Years ago Robin Williams starred in the movie “Hook” where he played the part of Peter Pan. He had grown up since we first met the character some decades ago and had forgotten all about his life in Never, Never Land. In one particular scene he is sitting around a banquet table with dozens of children who are all excitedly enjoying a banquet that Peter can’t see. He would love to join them, but the table he sees is covered with empty platters. The Lost Boys are all exclaiming how wonderful the food tastes as they shovel empty forks into their mouths. Poor Peter is frustrated because he’s hungry and unable to partake in the feast.
Church can feel like that sometimes… a roomful of people feasting on food that seems to exist only in their imagination. A shared illusion. And to the visitor it can seem either fake or contrived… sending them away in disgust. Believing that there just is no There, there. Believing that church is a waste of time. Or worse, believing that they have just witnessed a close encounter with God and walked away Empty. Hungry. Discouraged. Bored. Disenchanted.
We have created a dilemma. In a church service like that, the observer either has to join in the imaginary feast and pretend they received their fill, or they must suffer feeling alienated because they somehow weren’t able to see what everyone else seemed to see. They may conclude that they are somehow lacking in discernment. Thinking perhaps they just don’t have “eyes to see”.
I have met a lot of Christians who told me they weren’t growing or weren’t “being fed”, or they weren’t getting anything out of the messages at their church. Why? Did they have a really boring pastor? Were they putting any effort into learning and growing? Did they expect to be spoon fed? What was really going on? What needs aren’t being met? Fed what? It can’t be Scripture because they own the same Bible their pastor does and they can read it anytime they want to. It isn’t Sunday school or a small group because those are easy to find and join any day of the week. Fed what? What exactly are they hungry for?
When you’ve committed your life to Christ and faithfully attend services every week, how is it possible to still feel empty? How is it possible to still feel so far away from God? Why do so many leave church feeling like they are still missing something?
No one has a true heart-to-heart with the Spirit of God and walks away hungry.
I’ve come to believe this is what’s missing for a lot of Christians. Church leaders are often more concerned with getting people to commit to their church than they are in fostering the disciplines that lead us to have an ongoing, dynamic and authentic heart-to-heart experience with Jesus Christ. This practice has left us, as a community, anemic and hungry for more. We’ve been conditioned to believe that our church has a program to meet our every need for Spiritual growth but it doesn’t. Truly, one can go his or her entire life attending a church but never experiencing God. Because our Spiritual growth isn’t programmed – it’s pursued.
“I grew up in a Christian home. I grew up with a mom and dad who loved Jesus. I grew up in a church and for whatever reason what I perceived to be Christianity was very hollow to me. I walked away from what I considered to be the faith at that time. The reason I make that distinction is because what I think I rejected wasn’t Christianity. I think I rejected a form of moralism that had a Christian veneer on it.” Pastor David Ritchie, Redeemer Covenant Church, Amarillo, TX
If you’re wondering how long it’s been since you last felt truly engaged with the Holy Spirit during a church service…it’s been too long.
Each one of us must take responsibility for our relationship with Christ and our spiritual growth and maturity. Only then will we be equipped for the mission given us more than 2000 years ago. It isn’t enough to go to church. It isn’t enough to know that your pastor uses the Bible. It isn’t enough to go to Sunday school or belong to a Small Group.
If you are a Christian then your walk with God is meant to change you more and more into the likeness of His Son. If you can’t honestly say that you are more like Jesus this year than you were last year that’s a problem. Do not be content with a stalled-out spiritual journey. If you’re not growing -you’re not on mission.
We must not be content with simply attending church. We must stop evaluating our churches by the bells and whistles. Programs will never make us stronger Christians. Commitment to having a dynamic, personal relationship with our Living God will make us stronger Christians and turn us into the kind of people who draw others to the cross. We have to stop looking to things outside of us to cause our inward changes.
A lot of times we go looking for a church when we don’t know what we ought to be looking for. If I can answer in the negative, what you don’t show up looking for is ‘will they babysit my kids? Will they entertain my students? Do they sing the type of music I like?’ We are not consumers shopping for products that we want… If you come shopping you’re totally missing it because when you do join a church the intention is that God has you connected to a Body. You’re a part of that Body. You’re a body part and you exist there to function for the good of the body… Don’t ask, “Am I finding what I’m looking for here?” Ask, “Am I finding a place where God wants me to serve? God has wired me up so I can fulfill a specific purpose for His body somewhere. Is that here?” God is calling you to be a member who serves, not a person who just receives. Pastor Andy Hale, First Baptist Church, Mt. Juliet, TN
Christian, if I succeed at anything, I pray it is this; that you would know that your life and how you live it as a disciple of Jesus Christ is your testimony to the world about Christianity. What does your life tell your family and friends about the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ and the transforming power of His Holy Spirit? Your Spiritual growth is in your hands. Our faith is being marginalized more and more every day in our nation. We have no one to blame but ourselves. We demanded an amenities based church with something “fun and engaging for every member of the family” rather than a spiritually rich experience that leads us to meaningful growth. But we can turn it back around. We can become something new in Christ today.
In His love and service,