I first heard the term “self-feeder” at large church I used to attend. It was a term tossed around freely, but never from the pulpit. It was a phrase used as a responsive device, never as an official church stance.
Let me explain.
A person attends for a certain amount of time and begins to develop the desire to grow. With the Sunday morning messages designed for “seekers”, our friend finds very little substance and looks for more. After a season of enduring the pastor’s weekly “sermonette”, our friend becomes frustrated, craving something deeper. They turn to one of the church leaders and complain, “I’m just not getting fed.”
And this is where the pastor trots out the oft-used line:
“Sunday morning isn’t all about you, you know. You need to learn to become a self-feeder.”
(Disclaimer: Some churchgoers make the “not being fed” statement out of a consumer-driven mentality which believes that the church and the pastor exist to entertain and inspire them, and then send them on their way until next Sunday, having done nothing to further their relationship with God during the week. These are not the folks of whom I speak.)
Instead, what we have is a genuine believer who is demonstrating signs that the Holy Spirit is moving in them and God is drawing them. What does the church do with this person?
Answer: They encourage them to start serving!
By capitalizing on their new-found zeal for Christ, the church immediately puts them to work. Now our friend is motivated to pour himself into ministry while redirected to find spiritual nourishment elsewhere. In the end, you have a spiritually-stunted, zealous worker who survives more on the pastor’s words and little on the Lord’s Word. Tragically, this sort of thing happens every week in churches around the country.
Is this what Christ desires for His church? Are believers supposed to cast off every desire to be taught (fed) in favor of serving the mission?
The verses on this topic are plentiful so we’ll look at a few shining examples.
1. Matthew 28:19-20
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”
The Great Commission is not simply “telling people about Jesus”; it’s about “making disciples” (v. 19a). The word disciple means “learner”. So, Jesus wants the church to “create learners” who will be taught “to observe all that I have commanded you.” (v. 20)
In Acts 8, Philip the Evangelist meets the Ethiopian eunuch and asks him if he understands the passage from Isaiah that he’s reading aloud. The Ethiopian responds, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” (v. 31)
So what did Philip do? “And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.” (v. 35)
2. Luke 24:13-35
Jesus demonstrates the expository nature of this kind of “feeding” when He encounters two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
“And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” (v. 27)
However, some might see these passages as explaining discipleship rather than a Sunday service type environment. Consider the apostle Paul’s ultimate desire for the church:
3. Colossians 1:9-10
“For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
So Paul’s desire (and God’s desire) was for a fully matured body of people who pursued God with all their hearts. But the question remains, who’s job is this? Is it the work of the pastor? Or, are the individual believers on the hook to learn to become “self-feeders”?
4. John 21:15-17
After His Resurrection, Jesus meets up with His disciples for breakfast. In His interchange with Peter, the Lord not only restores him from his sin of denying Him, but He also charges Peter with a serious task.
“Tend My lambs.” (v. 15)
“Shepherd My sheep.” (v. 16)
“Tend My sheep.” (v. 17)
Three times Jesus commands Peter to feed His flock, that is, His church. And Peter would not forget this sacred charge.
“Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder… shepherd the flock of God among you.” (1 Peter 5:1-2)
Invariably, there is always the question, “yeah, but isn’t the pastor to evangelize the lost? Minister to seekers?” Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:11-16 that the role of pastors is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.”
The pastor feeds. The body works. God accomplishes.
At the risk of a run-on article, I will refrain from exploring more verses. But I would respectfully argue that in our attempt to navigate the landscape of the modern American church, our job as pastors is to feed our people. In fact, failure to do so is disobedience and a shirking of the pastoral call.
Will people grow and learn to graze carefully through the Word of God? YES!
But until they do, we hear the voice of Jesus commanding, “Tend My lambs, Shepherd My sheep, Tend My sheep.”