I am part Italian, and I grew up with full-Italian relatives. I am also a fairly picky eater, and when you have Italian relatives who want to feed you all the time, this is somewhat of a problem. They always wanted to feed me more and more food, even if I wasn't hungry. "Here, have some bread." "Here, have some jam to go with that bread." "I'm making polenta; eat some." "Do you want some bean soup?" "Have some cheese."
It's no wonder that today I love bread, cheese, any Italian food, and cooking for other people. I like to see them fed and full. What I don't do, however, is put the food into their mouths for them, or chew it for them, or swallow it for them. They are perfectly capable of doing those things themselves.
One of the words used often in that Christian language, Christianese, is the word "fed". People want to go to a church that feeds them spiritually. This may mean different things to different people; it could be the music, the sermons, a Sunday school class, a Bible study group. It could be all of those things combined. People want to be satisfied with their church experience and leave full. And so churches comply: they have entertaining pastors and great music and they seek to understand what the churchgoers want to experience.
There's only one problem. When people are always fed by someone else, they may never learn how to feed themselves. They are stuck in the baby stage, never learning how to do things for themselves, but expecting that the music will need to be great in order to have a good worship experience, and the sermon will have to speak directly to them in order to get anything out of it. Willow Creek learned this and published it in their book Reveal, after they discovered that their mega-church model that so many other churches then used was not actually producing as many disciples as it should.
In Reveal, Willow Creek found that there were four segments spiritual growth:
- Exploring Christianity
- Growing in Christ
- Close to Christ
"The church is extremely important in the early stages for the Exploring and Growing segments, but its main activities--like weekend services and small groups--decline in importance as people advance along the continuum. The church becomes less of a place to go for spiritual development and to find spiritual relationships, and more of a platform that provides serving opportunities. So its initial strong, central role in spiritual growth seems to shift to something more secondary as people advance to the more Christ-focused spiritual segments" (page 42).They then go on to explain that it is personal spiritual practices such as prayer, journaling, solitude, and studying Scripture on one's own that help individuals grow in their relationship to Jesus. I think this is why "being fed" is not a big deal for me. It isn't as important for me, anymore to be fed through worship services and programs, I suppose. It was important at one time, when I was beginning to be interested in church things and I had little knowledge of the Bible and was just starting to really explore faith. I needed those sermons and Sunday school classes to be taught what I didn't know, at a fairly basic level (during one of the first Bible studies I went to, I didn't even know that the John the Baptist in the gospel of John was not the same person as mentioned in the title of the gospel).
As I look back, I can see that when attending church and Bible study and Sunday school classes was important to me, it was when I was in the "Exploring" and "Growing" stages. Now, I feel as if I am in the fourth stage, and I just don't have the same needs as people in the earlier stages. I don't necessarily need to go to a Bible study or listen to a sermon on Sunday or sing a specific song, because I can also do all of these things any time I want outside of the scheduled times--and I do. I have been impressed with the level of academic knowledge in most of the sermons I have heard since moving (more on this in a future post) but in only one did I actually learn something new.
There are some other issues about expecting to be "fed" at church, but that is why this post is "Part I": they will come later.
As I contemplate this particular issue, I will throw these questions out there to you: How are you fed? What role does a Sunday service play in your "meal", and why? If you are not fed, why do you go?