I know from a short little fat man like me, this one probably comes across as one of those, ‘of course you’d think that!’ kind of posts. And, of course, I do think that, because I’m saying it. But I’m not saying it because I am fat and clearly enjoy God’s good provision perhaps more than the next man, I am saying it because I think there is something really important about eating together and sharing meals together.
In our church, we have food together after some (but not all) our Sunday services. We always eat together at our community groups. We make sure we have food whenever we hold our Muslim-Christian Dialogue evenings. It’s more unusual for us not to have food than to have it because we think it matters. So, here are a few reasons why you might want to think about trying to build food into more of what you do.
Jesus did it
You can hardly read the gospel without being struck by just how often Jesus seemed to be sitting down and eating with people. A number of people have commented before, ‘Jesus ate his way through the gospels.’ Jesus ate with Pharisees, he ate with the sinners the Pharisees didn’t like, he invited himself Zacchaeus’ house and he made the apostles go out and prepare rooms for them to have a slap up meal. We can get into all the whys and wherefores but suffice to say here, Jesus seemed to think it mattered and built it into his ministry. Makes sense if we build meals into ours too.
The apostles did it
Well, alright, that was Jesus. But it bears saying that the apostles didn’t ditch the practice once Jesus had ascended to Heaven. In fact, one of the first things we see them doing in Acts 2 is going to each others houses and having meals together. And that’s not a one off because they’re mentioned doing that again a little later and it seems to keep cropping up. John even makes a meal the centrepiece at the end of the Bible. Just as Jesus ate his way through the gospels, the Apostles and Early Church we also found eating meals together frequently.
I don’t know what it is about food that makes people open up, but it does. There is something about eating together that causes us to share with one another things that we otherwise wouldn’t. Others have done much more theological thinking on this than me and attempted to discern specific spiritual benefits of eating together. Those things may or may not be true, but it is my experience that people simply share more with you when there is a plate of food involved.
Serving & being served
Food offers everyone an opportunity to serve and be served. If everyone takes opportunities to cook, we can serve by providing the food (at least some of the time) but we can also serve others by receiving it. In our church, there are a number of different ethnic cultures represented. And people delight in sharing the cuisine of their culture. They get to serve us by making it and we can serve them by learning about their culture and receiving it gladly. But the same is true the other way round, we can serve them with food and help them understand local culture. Likewise, when folks struggle for money, it is a help to them to know that they can receive a decent meal at church and, maybe in a small way, can more easily chip in to a larger meal and serve others than they could make a decent meal for themselves. It simply provides a way for everyone to serve and be served.
As I alluded to above, there are some folks who could really use a good meal. In our church, we are dealing with the benefit class folks who have relatively little, asylum seekers who receive even less support and those who are utterly destitute because they have fallen between systems and other such things. These folks do not necessarily know where their next meal is coming from. But being able to provide for them meets a real and genuine need that they have. Whilst certain areas are more likely to face this problem than others, most places will have some folks around for whom this is a reality.
Not only can meals serve your own members, it can also act as a good evangelistic tool. There are folks who might come simply to be part of your meals. I was talking with somebody recently who said they had folks start coming for the food at the end of the service, who then began coming in for the worship song just before the food, which soon led to them sitting in the end of the sermon, then the whole sermon before they eventually came to everything. Food can act as a real draw for people. Even more so when the food acts a catalyst for the kind of Christian community that ought to be appealing to people. In the early church, as people saw the Christian community, they found it attractive. Food can have that same community building, evangelistic pull today.
Maybe you can think of some other reasons too. But why not try attaching food and meals to your meetings. You might just be surprised at what the Lord does through something so simple.