Milk, Meat and the Malnourished Church

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Is the American Church malnourished? And if so, is it the pastor's fault?

One of the greatest critiques of the American Church today is it’s malnourished.

Some would even say it’s our most pressing problem.

When most people voice this complaint, the focus is on the worship experience. 

From people who leave these churches, you hear, “I wasn’t getting fed.”

Or, “I just want some deeper teaching.”

From people outside these churches you hear, “Too much milk, not enough meat.”

In some cases, I’m sure this is true. But I really don’t think that’s the real problem.

Yes, American Christians are malnourished. But I don’t believe it has anything to do with milk or meat.

Most American Christians aren’t malnourished because of what they’re getting fed on Sunday. They’re malnourished because they don’t feed themselves Monday through Saturday.

So you had filet mignon on Sunday and learned about the mystical union of Christ and the church as it relates to the rapture and the design of the tabernacle in relation to Levitical dietary laws as understood by the Council of Trent.

Good for you.

Have fun starving yourself the rest of the week and letting your pastor read the Bible so you don’t have to.

So you had some milk on Sunday and learned 37 ways to ________. Have fun having 37 new ways to not obey God during the coming week.

The crisis facing the church today isn’t what people are getting fed on Sundays.

It’s what they’re not feeding themselves the rest of the days.

Who really cares whether you consume meat or milk on Sunday if it’s the only meal you have all week?

I’m not saying this to get pastors and churches off the hook.

It is the shepherd’s job to feed the sheep (John 21). And feed them well based on their needs and faith development.

Steven Furtick Steven Furtick is the founder and lead pastor of Elevation Church, based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Elevation Church meets at eight locations in the Charlotte area, as well as one location in Toronto, Canada. The church has been named one of the Fastest Growing Churches in America by Outreach Magazine for each of the past six years. Pastor Steven has been privileged to minister to a global audience, speaking at conferences and churches around the world including Catalyst Conference, Hillsong Conference, and the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. He is the author of the New York Times® Best Selling book, "Greater" and the national bestseller "Sun Stand Still". Pastor Steven holds the Master of Divinity degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Holly live in the Charlotte area with their two sons, Elijah and Graham, and daughter, Abbey.

More from Steven Furtick or visit Steven at http://www.stevenfurtick.com

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  • Richard F

    1. Our experience here is London, England is of very poor (legalistic) preaching. This teaches the flock to seek out legalistic angles in their own mid-week study. If the preaching were truly gloriously gospel- soaked (and I mean showing Jesus throughout the OT and NT, rather than just an altar call etc), then the flock would learn to do this too.

    2. I am afraid the responsibility lies with ministers to teach the flock to teach themselves the gospel daily through the week (as Luther said). [As a high school teacher I have always tried to remember that if the kids are not learning, it is essentially my fault, not theirs - idealistic, maybe, but a very healthy place to start from]

    3. People do not ‘allow’ the world to intrude; it is more a question of the world intruding as the light of the gospel grows dim in their eyes. Nobody can fight the dark from the emptiness of his own life (other than legalistically with the guilt that is so often another tool of the enemy). It is the expulsive power of the new affection that makes sin seem the sticky, grubby thing that it is

  • Jenna Haines

    I don’t think we should continually blame it on the people who say they aren’t getting fed. Trust me a person knows when they are starving. In a lot of churches the preaching is so shallow and only is directed to the seeker……it never gets to the heart, there is no anointing, no conviction of sin…..it’s only more of “this is what we need to be doing more of” kind of stuff. Hear the cry of the people. Jesus said “Feed my sheep,” People want an encounter with the Living God! If people had preaching like this I don’t think they would say they aren’t being fed.

    • Paul

      But feeding doesn’t take place once a week and have impact. Study after study has shown that church attendance on Sundays, when the pastor preaches, has little effect on spiritual growth, and where it has the most is in the early stages of spiritual growth.

      What does have impact on growth? Over and over again, it has been shown that it’s personal spiritual disciplines and serving, both in and out of the church. The problem is that we, both church leaders and church members, have created faulty expectations, namely that church attendance and listening to sermons is how people grow. It’s not, it’s by learning, with our help, to feed themselves.

