Many years ago on holiday and we visited the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth. It was a really great day out and I especially enjoyed seeing the sharks. I noticed there were lots of other fish in with the sharks and so I asked one of the members of staff why the sharks didn’t eat the other fish. ‘That’s because we keep them well fed’ was the explanation. Fat, well fed sharks don’t bother to chase fish.
I wonder how much this is a picture of the UK church? We are called to be fishers of people, but I wonder if we’re just overfed and over satisfied? I have had complaints during my ministry on a few occasions that I’m not feeding Christians properly through my preaching. In particular some people don’t like my preaching because I refuse to use long words so that they can feel more knowledgeable about theology.
The preoccupation with being fed by the preaching is sad when you consider it is hardly mentioned in the Bible in comparison to the Kingdom of God or caring for the poor both of which are themes the church can neglect because they require sacrifice. The fat shark issue says a lot about how much consumerism has invaded and consumed the church.
Don’t misunderstand me, church leaders do have a responsibility to feed their congregations spiritually (Acts 20.28). However it is worth noting that the other two New Testament references to feeding people through teaching are both are critical of the people who needed feeding being immature in their faith, see 1 Corinthians 3.2 and Hebrews 5:
12 You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. 13 For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. 14 Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.
‘You ought to be teaching others’. Church leaders have a responsibility to teach and nourish others spiritually so that they can be equipped to teach and nourish others. When someone complains they are not being fed spiritually and they have been a Christian a long time, they are really admitting (and I’m sure this would come as a shock to them) that they are spiritually immature. Notice also the emphasis on the feeding being to help us to know how to live (the difference between right and wrong) not just so that we would know more. The Bible is to help us to know God, to disciple us and to equip us for life. It is not a book of theory to be learnt and dwelt upon without putting it into practice.
Is the Church in the UK full on consumerism? Some people do turn up on Sundays and at other times as customers and leave feeling more bloated spiritually. If the preacher says something people don’t like or that is too challenging we can always switch to a different church. How many of us ask God where he wants us before we join a Church? Or do we just join the one we like best? Or the one that has the best customer service?
If you are a Christian, what sort of Christian are you? Do you want to be comfortable, feel good and just know more or do you want to know more so you can grow in your faith and in turn help feed others to help them grow in their life and faith?
Regarding spiritual feeding, Jesus said ‘My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work.’ (John 4.34). Spiritual nourishment is found in knowing and living by God’s will for our lives which I believe is found in the Bible and through prayer. May we be willing to find God’s will and live by it.
Jesus talked about Peter the fisherman now fishing for people, that instead of catching fish he would now help people to find God. Although we are fishing for people, it’s important to remember the words of Bruce the Shark, ‘Fish are friends not food’.