We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and became Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own………Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions.
There are several things that trouble about me these statements. The first is the concept of ‘changing the way we do church’, as if church were a man-made institution that are we free to ‘do with’ what we will. As Todd Wilken (Lutheran pastor and host of Issues) has frequently said, “We did not invent church, nor are we free to reinvent it”. I guess the fundamental question then must be asked. What is church? Ask ten christians that question today and you are likely to get ten different answers. But really, what is church? What is its’ mission and purpose? Can we make it into anything we want? Should it be culturally relevant? Should it be ‘marketed’? Has it become just another casualty of modern capitalism? Arthur Just was recently on Issues talking about true christian worship. He reminds us that from earliest times, even in ancient Judaism, worship was centered on teaching followed by eating (what we call Word and Sacrament). These structures of worship continued even during the time of Jesus in the feeding of the 5000, the Last Supper, and in the Acts 2 church;
Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, and to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews said, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them…..The one who eats this bread will live forever.”When many of the disciples heard this, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”
His words seem so clear. He has given us our sustenance. In His very Word and in His very body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. I agree with the disciples. This teaching is difficult and there isn’t one Sunday when I approach the rail for communion that I wonder, ‘Can this really be true’. I can only accept it on faith. I can only take Him at His word.
Here is my take on the term “self-feeding.” I have always heard it used by church-goers who are not pleased with their church. They aren’t getting ‘enough’ from church, so they brag that they ‘self-feed’ what they need from God each week. I LOVE your analogy to the sheep “self-feeding” once the shepherd has led them to green pastures. It does make the whole “self-feeding” seem quite ridiculous. We should be thirsty for God’s word, every moment.
The entire new-age, liberal-christian problem is about focusing on anything and everything BUT God to be sure the church fits into the world, rather than realizing the church is not of this world, and, therefore, should not try to “fit in’. It is like telling a teenager that he needs to drink and have sex because it is important for him to ‘fit in’, while also reminding him to “be sure and quote a bible verse every now and then!” That is essentially how the liberal christian church (for lack of a better adjective) ‘fits into’ today’s culture. Do just enough “partying” to “fit in” and seem cool, and then toss in a little scripture or good works to make sure they realize you are a chrisitan joining in this world’s revelry – wouldn’t want to be uncool, would we?
Sorry to seem like I am off on such a tangent – but so many parents whose teens are in trouble are more concerned that their kids are popular and ‘fit in’ than they are concerned that their kids know how to stand alone and be comfortable not fitting in, when necessary.
I read a good book several years ago by Dave Shiflett – Why Americans are fleeing Liberal Churches. If the church blends right into today’s culture, why attend church?
Blue Castle says
I was kind of agreeing with his statement, until I saw who said it. You’re right – the Church does not need to be, nor should it be, culturally relevant. But, I did agree with his “self-feeding” to a certain extent. I’ve known quite a few Christians in my lifetime who could not even find the book of Acts in their Bible without using the table of contents. But, they’ve read all the “hip” Christian books and believe they are purposely driving their lives in the direction God wants them to. I find this very sad. If we are to know anything, as Christians, it’s not what so-and-so says, it’s what the Word of God says. We’re to feed ourselves on His Word, daily. We’re to know our Bibles so well that we can sniff our false doctrine and we are to match everything we hear against the Bible. That is what I would define as “self-feeding”. I don’t know if that’s what Hybels meant, or not, though.
Your post is excellent, thank you for sharing.
Amen and Amen! I am so glad that you wrote this, Edie–these are thoughts that have been percolating my mind, but I hadn’t been able to put them all together. One of big issues is the lack of disciples–I’ve been convicted of this is in my own life more than anything. Thanks for writing this!
THE Stephanie says
My thought is that you’ve simply misunderstood the intent of “self-feeding”. I don’t think Bill Hybels ever intended (although I don’t know for sure, but I can certainly take a rather educated guess) that phrase to mean people should feed themselves apart from God. I believe what he meant was that everyone is responsible for their own spiritual growth – not their pastor.
So many people these days go to church and depend solely on their growth from the pastor and his Sunday message. I think this is what Hybels was speaking at. Everyone has to be responsible and “self-feed” during the week – all the time – and not only rely on a message on Sunday.
