Bishop's Message

Feeding and leaving: A view from the other side

Nov 2005    

THE main complaint I hear from people who have left their own church for another is that, “I wasn’t getting fed.” Generally, I suppose this is code for “lousy sermons”.

But is “feeding” only about sermons? Are poor sermons enough reason to leave a church? NO!

Firstly, the primary reason for going to church on Sunday is to worship God; we go as a people to glorify our Creator together. The focus is on God. We don’t go to church just to “get fed”. People who leave because they claim they are not getting fed have turned the focus from God onto themselves! “This church isn’t a place where God is glorified” – now that’s a valid reason for leaving!

Secondly, if you are at home and you are hungry, what do you do? You probably would go to the fridge and raid it! Or you could make some instant noodles, go order a pizza or KFC in, or even go out to a nearby hawker centre.

At least that’s what adults would do. Adults would never cry, “I am not getting fed! So I am leaving home! I am going to live somewhere else!” Adults can find food for themselves.

Only babies need someone to spoon-feed them. You may be a babe in Christ, but you are an adult physically. If you don’t like the sermons, go read a book yourself! Go attend a Bible class, or join the DISCIPLE programme. If you depend only on sermons for “feeding”,are you content with less than an hour’s worth of food a week?

Even if sermons are bad, Mark Twain I think it was who once said, “I never let school get in the way of education.” Search the Bible for yourself! I think you should also never let sermons get in the way of worship and Christian growth. We can worship and grow with good pastors, we can worship and grow in spite of poor pastors. The way I see it, the root of the problem is two-fold: a lack of commitment, and a supermarket approach to Christianity. We no longer see the church as a family, but as just one of many Sunday-morning experiences available. It is no longer about corporate worship, but what I can get out of the service. If I don’t get what I want, I go somewhere else.

Our Methodist Discipline tells us that when people unite with a local church, they make a covenant together to confess Jesus as Lord, to profess the Christian faith, to live the Christian life, “and to be loyal to The Methodist Church and uphold it by their prayers, their presence, their gifts and their service”.

Methodists are bound not only to pray for the church, to support it by giving and service, but also to actually be present in church. People who realise that something is wrong in the church should try to work together as a family and put things right, instead of running away.

Imagine you are on a ship making a long voyage, and it springs a leak. Maybe the captain is drunk. Wouldn’t you pitch in to plug the leak, sober up the captain, and help put the ship back on course? Or are you the rat that leaves the sinking ship? I salute the people who are unhappy with their pastors but stick it out in the family through thick and thin.

YES, I know congregations have expectations about pastors and membership in church. Certainly, people should find a church they are comfortable with. God gave us so many churches so that there would be room for everybody.

But once you are united in membership, fulfil your vows. Don’t leave a church just because of poor sermons.Ultimately, I believe congregations get the pastors and leaders they deserve.

By that I mean pastors and leaders turn out the way they are because congregations allow them to.

What kind of pastors do you think you would get if congregations pray regularly for them, encourage and support them, give them honest and critical feedback on sermons and leadership, praise when it was due, and admonitions where deserved, and hold the pastors accountable for their own walk with God? I bet you would get real good pastors.

What if a congregation closes an eye to the pastors’ faults and instead speaks disparagingly of them behind their backs, neither prays for these pastors nor confronts lovingly over disagreeable sermons and teachings? Will the pastors grow or degenerate? It will be a selffulfilling prophecy: you have programmed the pastors for failure.

So I guess congregations also get the sermons and the feeding they deserve.

The Rev Chiang Ming Shun, a member of the Methodist Message Editorial Board, is the Pastor of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.

SUPERMARKET APPROACH

‘I think you should also never let sermons get in the way of worship and Christian growth … The way I see it, the root of the problem is two-fold: a lack of commitment, and a supermarket approach to Christianity. We no longer see the church as a family, but as just one of many Sunday-morning experiences available. It is no longer about corporate worship, but what I can get out of the service. If I don’t get what I want, I go somewhere else.’

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