Learning How to Eat

Recently, I was speaking with a new parent about feeding babies and baby food. I confessed that, years ago, as a new parent, I actually enjoyed stealing a taste of Gerber’s sweet potatoes. Even now, the thought of that goopy orange sweetness makes my stomach rumble. But I digress…

Our conversation touched on how, as parents, we go through a journey with our children and their eating. First, for the mother, it’s providing milk through breast-feeding. Soon, formula and bottles are the way to go (and the dad gets to take part!). Before we know it, it’s rice-based cereals, other forms of baby food (including blessed sweet potatoes!), and finally, solid food. My wife’s East Indian upbringing introduced her to the special celebrations families have in that culture when the child is first fed solid food. I guess my point is that there is a continuum of feeding, a growth curve of learning which moves toward independent eating. Over time, the parent coaches the child in his or her eating habits, encouraging wise nutritional choices, so that, in the end, as the child matures, he or she becomes self-fed. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to spoon-feed a healthy teenager pureed sweet potatoes?! You get my point.

Spiritually, it’s not all that different. People are re-born through faith in Christ. At first, as spiritual infants, they’re fed the milk of basic Bible instruction. Soon, we hope, they graduate to solid food and the “meat” of more mature spiritual formation. Sadly, this doesn’t always happen! (see Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:1-2!) In a recently-published pamphlet by the Willow Creek Association, a study of that vast congregation (as well as several other churches) revealed that the Church often does a poor job teaching Christians how to be self-feeders. Church attenders too often rely on the church and the weekly sermon to be their primary spiritual food. If this is the only eating opportunity, is it any wonder that Christian maturity may be stifled? We (especially those of us who help a congregation pursue spiritual formation) must reconsider how we’re helping people learn to feed themselves. Are we providing instruction on the Bible and how best to pick its low-hanging fruit? Are we offering a balanced diet of learning that provides healthy nutrition and models good feeding practices? Most of all, are we urging people to take responsibility for their own eating habits?

I suppose that many of us have heard Christians complain after sermons they don't like, “I’m just not being fed.” That’s high chair Christianity, isn’t it?! It’s time for all of us, pastors and parishioners alike, to move toward independent eating and good self-feeding. Let’s ditch the bib and baby food and fire up the barbeque!

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