While you may not agree with the type of church Hybels leads, I don’t think he directs his congregation – or anyone else, for that matter – to grow their faith apart from God.
Of course, everyone is welcome to their own opinions on that matter.
Amen and AMEN to what you wrote:
“I have been receiving regular communion and regular law/gospel sermons for almost three years now and the difference couldn’t be more stark. I am not more spiritual now. Not by a long shot. But I am much more keenly aware of my sin and of my utter dependence on the nourishment that Christ gives us when He gives Himself in Word and Sacrament. He is the very bread of life. And when you eat of it, you shall never hunger.”
“Church” isn’t a place, it isn’t a building. I am the church, Christians are the church. WE are the bride of Christ. HE is coming for His bride. Not a building or a facility.
HE longs for a relationship with HIS bride.
Titus tells us as women to teach younger women. I don’t believe new believers know how vital it is to read their Bible daily. That it is life and real and living. They have to be taught. They have to be taught to read their Bible and why. They need to be taught why it’s important to be engaged with like minded people.
I have been a Christian since I was a teenager. It wasn’t until I prayed for Christian women to “do life” with, a prayer that God answered in a HUGE way, that I began to learn from them. To learn that His Word is vital to life, praying every day is important. I had to be taught.
These women have been salt and light to me. They make me thirsty for more of Christ. The more I get into His Word, the more I need to be in His Word. I long to commune with Him and serve Him.
I believe changing the way we “do church” isn’t a bad thing depending on ones understanding of the church. If one believes the church is a building then that should change. The Church is the bride of Christ. It is you and me and He is coming back for us. Not for a building.
I’m not arguing, I think you have good and valid points. I also believe we have to be salt and light. I believe we have to reflect Christ in word and deed as individuals. That will draw people to Christ. It isn’t about bringing people into a building, it is about having something others see that is different than what the world has to offer.
I believe outreach is important. We had an easter outreach that included games and an egg hunt and ministering to kids who live in a shelter. It is being a touch of Christ that my city may not ever see otherwise. They may come to an egg hunt but not come to church unless and until they see they won’t be judged or condemned. If they come to an egg hunt and we have allowed Christ to touch them just by loving on them, they may come to church. They may hear the redemption message and come to know Him in a personal and real way.
Being the church is about building the kingdom of Christ. I believe this happens in different ways – one may like a church for a certain style of worship – be it hymns or a full band and lively worship. If it draws a person to a deep relationship with the Savior who loves them then who am I to say it is wrong or invalid? Not that there is more than one way to Christ – there is ONLY ONE WAY and that is through Jesus Christ.
Christians spend so much time and energy bashing eachother – their worship style, bible study choices, if the pastor wear jeans or a suit, etc. It just breaks my heart.
Let’s work together to grow the kingdom. To reach people for Christ. To see healing and hope and life come to those who are hopeless.
How great would it be if the church actually got along and didn’t fight over those things that aren’t “deal breakers”?
That’s just my thoughts.
I agree with your premise Edie, but I think you might have misunderstood his meaning. I have grown up in the protestant church my whole life and there are many ‘couldn’t find the book of Acts without the table of contents’ adults out there. They come on Sunday expecting to be spoon fed something that is going to make them feel good. If they aren’t ‘getting fed’ then it’s time to move on to another church. This is the first time I’ve heard the term self-feeding but I see what he means. The shepherd leads the sheep to the green pastures but he doesn’t chew it up and shove it in their mouths. The sheep wander around the pasture filling themselves. A Pastor should be leading the sheep to a field full of good food, ie- challenging sermons, hard core truth not nice feel goodness. We as sheep are responsible to take that message home, chew on it, dig in deeper to God’s word and be responsible for feeding our Spirit man. I agree with the first commenter, we should be thirsty for God’s word, every moment. But the church hasn’t been teaching that. I know people who say they’re hungry as a reason to church hop to a different place. I say, if your hungry, get out your Bible do a little reading. Buy a worship CD and lock yourself in your house for a day or so and seek God’s presence.
I agree that churches that focus only on growing and not training up their new believers is headed for disaster.
