The Sunday sermon is a big part of feeding the sheep and the "felt needs" way of doing things is producing weak, anemic Christians.

I guess my background was showing. A lot of my dealings have been with people who saw the Sunday feeding time as their only meal, other than a perfunctory daily reading of Scripture so they could say that they read through the Bible in a year.

It seems to be another of those "both/and" deals in following Jesus.

Chad said...

Right. It frustrates me everytime I hear about this false dichotomy that the church must be about either: 1) reaching out to seekers or 2) about maturing spiritually.

In response I feel like everyone out there should be forced to listen to a Tim Keller sermon. Pretty much any one will do. He preaches the gospel everytime in a deep way. But he doesn't use Christianese, doesn't talk in "us vs. them" terms, and doesn't assume his audience is made up solely of Christians or people who have already bought into the message.

If preachers talk and act as if non-Christians are in the congregation, they will be there soon enough. Why in the world does that mean preachers need to use a superficial message to reach them? Frankly, it's condescending to everyone. Non-Christians have brains too.

Jennifer O'Hara said...

Thank you so much. It is so frustrating to hear a pastor say, "It's not my job to feed you." *sigh* As co-heir notes, we are of course to study the Word for ourselves, but...I thought church was supposed to help, to feed the sheep. Really, many of us just want to hear the Gospel preached.

Anyhow...I have a soapbox of my own. Thanks for this. Fresh air indeed!