Parables from a deer feeder.
Yesterday morning I went with one of our young friends, Yandy Yarbrough, isn’t that a great name, to put up a deer feeder. Yandy is the consummate Oklahoma hunter with feeders in half a dozen places around western Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle and he loves everything about hunting and it shows in the way he goes about it. His wife Bobbi and daughters Yaleigh and Y’leigh love it too.
Coming from the Pacific Northwest, I knew nothing about deer feeders but I learned yesterday how it works. The feeder has a large hopper, filled with corn or grain that is placed about six feet off the ground. There is a battery or solar powered unit attached to the bottom of the hopper that is started by a timer that turns on twice a day and spins in such a way as to throw the corn in an eight foot or so circle around the feeder. (If you want to know more about it check HERE)
The idea behind a deer feeder is to put it in the very best deer country you can in the feeding pattern of the deer and “train” the deer to come by the feeder until hunting season and then from your near by deer stand you can have a good chance of bagging the deer of your choice. (in open country like it is out here, you would never get close enough to a deer to shoot it, especially with a bow, so feeders are a popular choice)
I am no expert in hunting from a deer stand, or any other way, so I may not be exact in my description of this method of hunting, but I think I am close.
Because the deer feeder we were putting out yesterday was in an area where there were grazing cattle, we put up a barbed wire fence in a 20 foot or so radius around the feeder to keep the cattle out. The deer can get in because they are agile enough to jump over or go under the fence.
The deer feeder is placed in the very best deer hunting area and it turns on twice a day and feeds the very best corn around a very set area. The goal is to attract the biggest, healthiest, strongest buck deer (male) possible to the feeder on a routine, daily basis for a period of time, until he is acclimated to the area and feels safe. Of course until hunting season opens, he is safe.
While we were doing this task yesterday the Spirit began to speak to me about how all of this was a lot like how we have done church over the years and why so many people have been hurt, stopped coming or had trouble getting in our churches.
Every Sunday morning, for years churches have gathered in the best and prescribed places and served up the finest of “food” targeted at the people who meet the standard we have for that particular church. The goal is to get as many people to come to your particular feeder, and to come routinely, every sunday and eat as much “corn” as they can possibly put away. In fact churches try their best (with, I think, good motives) to get people to eat as much as they can, because there is a belief that the more you eat (know), the better and more fit you will be.
Over time, if you come routinely and faithfully to the church (feeder), take in more spiritual food (corn) then every one else, and you are a male (buck) you can become the most attractive person at the church and great things are expected of you.
As time goes on you begin to feel safe at the church (feeder) and more and more is expected of you. Routinely you are given more and more responsibility and tagged as the person most likely to be a trophy of God’s grace.
Then you make a mistake and hunting season opens. The place you routinely came for the best of food and where you had felt so safe and secure is not so protective. For the deer, the mistake is tripping the motion sensitive camera and having his picture taken. The hunter sees the buck for what he is and starts to figure out how to take him.
For the person who as done all the right things in the “protective environment” of the church one mistake can be deadly. You don’t ever want anyone to see your picture on a camera you didn’t know was there revealing your flaws to everyone who sees the photo. Sometimes eating all the right food, growing stong in the “faith”, passing all the prescribed tests and becoming a trophy of God’s grace can make you more vulnerable than you have ever been. The enemy sits in his “tree stand” ready to pick you off and often the enemy uses the people who were doing the feeding to take you out.
We want our trophies without flaws and like the hunter, looking at the pictures of the bucks at his feeder, churches often pick out the one who has the least imperfections to tag for his trophy. But also like the buck they aren’t often safe.
As we were setting out the feeder in that beautiful setting yesterday, a large herd of black cattle (Angus, I think) came around to see what was going on. These were the ones we were putting up the barbed wire fence for. By the time we were about done there were cattle all around the circular inclosure. It was obvious they wanted in, but our goal was to make sure they didn’t get in and ruin the feeding station for the big bucks we were after. Some of the corn we had scattered around had landed outside the fence and the cattle were eagerly scarfing up any kernel they could find.
The deer could go over or under the fence to get to the feeder but these cows were too big, to clumsy, to fat and besides they had flies all over them and dropped big blobs of poop all over. (deer have very small and orderly poops) We did whatever we could to keep these big, fat, stinky animals away from our deer feeder. They were not the species we were after.
More times than I care to admit, people came around churches I have been part of trying to get some of the corn laying outside the walls. They found that food tastey so they came around eagerly looking for more. It was obvious they were curious to know what was going on. Sometimes what we were up to was so attractive we had people gathered all around the circle trying to get in.
But for whatever, of multiple reasons, they couldn’t jump the fence or get through the gate. Maybe it was they were too needy and we just didn’t have enough corn to fill them up. Perhaps it was the flies, or the smell or the color, or the fact that they were pushy, clumsy or too big to jump the fence. Probably more often than not it was that their poops were not orderly or small but big and plopped all over everything. Maybe they weren’t from the “species” we were really looking to attract. Whatever, they didn’t get in.
All analogies break down and pushed too hard this one will too. I don’t think churches intentionally shoot their wounded or leave them vulnerable to the enemies arrow but we do it none the less. I don’t think we choose to reject those who are not like us or those who are too needy or messy, but we do it.
I love it that churches everywhere are trying harder than ever to be Kingdom churches, tearing down fences and making their feeders available to everyone. One very attractive church I know about in Washington even shut their feeder down a couple of weeks ago and took their corn out into the community. More than 1400 people left the feeder for a Sunday and without fanfare took corn to those who didn’t all look like them or weren’t as fit as they were and in doing so tore down fences that might have been keeping curious people from dropping by the feeder to see what was going on.
For Kingdom people hunting season is over and our feeders are open to anyone. But we need help understanding the fences we have built around our feeders so we can stop holding others from our tasty corn. It also might help to stop thinking our corn or feeder was better than everyone else’s.