      If you eat a 22oz porterhouse on Sunday, but nothing from Monday to Saturday, you would be starving. And’s that’s your responsibility, not the person who served you the porterhouse on Sunday.

      • Ryan

        I am the utter most exact opposite of your explaination of ‘church attendence and listening to sermons is how people grow’. I highly value my relationship with Father God, praying, talking to Him daily and often sometimes throughout the day. I have ups and downs with bible reading but on an up now again with spending time reading His word, listening for Him to speak. I have not been attending church at all for the last 2 1/2 years. Although I’m on this spurt of listening to downloaded sermons at work when I’m able to listen while I work, I’m self fed, unprocessed bible. I’ve had a relationship with God outside of church since my early teens and just never lost it even though I had a time away from church in my late teens, early 20’s. I did go back till recently here… too many things to explain here. We’ll call it a time of ‘pruning’ like in John 15. I had enough of the weekly ‘production’. to last a lifetime… mostly from working it but found I just couldn’t sit though it any more either. I’m still bulking at going back even though I found a good place I could go. God made a rather harsh complaint about the hearts of people of His church a few nights ago in Spirit while reading Ezekiel chaper 1 after talking intensly to God about going back to this church I found. People are just going to go, out of habit and or because they feel they are suppose to like its some kind of command so there is just no heart in it. This is unacceptible to God. God is not even listening to people’s prayers. You know how it is. You get asked to pray in church so you just think of something and just say the words… pray just to pray. I got the sence that God is ok with me not going as of now. If God knows I just won’t have the heart for it, what would be the point of going to church? God is not concered about where we are, physically. It’s a matter of the heart… always.

  • Roy

    Much is being said about “food”, but little about assimilating/using the nourishment. Hebrews makes it clear that we must have our senses exercised by using them. Too many stuff themselves but never exercise….never share Jesus with others. No wonder we are not turning the world upside down for Jesus. It seems we are not following in the footsteps of Jesus……”Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.”

    Pastors, please take the lead in sharing Jesus one-on-one and then share those encounters with your people. Jesus told the disciples they would receive power for ONE reason, to be witnesses. Where have all the witnesses gone?

  • Keith

    The job of the pastor is feed the sheep. If they are malnourished I’d begin by looking at what is being preached. Furtick has a gift of taking a passage about God and turning it into a stor about himself. It’s not surprising that he’d write this article claiming its not his fault that his flock is starving.

  • Hal

    Lots of good comments to a stirring question. But I must repeat. How long has it been since you taught continually through one book of the Bible and abandoned the 3 of theses and the 5 of those? Most people have no clue what the book of Acts is about and they may never hear it taught.

  • Carnivore

    ” . . . and the Pharisee said doot-doo-doot, ta doot, doot da doot, doot da doot da doot doot da doo . . . .” (All truth and no grace,eh? How’s that workin’ for ya?)

  • Reginald Taylor

    I agree with you Linda. That is a reality. There is also the scenario when a Pastor assesses that the overwhelming majority of their congregation are not feeding themselves; are fine with repetitive lukewarm feel-good “God is great” messages…..then the Pastor does the unthinkable and adjust to the congregation that is satisfied with milk, by not studying and preparing themselves during the week; since they already know 1001 ways to serve milk.

    You can usually tell this when a Pastor talks about how he or she did all this studying all week and God gave them something different as they were coming to church for Sunday worship service. Now there is nothing wrong with following the leading of the Spirit when He changes direction; in fact it is a commendable thing for a leader to follow the Holy Spirit, but when that “new” message is eerily similar to the same message from two weeks ago, you know the Spirit is being used as a scapegoat for an unprepared Pastor that is slowly losing reverence for the honor and privileged calling to follow Jesus’ request to “tend My sheep” and “feed My sheep”.

    Feeding the sheep is filling them with the perfectly prepared and seasoned Word of God; not to impress them, but that it may make in impact in their hearts and their lives. Tending the sheep is actually caring for and providing the life needs, the pruning and grooming needs of the sheep. There is a reason why Jesus save these similar sounding; yet distinctly different different commands to Peter.

