VOORHEES – As a missional catalyst for the BRN, the question I’m asked most often is this: How do I get my church to begin engaging people who are far from Jesus? This question is often asked by pastors and ministry leaders who have a heart to see people come to know Jesus, but who are frustrated with wave after wave of new outreach ideas and marketing strategies that promise big results but leave their people feeling exhausted without much fruit. My typical response is to answer a question with a question: How often do you eat with the people you believe God has sent you to? The reason I ask this question is because I believe that the most effective way to reach people far from God and introduce them to life in the Kingdom is not through a program or event, but through a meal. I’m not alone. A recent article by Kendall Vanderslice highlighted churches all over the country that are now using meals as the primary organizing environment of the church (Find the article here)
Lance Ford and Brad Briscoe put it this way in their book Next Door as It Is in Heaven, “The most powerful evangelistic tool is something 99.9% of Christians have in their homes: a dining table.” Don’t believe it? Let’s ask Jesus.
The Son of Man Came Eating and Drinking
In Matthew 11:19, Jesus speaking about his detractors, says, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and [the Pharisees] say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” Why was Jesus accused by the religious leaders of gluttony and drunkenness? Because he shared meals regularly with those who were actually gluttons and drunkards – people at the fringes of the religious institution who had no access or motivation to come to the programs and events that the Pharisees held at the temple. The Pharisees refused to associate with people except through the formal rituals of their public events. Jesus, by contrast, used homes and specifically dinner tables to welcome and associate himself with people who were considered far from God. Around the table, the least and lost discovered grace while receiving a new identity as followers of the Messiah. Jesus has the audacity to say, “Let’s see whose strategy bears more fruit in the Kingdom of God?”
Around Our Table
Several years ago, my wife and I made an intentional decision about the way we would run our home in the midst of planting a church in South Jersey. Rather than doing ministry “out in the world” and then retreating to our home as a sanctuary from the world, we would break down the barriers of secular and sacred, ministry and home, and invite people around our table and into our lives. We began hosting regular parties, dinners, brunches, whatever in the hopes that, as neighbors and friends were brought in, they would discover God’s grace as He worked in us and learn what it looks like to follow Jesus in everyday life. We also encouraged all of our church’s community groups to do the same. But what we discovered is that we had just as much to learn as the people to whom we were on mission. The dinner table became our experiment lab, full of grace, not just for those outside the kingdom, but especially for us as we failed and tried again and again. Here are just a few things we’ve learned along the way:
1) Around the dinner table, unity is inevitable.
Nothing unifies people like a meal. God made sure of that by the way he designed us. This means that when people sit down together, they are all saying, “I’m in need of provision.” Non-believers often accuse Christians of being proud and haughty. What better way to destroy this perception then by meeting a common need together?
2) Around the dinner table, believer and non-believer alike are refreshed.
Planning a meal or throwing a party can be exhausting, especially for an introvert like me. Yet, the more our family has pressed into doing it on a monthly basis, the more we find ourselves being refreshed as we gather with our neighbors. We love our neighbors! It is not uncommon at the end of a night to look at one another and say, “That was a lot of work… but we had so much fun!” Our kids usually agree.
3) Around the dinner table, learning is a two-way street.
Over the years, we have realized that we have as much to learn from our neighbors as they have to learn from us. We need to learn their hopes, their dreams, their failures as well as who they’re putting their hope in to fix it. The more we listen, the more we get the platform to share.
4) Around the dinner table, the beauty of the gospel is tasted and seen.
In Revelation, we’re told that at the end of all things, what awaits us in a dinner banquet with our King. At his table, we will be fully satisfied. Until that day, we wait, we pray, we hope, and we eat with those near and far from God. Every meal is an invitation to join us at the banquet that will satisfy every soul!
I encourage and challenge you to think differently about that most precious tool of missional engagement that is sitting unused in your dining room. Clear off the papers. Call other believers in Jesus to help you plan. Invite anyone who would come. Laugh, eat and have a blast. Then do it all again next month. Wisdom is proved right by her deeds.
To learn more about how to turn your family’s table into front line of Jesus’ mission, check out to these great books:
- Next Door as It Is in Heaven: Living Out God’s Kingdom in Your Neighborhood by Lance Ford and Brad Briscoe
- From Tablet to Table: Where Community Is Found and Identity Is Formed by Leonard Sweet
- A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table by Tim Chester
- Surprise the World : The Five Habits of Highly Missional People by Michael Frost