I have a peeve about jargon, particularly Christian jargon. I'm all for language, and if something has a unique, distinct meaning, then it's worth considering. Sometimes, though, phrases just have a way of buzzing around. Some people mean something very passionate by them, others are dealing themselves into the game as a player in the know by throwing it into a conversation.
"Felt needs" set off my jargon alarm. The phrase has become especially popular in a subset of Christianity known loosely as "the emergent church." More jargon. And honestly, these are some of the folks with whom I identify most closely. I just think we get more than a little silly with our language invention, and sometimes that's connected to deeper issues that might be problematic.
It's not a bad idea per se—that one of the first and best ways to express love to another person is to be willing to roll up one's sleeves and address needs of which the other is aware in his/her life—it just seems a little...much. Programmed. Systematic. Bobo. Because really, isn't that just loving someone? Why would we need new terminology for it? And when did we get so fucked in the head that we needed to have what that means spelled out in jargonese? Probably whenever we decided that it was possible to love others inactively from afar, as a matter of principle rather than faith in action.
(Personally, I like to think of "felt needs" as anything that requires a flannel-gram to satisfy.)
I don't think the jargon is helping us love, though. It's helping us know what to do, sure. But if we really loved others, if we saw them as God does (and we need to ask Him to give us the vision we need to do so), "felt needs" would come out in the wash. The jargon just distances us, both from raw love and from facing the fact that that's not what we've been doing.
It's all up for discussion, but I have trouble imagining Jesus facilitating a workshop on "felt needs" before He sent out the disciples. We don't have any suggestion He did, or had to. Why not? Perhaps because these were His followers. They'd made sacrifices and faced persecution. They'd left behind other lives because what He had promised more value, more hope, than anything they'd built up for themselves. They were learning the ways of the Kingdom and spreading the news of its coming. The gospel included "felt needs" as a matter of course—they were learning to love what He loves. When you love someone in need, you don't need much coaching on how to approach them. You love them.
Many of us who call ourselves Christians haven't made those kinds of choices. Some of us haven't felt the need to (pardon the pun); some of us never knew there was a choice at all, never knew that loving people wasn't something we could just do in our heads because we're good people and Jesus told us to. We're camels facing the eye of the needle. Only raw love for God and what He loves will unburden us enough, transform us enough to make the journey.
We need new hearts, hearts that don't need to have "felt needs" explained. That's something He can give us. It's something He wants to give us. And I'd rather not confuse the issue with more jargon.