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I have a confession to make. I am fed up with hearing people say, "I'm not being fed." While I do not hear it often, the comment surfaces just enough about my preaching and the preaching of others to make me want to scream. Once my emotions settle down, though, I try to discern what people are really saying. In my experience, the complaint "I'm not being fed" is usually a code phrase for some other frustration that lurks below the surface.
This realization hit me a few years ago after observing a strange turn of events. First, a young couple left the church I served for another because (drumroll here) they were "not being fed." I puzzled over this because I felt like I was in a season where my preaching really was connecting Scripture well to the lives of our people. I went through a checklist of possible problems. Had I lost my passion? No. Was I short-changing my sermon preparation? No. Had I slipped into merely talking to people about the Bible rather than talking to people about themselves from the Bible? No. Was I neglecting to preach the gospel? No. Still, this young couple—whom I'll refer to as Brett and Danielle—claimed they were not being fed, and they got involved in a nearby church plant.
A year went by, and I accepted the call to a church in another region of the United States. Then, shortly after my move, I started getting emails from Brett and Danielle. Danielle, a diligent Bible student and a Bible study leader, emailed me with perceptive questions about a Bible passage she was studying. At the end of one of her emails she wrote: "We sure miss your preaching and teaching!" Huh? I thought they were not being fed.
Not long after that, Brett emailed me and said: "We hear that you're going to preach at Hope Church [in a neighboring city] when you're back here in the area for vacation. We're coming that Sunday because we want to listen to you preach. You don't know how much we miss the way that you taught us the Word."
What? I wanted to hit reply and say: "But haven't you forgotten? I'm the guy who didn't feed you!"
So what was up with this change of heart? As I reflected on the situation, I realized that the statement "I'm not being fed" was really a cover for another issue. To make a long story short, Brett and Danielle had been pulled into a small but influential group in our church that questioned the effectiveness of our church's leadership. In retrospect, some of the criticism was fair, and some of it was unfounded. I recalled how the ringleader of this group told me that I was not providing the leadership that our church needed at the time. He, too, used the statement "My family and I are not being fed." I began to see that my preaching was not the real issue.
Of course, there will always be room for growth and improvement in my preaching, but when people complain about undernourishing sermons there often is another issue or a complex set of issues.
In the aftermath of this experience, I have been trying to crack the code to discern what people really mean when they say, "I'm not being fed." I think that can mean one of five things.
1. "I really am not being fed."
We must always entertain the possibility that we are not feeding people as well as we should. The pressure to manage staff, develop systems, trouble-shoot problems, care for the sick, mentor younger leaders, and do any number of other important things can pull us away us from the task of preaching.