And as for relevant, the Word of God is relevant, period. Stick to the truth in God’s Word and you will as relevant as you need. The world isn’t looking for cool, they are looking for truth. If you mask your truth with ‘flash’ and ‘party’ and ‘fit in’ then no one is going to want what you have. Dare to stand up for truth.
Okay, off my soapbox. Thank you for you challenging posts, I love that you give us something to think about.
Hi, Edie. I’m a new follower of your blog. Last week I read an article (Willow Creek Repents? in Christianity Today – 2007) about Bill Hybels and the REVEAL study.
The study showed that although Hybels’ church offered lots of activities for its members, and people participated in these activities, it didn’t guarantee they were growing in their faith.
The article says Hybels realized that “spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, Bible reading, and relationships.”
According to the article, the quote that begins “Our dream…” is by Greg Hawkins, the executive pastor of Willow Creek. The rest of the quote says, “… rethink all our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet.”
It sounds as if they are moving away from trying to be culturally relevant (with all of the programs) and are now teaching believers how to love God and his Word. I think by using the term “self feeders”, Hybels just wants believers to grow in their faith by praying and reading their Bibles, in addition to going to church and attending church activities.
Really enjoyed this post! What a great reminder that only God’s Word and body and blood can bring us true peace and contentment. John is one of my favorites! (Is it ok to have favorites?:)
Kasey Hunt says
This post has really struck a lot of thought in your readers. Good post. I grew up Christian Reformed and later converted and I am now LDS. My Mother in law had a great point about the lds church. I was venting to her that I miss the praise band, and the up beat music. The lds church I attend now is very very reverent and simple. I can respect that. She said, most days people go to church to be entertained. They want to see lights, and bands, and dancing, and a show. She can understand why people may think our sacrament meeting can be “lacking entertainment.” I don’t think our service is boring, just very reverent and respectful. I think Church is a place to worship our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. I come to be spiritually fed. There are times that I just don’t feel like going. But when I come home at some point in the 3 hours we are at church I felt the spirit. It is so important for us though to continue to feed ourselves through out the week. That is awesome you read the scriptures daily. I haven’t for a long time until now. My husband and I started to read scriptures together again, and I can already tell I feel happy, more patient and content. The spirit speaks to me through music. I love all kinds of music. Especially the music that gives me goose bumps! If I want to listen to an up beat song, I crank the radio or put Point of Grace in the cd player. The spirit speaks differently to everybody. I’m not sure if this makes sense, but this is how I feel and hope it is a relevant comment. Have a great day!
I understand what you are saying but I understand the other point, too. I think for so long Christianity was a spectator sport versus active participation. Of course it is the Lord who feeds us but WE have to pick up the Bible and open it up. We make the commitment to read His word. Some Christians feed their bodies 3 hot meals a day and their spirits 1 cold snack a week! WE have to endeavor to read His word, believe His word and act on His word. Thanks for a great post!
Laura W. Smith says
Kasey, Rachel & Stephanie: Amen! Thanks for your comments – I think all three of you articulated my thoughts better than I could! As a long time member of a large church that was one of the first to be modeled after Willow Creek, I admire Bill Hybel's insight and humility in recognizing and longing to correct some of the mistakes these churches have made along the way. I appreciate your post very much Edie, but think you have misunderstood his point.
Thanks to you all for your thoughtful comments. I really do appreciate them. You make me think–and help me to see my own biases at times.
The reason I think the discussion is important is because so many churches follow his model. And essentially it seems to me that having a business plan at all, as a means to grow the church is flawed. Christ has given us the plan. We seem to have abandoned it for what we think are bigger and better methods. If his new movement is a move toward being more Christ-centered, then I am thankful. I do appreciate his humility in releasing the study and in searching for a new direction.
The main question in any 'movement' or program is; is Christ's work on the cross for us at the center? Does it absolutely hinge on the gospel? Or can it stand alone? Does it glorify men or God? Does it obscure the gospel in any way?
And I wonder, have these methods become so pervasive, so part of the woodwork, that we don't even ask the questions anymore?
The other point is that a lot of these churches have so minimized doctrine—-only to be surprised that their members don't know any doctrine. Christ will make disciples if His word is preached and taught….and if His supper is given. What the modern church has often become will in the long run make it easy for people to stay home. The research shows that they are staying home, more and more every year. And though the building is not the church, the assembling together is important—-the gathering of God's people around His Word and sacrament.
