Empty Words Equal Empty Calories

Just a little over two years ago I attended the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, California. The main building my classes were in was in the heart of the financial district of San Francisco. Every day I would get off the BART and walk past a number of homeless individuals. San Francisco is often considered the homelessness capital of the United States because of its climate and social programs. The city has anywhere between 7,000 and 10,000 homeless individuals. Anyone who has lived in a major city (and has an ounce of kindness) can relate to the dilemma of how to react when encountering someone holding a sign asking for food.

For many years I would simply give a dollar or two and proceed with my day. On occasion I would take the individual to the closest fast food restaurant and buy he/she a burger. Neither one of these methods satisfied my soul's yearning to truly impact the lives of these individuals.

Time after time, I found myself posing questions about whether or not these were the right actions to take. Most often I would ask, "Is it enough to merely satisfy one's hunger or thirst if what I provided that particular individual with had no nutritional value?" Was what I was doing for these individuals a service or a disservice? I thought I was over thinking the issue until I began seeing articles about the nutritional value of items found on menus in soup kitchens. 

A similar question could be asked to those of us who wish to feed or quench the thirst of those who are spiritually depleted. Are leaders in the church only providing what is necessary to subside the rumbling coming from the stomachs of those spiritually deprived or are they bearing fruit which nourishes the souls of congregants and thrusts them into a healthy and growing relationship in Christ?

Two longstanding traditions play major roles in the malnutrition of congregants.  "Feel good" preaching and "folk" theology serve to keep church goers in a state of spiritual unhealthiness. Often, what is most appealing is not what is best for us . The best example of this is the inclination to eat junk food over vegetables. Vegetables, to most people, do not arouse the taste buds like sugary sweets, but they are undoubtedly better for your health and well-being. 

One author writes, "Feel good [preaching] seems to be a short-cut to happy handshakes, but it falls short of engaging both the text and the listener."

Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson define "folk" theology as, "a kind of theology that rejects critical reflection and enthusiastically embraces simplistic acceptance of an informal tradition of beliefs and practices composed mainly of clich├ęs and legends."

These two things make a deadly combination that can be tremendously detrimental to the spiritual health of those seeking to grow in Christ. While God's Word can be used for the edification of it's hearers and readers, "feel good" preaching usually has an ulterior motive. "Folk" theology has absolutely no place in the church. It is heretical more often than not and stunts the growth of Christians. 

What kind of message are you receiving from the pulpit? Are you receiving vital nutrition? Do the messages you receive merely appeal to your soul or do they change your soul? These are important questions to reflect on next time you are in church.

For those who wish to lead in the church, keep in mind the words of the seminal and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther: "A preacher must be both soldier and shepherd. He must nourish, defend, and teach."
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