Soul Food for a Growing Church

by New Church Starts

by Jacob Armstrong, Pastor of Providence UMC, Mt. Juliet, Tennessee

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?  (Psalm 42.1-2)

Last night I stepped out on to our back porch to feed TaterTot, our girls' cat.  When we adopted him from the Animal Shelter we were told his name was Twix.  I thought that was a silly name for a cat.  So, I asked my daughters to give him a more respectable name.  They named him TaterTot. Go figure.

Last night as I poured TaterTot's food into his bowl, he couldn't get to it fast enough. He stuck his head under the stream of MeowMix as it fell into his bowl and scattered it out on to the porch. Of course I thought, "how long has it been since this cat ate?" I am quite certain we fed him at his normal time the day before, but nonetheless last night he was hungry. So hungry that he couldn't wait to eat in a respectable way. The food was pouring out above him and he began eating. 

This image from Psalm 42 of a deer panting for water has always grabbed my attention. Here is an animal so thirsty that it pants for flowing streams of cool water. Everything in him is calling out for the quenching of his thirst. A deer, which usually is dignified and composed, now runs with his tongue hanging out of his mouth in search for water. The psalm doesn't talk about it, but I picture the deer finding that stream, running into the water, and drinking deep.  Drinking, drinking, and drinking until the thirst is quenched. Then, lying down on the bank by the stream he rests, taking time every once in a while to drink deep again. 

Sometimes I see people walk into our elementary school gym for worship on Sunday mornings and I can tell by the look in their eyes, they are panting. They are hungry and thirsty. I see them stand to sing that first worship song and no words come out of their mouth. They just stand with their eyes closed and soak it all in. I see them in the Communion line making that walk to the front. Waiting for them is the best meal I know. Waiting for them is a God who wants to quench that longing of the soul.

There are some Sunday mornings I walk into the gym before anyone has arrived and find myself panting. Mornings I am hungry. Mornings I feel totally inadequate for the day and job before me. There are mornings when I don't feel that I need to be telling others about God. Instead, I just need God. I will kneel on the gym floor and ask God to fill that place that day, and fill me. As I stop, I often can feel it come pouring down from above. 

When a new church is started it is often a hungry church; a church searching for God’s vision and ready to do the necessary work. A new church is also often a thirsting church, desperately needing what God has to give that day.

A maturing church, though, is no different. Strangely, for a church to mature it must remain hungry and thirsty. For a church to grow and become “self-sufficient” it must become more and more dependent on what God can do and what God wants to give. We never grow out of the desperation for more and more of God. Instead as we grow up we (should) become hungrier for what only God can give.

I pray that our church would remain a hungry church. A church that is not complacent or comfortable, but panting for the living God. Churches like this become places where the hungry for God can be fed, but who never stop wanting more of God.

How do you think churches can better demonstrate their growing desire for God in worship and mission? How do we keep our growing churches from becoming content instead of striving for more?