Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Is Self Feeding Enough?

If you've spent much time in churches; you would probably recognize this as one of the top complaints/reasons people leave a church: 

"I'm not getting fed."

People feel it is the responsibility of the pastor/clergy/staff to help them in their spiritual development, and if they're not "feeling fed" that usually results in the thought that the pastor isn't doing his job. So the people then get grumpy, and go to another church. It's using the old shepherd/sheep analogies. The sheep need to eat, they need a shepherd who will feed them, etc etc.

Animal metaphors...pffft.

At NPC, our pastor Tommy Sparger is very vocal in promoting practices that he refers to as "self feeding" in order to combat this mindset. Self feeding is essentially reading the Bible, praying, journaling, etc; doing so on a regular basis.

I am a fan of these things, as I think most Christians are, there's not much that's revolutionary here; however I uncertain that they are entirely the answer. Especially with our church. Here's why:

Our church's main demographics are the un-churched and the de-churched. 

That is, those who are unfamiliar with church, God, religion, etc in one hand. And in the other, people who were at one point part of a church and now are not. Maybe while they were growing up, maybe some earlier point in their life, maybe they got burnt out, grew out, etc, and for whatever reason they are now not affiliated with a community of believers. 

I think that self feeding is important, that people do need to take personal responsibility for their spiritual growth. 

But that's not where it stops. 

People need assistance--and yes we do provide some, such as reading programs, small groups, study Bibles, etc. But by assistance, I mean people who can help them to learn and to understand.

I find myself coming back to the story of Philip & the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:
He (Philip) met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah. The Holy Spirit said to Philip, "Go over and walk along beside the carriage." Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah; so he asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" The man replied, "How can I, when there is no one to instruct me?" And he begged Philip to come into the carriage and sit with him.

-Acts 8:27-31 (emphasis & parenthesis mine)
Here we have the eunuch, who had great authority, was a treasurer, obviously well educated since he was able to read. And also a 'mature' believer in that he traveled all the way to Jerusalem to worship. He was not your average person, he would be considered more mature in his faith, not new to it. And yet, he needed help understanding. So much that he begged Philip to come and instruct him.

Even with his privileged position and teaching, he did not have the capability of understanding what he was reading on his own. Yes it was good he was self feeding...but he still needed help. And he knew it. When asked if he understood what he was reading, he responded with:

"How can I, when there is no one to instruct me?"


Was it his fault? Was he just not doing it enough? Was he doing it wrong? Weren't there steps and plans that he could do that would allow him to understand? Well...I'm not entirely sure it works like that.

I often forget about this. I often make assumptions that people understand when they read the Bible. That they don't need help. That what I take from what I read is the same thing that others take from it when they read.

Surprisingly, your average person doesn't spend most of their time reading about Christianity or the Bible.

Or hours a day reading Christian blogs.

Your average person doesn't have a background of information on churchy things.

Your average church person does, sure...

Unless your church is made up of those who are not church people.

I think there is a mutual responsibility that takes place here.

People need to be responsible to learn, and others need to be responsible to instruct. Those in need should benefit from experience or knowledge of those who have it.

How else should they learn, if there's no one to instruct them?