There’s an old saying:
That’s actually a good saying. Roughly translated, it means, “It’s better to teach people how to overcome their trials than to simply meet their immediate needs.” The Book talks about “equipping the saints for works of ministry,” being the primary work of church leaders, not ministering to the saints’ needs.
(A smart aleck has pointed out that if you only teach him to fish, he may starve to death before he gets good enough at fishing to feed himself: I applaud the desire to not ignore the short-term need, but let’s not get off-track here.)
May I speak bluntly? This is a problem with the way we do church in the western world. We feed people regularly, and we put comparatively little effort into teaching people to feed themselves; we minister to people by teaching them, comforting them, counseling them, involving them in programs, but seldom requiring that they stand under their own strength, or fight their own battles for themselves. By default, we are teaching them to depend on us for their daily fish, for their daily bread.
There are two errors in this: those who keep handing out fish every time they’re together with other believers, and those who keep accepting and eating those fish, every time they’re together. Both are in error.
This has been pointed out about the Sunday Morning congregations: since these are very often led by pastors and teachers, whose gift it is to pastor and to teach, very much of those gatherings are about being pastored and being taught.
(In deference to the aforementioned smart aleck: there are some circumstances where young or wounded believers cannot take care of their own needs or feed themselves. Let’s acknowledge that they exist, and not get off track: those people are few and far between in a healthy community.)
But this is the 21st Century! This is the age of Social Media! Indeed. And since the weakness is in people, when people migrate from the Sunday gathering to the online gathering (including blogs, including Facebook), they bring their weakness with them.
It is just as easy on Facebook as it is in the hard pew on Sunday morning, to sit still and let others feed us day after day, week after week, year after year. “Another fish, please!” It's just as easy to always be the one asking for prayer, always be the one who needs the encouragement of the worship or the sermon or the other people's posts to keep me going until next week.
And frankly, it’s just as easy on Facebook as it is in the pulpit on Sunday morning, to keep feeding the folks around us, to keep digesting the Word, to keep listening to the Spirit, and keep spoon-feeding it to the folks nearby. “Here ya go. Put that fishing pole down, and have another fish!”
Now, neither in the Sunday church, nor on social media, is it safe to assume that everyone who consumes is incapable of feeding themselves. And neither in Sunday church, nor in social media, is it safe to assume that everyone who teaches, everyone who encourages, everyone who runs a program, is only handing out fish, rather than teaching the hungry man to fish.
Part of this malfunction is the tendency for human beings to follow other human beings. As we make disciples, it’s imperative that we teach people to follow Jesus, not to follow ourselves. And of course, it’s critical that we follow Jesus, not human leaders, as we grow.
A brief side note: this was God’s plan all the time. Exodus 19:5 was just before the covenant on Sinai, where God proposed this covenant first: “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant (stay in relationship with me), then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people.” It’s been his plan from the beginning that we follow his voice, that we honor our covenant relationship with him, NOT that we follow laws and priests, which were only instituted because God’s people rejected this covenant (in Exodus 20:19) and asked for a priesthood.
For me, the real issue is this: how am I doing? How am I doing at feeding myself? How am I doing at being an equipper of saints, rather than a distributor of fish?
I invite you, dear reader, to take a few minutes to do a bit of self evaluation: How are you doing at feeding yourself? How are you doing at making disciples and equipping saints?