Not being "fed".
Then, again, there's the "halo effect". Now, this is a broad system of cognitive bias where our thoughts, whether good or bad, may influence our impressions of other people, ideals, or organizations. If a person or group is significantly attractive, for example, we may further assume that they are successful, dependable, or possess some other admirable personal attribute. It's also a significant attitude adjuster in survey assessment, especially in determining our personal sway in matters. An example here may be in spiritual evaluations of the American population. When asked about religious preferences, many people will check the "Christian" box even though they are not practicing their faith in any meaningful and measurable way. The "halo effect" causes most of us to portray ourselves in a more sanctified light.
As a pastor for thirty-five years I noticed the "halo effect" when talking to people about their church commitments. On many occasions I would express my care and concern for those whose attendance or participation had declined over a period of time. Those indications aren't the whole of anyone's spiritual reality. But, they are often preliminary clues to the growing drop out rate among believers. One of the most prevalent answers has been "we are not being fed" in their small group, discipleship cohort, Bible study fellowship, or worship service. Usually, after some discussion and reflection, their answer could best be attributed to the "halo effect". They have to view themselves and their families is the best spiritual light. So, it's the blame game, the oldest human excuse system. Many people leave churches because they are "not being fed".
Gentle probing usually brings clarity to the "not being fed" reason for changing churches or dropping out of one. These reflections usually engage the following determinations or questions about one's spiritual life----
1. Is the Bible being taught in your group or from the pulpit?
2. Have other interests or entanglements hindered the Bible study function?
3. Do you attend and actively participate on a regular basis?
4. Are you connected to the people in your group beyond your regular meetings?
5. Does the make-up of your class or group provide sharing real life experiences?
Of course there are numerous factors that influence the group dynamics of any spiritual gathering. But, these five usually focus the discussion on those that seem to be the hallmarks of declining involvements. And, questions 1 and 2 are primary. You see, being spiritually "fed" is about the nourishment we receive in God's Word and the other relational aspects defined by Scripture. Very often the "not being fed" reason for church or group drop out is, in all reality, the "halo effect". According to Jesus, if the Word of God is the genuine basis for church or group activity, the "being fed" element indicates trouble with the soil of an individual heart and not the seed being sown in the class room, group meeting, or church.
The teaching generally known as the Parable of the Sower (see Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:1-15) identifies the types of soil in which an individual receives the Word of God. The outcome of the teaching affirms the reliability and sanctity of Scripture when received by the well-prepared heart. When someone is not being "fed" spiritually, the first questions should always be numbers 1 and 2 above, and finally a determination of whether or not the soil has been properly prepared to receive it. Jesus clarified this truth when he said---
As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and
understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in
another sixty, and in another thirty.
Matthew 13: 23, ESV
Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a
crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.
Mark 4:20, ESV
But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear
the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
Luke 8:15, ESV
So, there are at least two primary components to being spiritually "fed". One is the faithful and accurate teaching of God's Word. The other is the heart or soil that is prepared to hear it, understand and accept it, and persevere in it.
"Not being fed" could also indicate the absence of emotional nourishment in those attending a spiritual group or church. Recently I've been impressed to read and study the "one another" passages of the New Testament again. They are so instructive in the relational interaction that should define believer's connections to other believers. If the Bible is being taught in a group and the spiritual food is being received and accepted, the "not being fed" elements of group life may be addressed by personal application of the 59 "one another" passages. To review them, click here.
Groups can veer and sway from consistent Bible teaching. This can be a problem in our diverse entitlement culture where so many interests can determine what happens in a class or cohort. But, if the Bible is effectively taught, and the other group dynamics are distinctly Bible oriented, the "not being fed" may actually be a soil problem.
And, that's a point of consideration and prayer for people whose church or group participation is on the wane because they are "not being fed".
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