We’ve all had the conversation. We meet someone new to our church and somewhere in that initial greeting, they inform us they left their last church because they “weren’t being fed.”
It’s not an uncommon reason. It’s also not usually a biblical one. 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.
True, there are some churches that do not challenge people to grow, press toward discipleship or preach the Word of God. There are situations in which a church can play a role in stunting or even crippling a person’s spiritual growth. On occasion, there is validity to leaving a church because you “weren’t being fed.”
The problem is, the excuse is used far more often than it is valid. We have taken a legitimate reason to leave a dying/dead/destructive church and used it as a blanket excuse to justify leaving any church for any reason.
A church community can and should provide resources to help you pursue spiritual growth, but it’s your responsibility to actively take advantage of those resources.
I don’t disown my parents and change my name because my mom stopped making me dinners. I don’t let myself starve if my wife doesn’t cook. I’m a grown man. There is only one person responsible for me not eating and not growing. It’s not a family member. It’s not the church. It’s me.
There is a difference between leaving a church because they actually aren’t teaching the Gospel and leaving a church because you “aren’t being fed.”
In many cases, what we are really saying when we use that excuse is that we are too lazy to take care of ourselves and the church isn’t catering to our desires the way we would like them to. We often want a church that will serve us and meet our needs, instead of expecting us to do the difficult and often uncomfortable work of serving.
The Purpose of the Church
In our consumer-based, market-driven society, it’s easy to forget that churches are supposed to care more about pleasing God than about pleasing people. Ironically, the very things we often search for when we look for a church (a place that teaches what we agree with, plays our favorite style of music, offers us the kind of groups or classes we want, and in general makes us feel good) can be red flags.
The church isn’t about you or me. It’s not about getting what we want or our personal preferences. When we shop until we find a church that fits with what we want, what we are often doing is searching for a place that will not challenge us to grow or step outside of our comfort zones.
The role of a church is not to tell us what we want to hear or to offer all the programs we like. The role of the church is to make disciples of Jesus. When we get whatever we want from church, it becomes about us. Not about our growth. Not about our God. Sometimes, the churches that grow us the most are the ones that don’t always do things the way we would, don’t cater to our ever whim and desire but in fact challenge us.
Look at the Old Testament. How many times did the people of God ask for things that weren’t good for them? How many times did they beg God to give them a king only to end up suffering under his leadership? It is in the nature of man to desire things that are not for our good. God, like a loving parent, refuses to give us chocolate cake for dinner, not to be cruel but because He is good. Sometimes, He denies our requests because what we want is actually the worst thing for us.
The Danger of Church Shopping
This culture of “church shopping” has wrecked the ability of the church to effectively and efficiently carry out the ministry of the Gospel and the mission of Jesus. As church people hop from one building to another, churches find themselves unconsciously battling for the saved instead of seeking the lost.
When we bounce around to new places because we got told “no” or were offended by this or that, what we ensure is that we never learn conflict resolution. We don’t practice forgiveness or reconciliation. We don’t see iron sharpening iron. If we’re in a church community that is preaching and living out the Gospel, we need to be willing to stick around through the conflict and struggle, which will actually lead to maturity.
Instead of seeking out teachers who say what we want them to say, we should seek teaching that convicts us of where we need to change. Jesus constantly shocked, challenged and even offended the crowds with what He said. He shook them to the core of their beliefs, because we have all accepted certain lies as truth. It takes confrontation, challenge and courage to speak the truth. That’s what it takes to grow.
A Well-Balanced Spiritual Diet
Of course, you can be in a wonderful, Bible-believing church and still not be growing. Simply showing up for church for a few hours on Sunday mornings will not keep you spiritually fed if you’re not engaging with God individually and in community throughout the week. You wouldn’t eat one big meal on Sunday morning and expect to stay full for the rest of the week.
So before you say you’re “not being fed” next time you have an issue with a church, take a look at what they’re actually offering. Are they really not offering solid teaching and resources for spiritual growth, or do you just not prefer the food they’re putting on the table?
Along with practicing spiritual disciplines on our own, a well-balanced spiritual diet often includes embracing diversity and staying with a church family even when it doesn’t spoon feed you or meet all your expectations. Sometimes the best thing for us is to get offended, called out and told no. There’s not much left in our culture that will remind us that this life isn’t about us.
Tyler Edwards is a pastor, author, and husband. He currently works as the Discipleship Pastor of Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is passionate about introducing people to and helping them grow in the Gospel. He is the author of Zombie Church: breathing life back into the body of Christ. You can find more of his work on Facebook or you can follow him on Twitter @tedwardsccc.