  • Peter Mahoney

    This statement presupposes that the Sunday morning worship experience is for the consumer. Worship gatherings are intended to be just that, God’s people gathering for the purpose of worship… not self or consuming more Bible data that I’m not going to apply to my life and be transformed by. No… worship is to be God centered and gospel driven.

    When the focus becomes me and what I gain, I am already of track. At least part of the answer is to consume a well balanced diet of God’s Word, both milk and meat. Some I will get from gatherings (small and large) but the a good portion will come from my own investment of time with God.

    The church was never intended to be a feeding trough for the masses, it was intended to be a equipping place so that the saints do the WORK of the ministry. You want more? You want to go deeper? It’s been said, “You’re only as deep as the last person you’ve served.”

    As a pastor, if I never hear “great message, pastor” ever again, that would be fine so long as what God gives me to give away is being applied to daily life. That will be thanks enough. Most of us know more “Bible” now than we’ll ever be obedient to… consuming more won’t solve our hunger… living our faith in obedience will satisfy more.

  • humbleone

    Your relationship with God is the most important of all.We are here to please God.He has already taught you how when He made you in the womb.Now go and do it.Hallelujah.

  • DMA

    Totally agree!

  • Angel

    It has something to do with giving more value on the feelings of worshiper through the song as we called it praise & worship than receiving the strong deliberation of the messages from the word of God. We should remember that the word of God is the food of our soul, not the music, although it is part of worship service.
    4:4 / John 4:24/ Ephesians 4: 11 to 16

  • Richard UK

    I think you ARE letting ministers off the hook here.

    If they serve up milk on a Sunday, that is all a congregation will expect from its own mid-week study. And feeding meat does not mean checking the measurements of the Temple UNLESS that also means that the wonder of those measurements is communicated so that the congregation expect to find wonder in all they then are eager to read mid-week.

    What you described as meat is really army rations, wholesome but indigestible in itself, yet life-giving when water is added – the water that brings a passage to life BY showing us Jesus in all and over all. and that doesn’t mean the minister showing us his passion; which is often off-putting if not matched by the content of his sermon

    When you hear/taste meat, it is much easier to spot the counterfeits.

    If a minister does not understand the passage by Sunday, he should say so and then proceed to explain what he does know. He might be surprised at what the Holy Spirit might do in response to that humility.

    We pay a man a weekly wage NOT to go round having tea and kissing babies (‘every member ministry’ can do that). We pay him to study, pray, and study more to unearth bible gold. If he can’t do that, then sadly – as in secular jobs – he is not fit for purpose. We seem to think that once a man wants to be a minster, then that must be his calling and that God must be blessing him even if we cannot see it.

    i would like to have been an astronaut but according to the job spec, I was not fit for purpose. So I did something else

    Sorry

    • Old Pastor New Church

      While you air some concerning thoughts, I really think he point of the article is to challenge the members to invest in more than a once per week experience in worship and hearing of the gospel.

    • Dave Ekstrom

      Amen, Richard. People desire what they develop a taste for. The pastor must model a love for God’s word. His sermons should come straight from the book. Our Sunday Schools, for years, were gutted of content. And frankly, our small groups are more touchy-feely than teaching the Word of God. This incessant search for “relevence” in our preaching has relegated the Bible to be just another self-help book. We have even dumbed down our seminaries, reducing requirements for study in original languages. I’m older now and remember the local church of my youth where all the leaders had a strong knowledge of Scripture. Even though my parents were not Christians and, sadly, I didn’t read the Bible during the week, as a young child I knew the Bible better than many adults do today. Today’s Christian ed people would say the teaching was irrelevant. I say it created in me a love for the Bible that didn’t surface until many years later. I can’t get enough Bible today. That didn’t happen by accident. My local church made it happen. And so, I agree. Don’t let the pastors and the church leadership off the hook on this one.

      • Leon

        Even if a pastor preaches with clarity, boldness and truth, we still must remember that the individual member(s) are free moral agents. They still must decide to do something with the message and take responsibility for their spiritual lives. (I don’t think pastors want off of the hook, so to speak. I think they want their members to bring their lives into obedience to what they are hearing (and hopefully learning in their own study during the week.)

