“Pastor, I’m just not getting fed here.”
How often have you heard this? At first it sounds legitimate enough. If someone in the church is not “getting fed” in the worship services, then obviously something’s wrong. Usually, it’s the pastor who is the source of the malnutrition. Either he’s not “preaching the Word,” or the Holy Spirit isn’t “anointing” what he’s preaching, or he’s not wearing the right shirt. In any case, it’s his fault.
Tyler Edwards in his article, “Stop Waiting for Your Church to Feed You” writes:
Most of the time, if we are being honest, the people who leave churches for this reason aren’t leaving because there isn’t spiritual food on the table but because their agendas, desires and expectations aren’t being met by the leadership. Unfortunately, a lot of Christians are consumed by their own selfishness to such a degree that submission and willingness to grow under a spiritual authority is rarely even a consideration. (I recommend reading the entire article.)
So is the central purpose of the worship service to “feed” people?
In the first place, it’s unclear what is meant by “fed”. In the second, we come together for the chief purpose of worshipping and magnifying God. Recognizing the value and importance of God is the central focus of what we do in worship (worthship in Old English), not coming to see whether the pastor and choir can succeed this time in making us fatter and happier than when we came in.
I’m not sure where we got the notion that someone else is supposed to feed us. We feed babies. Also, shepherds don’t feed sheep. They just lead them to a place where they can graze. Jesus did say to Peter, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:18), but Jesus knew enough about real shepherds and real sheep not to have meant what we’ve taken his command to mean. Essentially what he was saying is, “If you really love me, you’ll lead and watch over my followers.”
Back to worship. Our audience is God. Ultimately, he’s the only One who should be of first importance. The question we should ask following worship isn’t, “Was I well fed” but “Was God well pleased?”
If pastors imagine that their principal task is to feed people so that they’ll walk away from church on Sunday mornings more satisfied and comfortable, they’ll only fail in this effort. The pastor and the praise band or choir (and everyone else who participates in worship) are there for the expressed purpose of leading the people in the exaltation of God.
Through praise and hearing biblical preaching, we are brought face to face with God and his purposes for us. The result should be confession, repentance, cleansing from sin, a call to greater loyalty and obedience, and a renewed vision of the City of God. If there’s any feeding to be done, it’s by the Spirit of God who is present in power among us. He delivers to us conviction of sin, brings to mind the things of Christ, enlightens the truth of the Gospel, and equips us with all the provisions we need to carry out God’s will.
Believers (the sheep) are expected to feed on God’s Word in their daily devotions, during the week whenever Bible studies are offered, and wherever else they find the opportunity. They are expected to join prayer groups and offer their time and talents in whatever tasks the Spirit leads them to do. In this discipline of regular (and selfless) exaltation of God, reading of Scripture, solo or corporate prayer, and ministry to others in need, we are both nurtured and matured.
Now if the pastor is heretical, throws out endless clichés and rambles on for hours, or just plain inept or morally corrupt, then he will fail to lead his flock to the right place where they can feed normally. If a shepherd repeatedly leads you among the rocks and thorns, then it makes good sense to search for another shepherd. But this chronic leapfrogging from one church to another in search of better pastures is no more praiseworthy than the fast food addict who runs from one restaurant to another looking for the biggest and juiciest triple bacon cheeseburger in town.
Leaders shouldn’t let such sentiments put a stronghold on their ministry or be discouraged by hearing this familiar complaint. Let’s dump this bogus and church-retarding idea that worship services are primarily for the selfish to become even more self-obsessed. We don’t come for ourselves, but for God first and then for one another. When we arrive at the door of the church, let’s come in with the expectancy that as we magnify our Lord, he is perfectly able to nurture us so that we can help, encourage, and “feed” the truly hungry around us.
Photo by Bimo Luki on Unsplash