In my last post I addressed a difficult topic for pastors: “I’m Just Not Being Fed”: How to Respond as a Pastor. I offered seven suggestion to help pastors navigate their response from people who leave a church because they don’t feel like they’re being fed. Today I’d like to approach the subject from the other side of the equation: How to respond as a lay person.
Admitting that “I’m just not being fed” isn’t always easy. A discontent, or even disconnect, often settles in as we feel disengaged from our church or pastor. The truth is most people have these feelings at some point in the life of their church. So how do you respond? Here are six questions to ask yourself as you navigate this journey.
1. Are my Expectations of my Pastor Unrealistic?
One of the challenges pastors face is leading the church to fulfill its God-given mission while providing appropriate care for the congregation. It’s very easy in our me-centered, consumeristic culture to believe that pastors need to “meet my needs.” While Scripture certainly addresses the importance of caring for people in the body of Christ, it also provides a pretty clear picture of a pastor’s role. Pastors are to equip people for works service (Ephesians 4:11-13). Quality equipping can only happen if pastors have the freedom to delegate perceived expectations. In Exodus 18, Moses delegated everything but teaching, leading, and developing leaders. In the book of Acts, the disciples delegated the distribution of food to the widows so they could “give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” The result was that the needs of the widows were met, God’s Word spread, and the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly (Acts 6:1-7). If we expect our pastors to take care of our needs, then perhaps our expectations are unrealistic. The unintended consequence is the inability to adequately feed the sheep. Do an honest assessment of what you really expect from your pastor. Does it line up with Scripture? Then ponder this question: Who do I expect to meet my needs?
2. Am I Taking Ownership of my Spiritual Growth?
As I mentioned in my first post, pastors often respond to “I’m just not being fed” by saying, “Then feed yourself.” Pastors have to guard their hearts from becoming cynical. At the same time, all of us have to take ownership of our spiritual growth. Pastors cannot grow for you; they can only create environments conducive to growth. The Reveal Study (an extensive research effort conducted by the Willow Creek Association that includes responses from over 450,000 people, and was conducted by an expert research team using quantitative and qualitative research methods) discovered that 25% of Christ followers are “stalled” in their spiritual growth or are “dissatisfied” with their church’s role in their spiritual growth. These segments are considerably more likely to leave their church. They most commonly voice complaints about the lack of in-depth teaching, connecting opportunities, and serving options. Willow’s research discovered a clear connection between the stalled/dissatisfied and their lack of commitment to own their spiritual growth. They further discovered that the “stalled” segments reported much lower levels of personal spiritual practices. In an average congregation, 10% of the people are “dissatisfied.” If you are feeling stalled or dissatisfied, Reveal’s research encourages you to develop a spiritual growth plan, pursue higher levels of accountability, and seek out spiritual mentors or coaches. There’s a good chance that your church cannot do these things for you.
3. Am I Confusing “Life Circumstances” or “Lack of Application” with “Not Being Fed?”
Sometimes our “not being fed” response is connected to the circumstances we are facing in life. Difficult trials usually send us looking for answers. If we can’t find those answers at our church, we grow dissatisfied and begin looking elsewhere. Other times we grow dissatisfied because we haven’t recognized the gap between “hearing” and “doing.” In this scenario, we equate “being fed” with increased knowledge rather than personal application. Again, if our goal is spiritual growth, we must transition from being a hearer of God’s Word to being a doer of God’s Word (James 2). As one man said, most of us are educated far beyond our own obedience. While increasing our knowledge is extremely valuable, it’s only as valuable as our willingness to apply what we learn. Transformation (true growth) can only happen with application.
4. Am I Leveraging Resources and Opportunities to Take My Next Step?
Many churches offer valuable resources, classes, small groups, and serving opportunities. These resources and options are great avenues to stimulate growth. If we rely solely on the worship experience for our growth, we’ll likely become dissatisfied. We need relationships (usually found in small groups or peer accountability) as well as places to exercise our gifts (inside and/or outside the church). This doesn’t mean that doing more church activities is always the answer. Reveal’s research showed that involvement in church activities does not predict or drive long-term spiritual growth. The key is to identify the right next step to keep you growing (which may or may not be tied to a church activity). Assess your spiritual growth and then identify the resources and opportunities you can leverage as your next step. Perhaps your next step is connecting or serving. Maybe your next step is to develop a spiritual practice you’ve been avoiding (such as fasting, generosity, or solitude). All of us have a “next step” in our spiritual growth journey. What’s yours?
5. What Does the Pattern of My Life Reveal?
Church hopping isn’t new. As long as there’s more than one local church in your city, people will move. But I would encourage you to examine the pattern of your life before making a transition. How often do you move? Do you take the flavor of the month and then change when the newness wears off? One of the keys to spiritual maturity is to find a community of faith where you can grow closer to Christ and connect with His people. None of us were created for isolation. The only way we can experience true Biblical community is to get rooted in a community. Roots take time to grow. If you bounce from one church to the next every couple of years, you’re not letting your roots grow deep. Before you leave a church because you’re not being fed, reflect on the pattern of your life. Does your life consist of a series of hops? If so, what does this reveal about your spiritual growth and maturity? I’m not talking about job transfers, but rather choosing a church (warts and all) that you believe in, invest in, and commit to. There is no perfect church. And if you have kids, it behooves you to set down roots so their spiritual development isn’t continually interrupted.
6. Is It Time for a Healthy Transition?
You may confidently answer the questions above and still believe God is leading you to make a transition. If that’s you, take the leap. The key is to transition in a healthy way. To make a healthy transition, consider the following. First, determine how to transition out of serving roles in a manner that makes it easier on the leadership. Vacating a role without any warning to your leadership is difficult and even hurtful to the ministry you serve. Use wisdom. Second, are there any time-bound commitments you’ve made that you should honor? What will you do about these commitments? Third, talk with your leadership. Simply disappearing and then complaining that nobody contacted you does not benefit Christ’s Kingdom. Have the courage, and the integrity, to approach your leadership and let them know why you are leaving. Season this conversation with grace, heartfelt thanks, and appreciation. You shouldn’t have to avoid your pastor the next time you see him at the grocery store because you didn’t leave on good terms. Finally, leave quietly. By quietly, I mean leave without creating dissension or division.
Question: What other practical steps can you take when you feel like you’re not being fed?