  • Joe Heiliger

    I think this is part of the issue, but I believe the greater issue in the western Church is ignorance about what it means to actually “BE” the Church rather than “DOING” Church. It has been my experience that most people in our culture don’t necessarily need more “knowledge”. They need to be challenged in the context of community to live out their faith WITH one another in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    There is a depth that comes from “Life on Life” experience that cannot be achieved any other way. It is in this context that we learn humility, meekness, and how to “die so that Christ may live”. It’s where we learn that there is something greater than being RIGHT in this life… It’s being FREE!

  • Randy Liewicki

    Great little article, but what the lead pastor only directs the people throughout the week for simple ‘times of sharing’, and no time to discuss or get into the meat of the Word?

  • Ben

    Hi my personal belief is this, too many people don’t want to be accountable for there own action, as individual, I am a building stone that is connected to other building stones by the Holy Spirit. Jesus died for all of us who should believe as individually and corporately that is why He Jesus is a personal Saviour. I know some pastures want to be in total charge of peoples lives because they think they are Gods only anointed
    and the stupid sheep mentality that some people have about them selves allow them selves to be ruled by an iron hand, this goes back to the dark ages where people of that time did not know how to read or write. so they trusted the leaders as many do to day and are getting burned.
    How I pray that the body Of Jesus would study the Bible for them selves to show them approved unto God. The day where the priest or the pasture is held higher than the body of Christ is over. the body Of Christ should be served by the pastures, and not be served. Ben

  • Andrew

    Feed the sheep with the Word. Feed the sheep from the Word on how to meditate on the Word. Call the sheep to repent for not meditating on the Word and praying during the week. Encourage the sheep to ask God for self-control and power from the Spirit to obey His command to meditate on His Word. Pray for the sheep to make progress in His Word. Rebuke, correct, teach, and exhort the sheep to feast on the Word. Explore what temptations and sins keep the sheep from His Word throughout the week. Use the pulpit to do so.

  • Roger Bannister

    The problem, as I have experienced it, is from the pulpit; the only important part of church is what the pastor or worship team does on Sunday. The exception I have seen is Bruxy Cavey’s church where EVERY teaching, he explains the importance of “home” church at least three times. After awhile you get the idea, hey, this Sunday thing isn’t the be all end all, in fact it may not be all that important for meaningful and real life changes at all.
    Further, we come from a heritage when the guy up front was SO important and necessary that they would not even let you read scripture on your own because their infinite wisdom was necessary to hellp guide your thinking. (So much for the necessity of the HS in people’s life – eh?) We have generations of teaching that Sunday is the only important thing and that has come from the people who run Sunday. So, no it is not the fault of the sheep.

  • JeremyLu

    Pretty solid words. It is the job of the sheep to eat, and to nourish themselves when brought to the pasture. Lambs are fed milk because they can’t eat. They get their nourishment from their parents on a daily basis, not once a week. When the shepherd leads the flock to green pastures, he does this on a daily basis as well. We have to get nourishment, spiritual and physical, on a regular basis or we will be sickly and weak. Makes sense to me…

  • Jen Smith

    I agree that there’s a shared responsibility. My ultimate resource for growth is Him as He works in my life. Americans have a lot of resources to foster that growth: readily available printed Bibles, other printed material, web resources and so on. If you need more, for example historical information and for the Biblical events, go get it.

  • Jen Smith

    I agree. It takes work. And sometimes it doesn’t work. My concern with the emphasis on daily reading is the potential for legalism that can leac to (and has) to a sense of spiritual superiority. It seems the ones who get the most from daily routine aren’t always pushing it on others, but they’re living what they learn. Not perfectly, but growing. Personally, daily reading can be dry and I have to look outward for the stimulation: radio & internet resources. Communion with God, that’s important, I think, daily.

  • Jen Smith

    Wow. What a guilt trip you placed on Ryan with a hint of emotional blackmail.

  • Jen Smith

    I am glad you are looking for ways to address it rather than just complain (as we all find easier to do).

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