And I do agree that there is a sense in which the term self-feeding is correct, I just don't like the term. When I was involved in fundamentalism and in American evangelicalism, I always struggled to 'make myself' do daily devotions. Only to feel guilty when I blew it and missed days and months in a row. Since receiving Word and sacrament—-Christ's feeding of me—-regularly, it doesn't seem like a struggle. I can't seem to get enough. And when I get busy and miss days, I truly miss it. It's not a guilt like I used to feel. It's more a longing to be with someone I've missed. Not because I miss feeding myself, but because I miss His feeding of me. I don't feel the need to keep track anymore—-no more mental gymnastics; "Okay I missed 2 days this week, so I'll double up next week" —only to crumble under the pressure of not measuring up.
He is our Father and as we grow in Him and learn to 'feed ourselves' like little toddlers picking up bites of cheerios, He will cheer us on and be proud of our initiative. But even that is a gift from Him. He provides the food, He provides our desire to have the food. He gives us strength to pick up the food. Call that self-feeding if you want, He probably doesn't even mind. He loves us so much and He knows perfectly who is doing the feeding. But He does all that for the sake of Christ—alone. All bets are off if Christ is not central.
Thanks. I needed that post.
THE Stephanie says
Great response Edie.
The bottom line, as you stated, is that if God is not at the center, all efforts are for naught.
Love your thought provoking posts. 🙂
Laura W. Smith says
Thanks so much for your follow-up Edie. I am the mother of three little ones beginning to pray about the possibility of homeschooling, and was thrilled to stumble across your blog last Friday from Kelly's Corner. You are a wonderful role model for potential homeschoolers, and I appreciate you taking the time to write challenging, thoughtful, and honest posts. Your posts on homeschooling are blessing my socks off right now!
I scanned the other comments, so I apologize if someone else said this, but … I thought that the discussion of self-feeding was based on verses like Hebrews 5:12-14: "In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food. Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil." Also see 1 Corinthians 3:2.
Blessings. : )
Kasey Hunt says
Edie, again great post. Thanks for responding. All the comments were great.
Well, frankly, I don't know who Bill Hybels is, and it doesn't really matter because I'd probably disagree with him anyway!:)
I just stumbled across your blog this weekend from a design blog (about your lovely, lovely kitchen!:) but am truly enjoying reading your more "serious" posts too!
I grew up raised in an evangelical, sometimes a bit fundamentalist church-going family. I too truly loved Jesus, but never felt comfortable in most churches; often because they did try to fit the church into the world. with so many activities and groups, and the minute the pastor started getting dull, or worse, too focused on any one specific point of the Bible, either we or the pastor would be off to the next church. There was no stability. Sure, I was involved in youth groups and did 24-hour fasts/slumber parties for missions, and worked in the nursery, but my relationship with Jesus didn't grow. It stayed in infancy form.
It was only through personal growth, study of the Bible and reading the early Church fathers (because I figured, if I'm searching for a church to belong in, why not read the works of those who "built" the church that Jesus instructed to be built. Those closest to the beginning of Christ's church.) Reading the early church fathers opened up my mind on certain verses (specifically the one you quote from John. John is also my favorite disciple as well!:) and I read it and re-read it and read about it more and more. I realized that Jesus was speaking literally. The earliest church fathers took him literally – thus transubstantiation.
What an eye-opener for me!
That study led me to other orthodox writers, to C.S. Lewis, Chesterton, and suddenly I found myself joining the Catholic church (much to my shock!:)
My life is so much richer now. Word and sacraments. From that, the Lord leads us.
Thank you for a lovely, well-thought, well-written post! I look forward to more reading and "getting to know you" through your blog!
Hello Edie. I realize this is a older post of yours, but God seems to be leading me to more and more people who feel the same way we do.
My family recently left organized religion behind and sought Christ on His terms and we sought the Holy Spirit to be our teacher. We found wonderful home groups that believe the same and we are growing immensely now. Our personal Bible study times have flourished. No more spoon fed sermons. No more denominations. Just us and Christ our Lord. It's been amazing!