A desire to be "fed spiritually" may be killing us.
| posted 2/06/2008
There's a foundational belief within Christian culture that may be killing us. It's so deeply embedded in our collective consciousness that accepting it has become akin to accepting that the earth is round. It is the belief that we have to be fed for our faith to grow. Being "fed spiritually" can mean a variety of things, but the most common meaning has to do with being taught. For much of the teaching in our churches, we rely on someone with advanced biblical training to pour over the Scriptures, unlock their cryptic meaning, and deliver that meaning in an engaging and entertaining package. All people have to do is pull up a chair and soak it in. In most cases captivating discourse has become one of the primary functions of the church—from sermons to Sunday school to youth group—people are taught through medium and message that they cannot grow unless they are fed. But contrary to the desired outcome of spiritual growth, this idea of being fed is a toxin that has invaded our faith.
Before I move on, I need to clarify what I'm not saying. First, I'm not saying teaching is evil or useless. In the Old Testament, the life of Christ, and the ministry of the apostles, teaching was instrumental in people's growth. Second, I'm not saying that teaching is the only thing people refer to when they express a need to be fed. It is also used to refer to being led into worship through music, corporate prayer, and guided reflection. What follows can apply to these things, but the focus is on the desire to be fed through teaching. Finally, I am not saying that the idea of "feeding" is not biblical or legitimate. In John 6 Jesus explicitly says that we should feed on him. He also says that doing the will of the Father is his food when Satan tempted him. The words of Jesus make it clear that "feeding" is a legitimate biblical idea.
So what am I saying? First, the concept of being fed involves a passive acceptance of the proclamation of an expert. People pour into church buildings on Sunday morning to sit in a pew (or chair) to listen diligently as the expert releases the store of knowledge he or she has amassed through hours of study during the week. While the content of these messages are often wonderful, the form poses some problems. Passive consumption of teaching on a regular basis plays directly to the consumptive and entertainment values of our culture. We expect to be presented with a product that excites us and makes our lives better, preferably with as little exertion on our part as possible. If someone else is willing to immerse themselves in the Scripture, then we don't have to. All we have to do is show up and consume what we're given. In addition, we expect what we are spoon fed to be captivating, entertaining, and comedic. In short, we want something entertaining to consume—sounds like the same thing we want at a movie theater.
I once had a professor who said it was a sin to bore people in preaching. The two main things that would keep us from this horrible sin? Entertainment and clarity, which happen to be two of the defining characteristics of most sermons. This creates the impression that we have the right to easily accessible teaching. There are two major problems with this. The first is that we live in a culture bathed in entitlement and consumption. In other cultures, this kind of communication as the primary means of teaching might not pose the same issues, but in the United States these teaching methods reinforce the most toxic aspects of our culture. As a consumer, what happens when someone isn't fully satisfied with a product? They quit using it and find something they like better. That's not so bad when you're talking about dish soap or cell phones, but that mindset is downright putrid when it comes to the church. The solution to some unclear or unentertaining sermons is to go to another church with a better product. It's not uncommon for people who switch churches to explain, "We're just not being fed." We come to believe that it is our right to be given clear and entertaining instruction each week (or moving and uplifting worship music). If our current experience is not palatable to our delicate tastes, then we move on to a tastier option.