If you talk to five Christians, at least one of them will probably have a story about leaving a church. (The statistic might be higher than that, but that’s the best I can do with just making stuff up.) The reasons for this are many: moving, getting mad, not liking the new preacher. Some of the reasons seem less credible at first brush, some of them are great reasons. Sometimes God just moves us and we don’t know why.
One thing I’ve heard is this: “We left because we just weren’t being fed.” That’s kind of pseudo-spiritual language that means this: “We were looking for something, and it wasn’t being presented to us.”
Once when I heard this, it was from someone who decided to totally abandon their faith. Another time, it was from someone who just went to another church. I don’t think there’s an underlying theme, other than this: we probably all feel like that sometimes. Maybe the preacher just isn’t hitting our numbers. Maybe we think the Bible study is too shallow, or maybe it just doesn’t deal with a subject that seems important. Whatever the case, we feel disengaged.
In that moment, it’s important to realize something: while the church is the body of Christ, it is not McDonald’s. You don’t roll in, find exactly what you want, and go home every week feeling full and satisfied. Some days, you may show up and leave feeling even more empty than before. The temptation is to blame our spiritual leaders in that moment. “If he was more plugged in to my world, he’d be able to say the things I need to hear.”
But then we read stuff like this:
Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.
— Ephesians 4
Kind of inconvenient, isn’t it? Because there’s no exception made there. “Be humble and gentle… unless you’re mad.” Not said. “Be patient, unless you’ve been feeling restless.” Not there either.
Here’s my confession: the times when I’ve felt dry and far from God, I can almost always chart a parallel path of laziness in my personal study. There are more resources from more authors and speakers than we could take in if we lived ten lifetimes, but we don’t use them. We could find a book on virtually any topic in the faith world, read it and take charge of our own faith. So why don’t we? I think, several possibilities…
“I should only study what my church studies.”
Hogwash and tripe. Seriously? You’re afraid you’re going to learn too much about our Creator? If that’s your concern, stop doing the church study and chase something that interests you. If you feel like you aren’t being fed, why keep going back to the same lunch counter?
“I don’t know where to start.”
There’s an honest statement. Could it be that you know too many places to start? I think being in the church too long could give us such familiarity with our own landscape that we think there’s nothing new to learn. How about trying a study that comes from another denomination? We are supposed to be one in the body of Christ, after all. If you’re Baptist, look into something from the Vineyard. If you’re Pentecostal, look into the stuff that the Anglicans do. There are more people doing things than the people in your little hut. Once you get a sense of exactly how small you really are, it will help you understand the amazing establishment which is the Church. By all means, share the experience. If your church is afraid to let you have a Bible study on your own that you invite a few people to, laugh like a maniac and go back to reading the Bible.
“I’m afraid I will choose the wrong thing, because I’m not a spiritual leader. That could harm my faith.”
Don’t. Be. Afraid. If you think you’re reading a kook, stop reading it. Read something else. Don’t let that stop your will to try. Taking great risk brings the greatest reward. Just don’t take stupid risks.
“I don’t have time to study on my own and _____.”
Probably because you have too many distractions. Make a list of what’s important. (Hint: Put God first.) Go backwards from there. Let God guide your making of the list. The stuff that makes the list at the end gets knocked off the list. Now you have time to do the important stuff.
“I don’t know what I believe, I feel that dry. How do I know what to study?”
At this point (or an earlier one), I might recommend something that really opened up my current studies: put hands and feet on it. Instead of reading about compassion, find someone you can show some to. Give to someone else sacrificially. Give till it hurts. Even better, give ’till you know what you believe, that will probably take longer.
Bottom line: being fed is your own responsibility. Your pastor has to worry about all the other people in your church, but they may even be willing to help you come up with your personal struggle. Just don’t monopolize their time. You do, after all, have direct access to the high priest above all creation, and His ideas are always going to be best. Meet Him for real. Accept that you may have missed Him in the past, but don’t beat yourself up about it. He’s dealt with your kind before.
You’re accountable to be a contributing member of the Church. You have gifts and abilities that God will totally use if you can somehow, somewhere, get over yourself.
Oh sorry. I was talking to myself. Were you eavesdropping?