Over the last couple of years there has been ongoing conversation among leaders in our church and with the pastoral staff about striking a balance between the needs of those among the ranks of “seekers”, nominal Christians, and new Christians in our church and those seeking more substantive discipleship-rich content in preaching and other programming.
This week I had the opportunity to counsel with a member who found herself feeling “left out” and unconnected in worship because, as a rapidly growing, Bible-focused disciple, she is finding few venues within our congregation that are meeting her felt need for spiritual nourishment. She asked whether it was “just her”, or was there a strategic effort on the part of our church to target that 70% or so of the less committed, less hungry, one-hour a week “Christians” (or, as I have tended to call them- “churchians”). I was one that fit that description for the greater part of 26 years, so I feel justified in speaking of that mindset. How, she asked, does she engage meaningfully in worship when the sermon is pablum that she has already thoroughly taken in and digested in years past?
Another member and I listened empathetically to what she felt was her dilemma. She has been going to the internet listening to services from her former church in another community where she was fed more substantive exegetical teaching week in and week out. She seemed to be feeling a little disloyal by doing so.
We talked about what Willowcreek Church’s REVEAL study showed – that as Christians mature spiritually they basically “outgrow” the church’s ability to meet their spiritual nurturing need and they become dissatisfied if, along the way, they do not learn to self feed from multiple sources and engage meaningfully in a different way in Sunday morning worship when the services are, more often than not, geared toward the less demanding end of the spiritual spectrum.
The two of us shared with her how we have had to approach Sunday morning worship as being about worship, hospitality, encouragement, and service to others and not about learning or “being fed”. As another friend puts it, “the sermon is no longer for me. I’m here to worship and to help serve others by being here – providing a warm welcome, engaging them in conversation, helping them feel comfortable singing and responding, etc.” This friend, too, has discovered that a maturing disciple’s time of spiritual nurture is increasingly in the quiet times of personal prayer, study, and meditation or among similarly serious minded friends in the midst of small group community and fellowship. One comes to rely less heavily on the pastor on a regular basis, though there is still a strong loyalty to and connection with one’s pastor. One just comes to see herself more as being in ministry with the pastor and less being ministered to by the pastor on Sunday morning.
Our distressed friend seemed relieved to learn that this is a fairly common hurdle that a growing disciple has to negotiate. She then began to ask how we individually are sustaining our spiritual journeys. We talked about mentoring relationships, reading programs, online opportunities, confidential accountability groups, etc. She felt much better realizing that this was not a problem, but an opportunity – evidence that she is, in fact, moving into a new stage of her Christian life. How I pray that more would get to that place of divine discontent with church and make the leap into a different mindset!