The reasons people leave churches today are as diverse as the number of churches in your city. Sometimes it’s a relational conflict, a doctrinal issue, a job transfer, an unmet need, or a style or preference. But there’s one reason that seems to surface perhaps more than any other: “I’m just not being fed.”
Most pastors take offense to the “I’m not being fed” excuse because it’s perceived as an indictment on their teaching. It’s usually interpreted as, “You’re not good enough, so I’m going to find someone whose a better teacher than you.” Even the most graceful response is accompanied with a sting.
So how should we respond when we hear someone say, “I’m just not being fed?” Do we simply write off these members of our congregation or worse, judge them as unfaithful, uncommitted, and irresponsible? Being a pastor myself, let me challenge you to ask yourself seven questions rather than casting stones.
1. Am I Growing Me?
It’s no secret that you can’t give what you do not have. That’s why an aggressive learning posture is so crucial if you’re a communicator. Pastors who don’t grow consistently, intentionally, deeply, and strategically simply run out of stuff to say. People declare, “I’m not being fed” because they’ve reached the bottom of their pastor’s personal growth reservoir. Your personal growth reservoir is more than a content reservoir. If all of your growth efforts are nothing more than a quest for another sermon outline or a fresh illustration, you’ll quickly move into survival mode. The question isn’t, “Am I growing my sermon pool?” but rather, “Am I growing me?”
2. Am I Equipping and Resourcing People?
When people say “I’m not being fed,” the default response of many pastors is, “Then feed yourself.” I know because I’m guilty. It’s especially easy to say because we live in a consumeristic culture. So if you really believe it’s the responsibility of people to “feed themselves,” then let me ask you this: have you equipped and resourced your congregation to grow themselves? You wouldn’t expect an infant to feed themselves, but we do just that in the church when we don’t challenge and equip people. What training, resources, mentoring, and tools can you put into the hands of people to help them become self-feeders?
3. Does my Pace Exceed my Preparation?
The third question to consider is connected to your schedule. Are you functioning at an unsustainable pace as you burn the wick at both ends. Do you need to recruit more volunteers or staff, delegate more responsibility, or clarify your priorities? What are you doing that you shouldn’t be doing? It’s possible that people aren’t being fed because you aren’t allocating the necessary time to prepare a good meal. People can’t survive on fast food for every meal. When our schedules are unsustainable, we usually cut corners in our sermon preparation. Everyone but us notices.
4. Are My Expectations Unrealistic?
You might be an excellent Bible expositor with highly refined communication skills, but you still won’t connect with everyone. Nobody is that good. If your expectations are unrealistic, you’ll constantly live under guilt and condemnation. That’s not healthy for you, and if not dealt with, it will rob your joy and deteriorate your relationships.
5. Do People Need a Fresh Voice?
Most of us tend to overvalue our communication. I’m not suggesting that a pastor doesn’t have a responsibility to regularly teach and feed the people God has entrusted to his care. But sometimes we limit growth in others because we limit who they hear from. If you had to eat the same chef’s meals every day, you’d get burned out. The same thing happens in the church. People need to hear fresh voices. Not only does this benefit them, it benefits you too. It gives you the opportunity to decompress, recharge, and improve your message preparation.
6. Am I Really Feeding the Sheep?
I know this question sounds a bit ridiculous. After all, if you’re preparing sermons and speaking every week, doesn’t it make sense that you’re feeding the sheep? Well, maybe not. Jesus told Peter repeatedly to feed his sheep. If our job as pastors is to feed the sheep, and then somebody says, “I’m just not being fed,” what does that say about us? Perhaps we need to take our calling to feed the sheep more seriously. Perhaps we need to allocate more time to our messages, discipline ourselves to dig deeper in Scripture, or learn how to communicate truth more effectively. If you don’t experience a God moment, a personal “ah-ha” moment, or a deeply challenging encounter in your sermon preparation, what makes you think anybody else will? Are you really feeding the sheep, or are you throwing them scraps from the table?
7. Do I Bless Transitions?
I’m always puzzled at how difficult pastors make it for people to leave their church (as if it’s really “their” church). When a person isn’t being fed (or feels as though they’re not being fed) be supportive of their decision to leave. A pastor friend of mine advocates the grocery store test. If you can’t say hello to a former church member the next time you see them at the grocery store, then you probably didn’t allow them to transition gracefully. If you have to walk down another aisle to avoid seeing or talking to them, then you might be living with some guilt about how you treated them. Believe it or not, them leaving “because they’re not being fed” might actually be a good thing. This was reinforced when I read a book about discipleship. The research in the book actually pointed to increased growth in people who left one church to attend another. As pastors, we hate to admit that someone might actually grow more if they would leave our church. Learn to let go. If your goal is to help people grow, does it really matter if it’s at “your” church or someone else’s? Bless people when they make a transition.
Question: How do you respond when people say, “I’m just not being fed?” Which of the seven responses is most challenging to you?