In the past few posts, I’ve been talking about empowering God’s people by making church more interactive, hands-on and participatory. I’ve talked about creating a connecting culture by changing the seating and sharing our stories. In this post, I’m going to talk about shifting the way we see food in our gatherings.
The great divide.
When I was a teenager, my parents took me to see the Grand Canyon. Wikipedia tells me the canyon is 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide and over a mile deep in some places (6,000 feet / 1,800 metres). All I knew was that it was big, and I couldn’t imagine crossing it.
In church today, there seems to be a great divide between the “spiritual” and the “non-spiritual” elements of life, which seems nearly as difficult to cross as the Grand Canyon. For many people, just walking through the door of church is difficult, as it seems so disconnected from “real life”. The buildings and the rituals emphasise this division between the spiritual and the mundane. The emphasis on group singing as worship divides church from a culture which no longer sings together. There appears to be a great divide between the pastor and the rest of us, who are treated as if we are unable to handle God’s Word without a Bible College education. There is a great divide between Sundays and the rest of the week, where we are involved in the lives of our extended families, workmates and neighbours, but feel unable to engage them in spiritual conversation, because preaching is all we have ever been modelled. And there is a great divide between the church hall, where we sing spiritual songs and listen to spiritual sermons, and the morning tea area, where we eat scones and engage in social chatter.
When God gave his commandments to the Israelites, he said; “teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 11:19). Spiritual matters don’t have to have special rituals and ceremonies, and be spoken about only by the theologically trained. They shouldn’t be separated into different areas of our buildings and of our lives. They should be present and connected to us all the time, everywhere. God’s people should be empowered to talk about God’s story over morning tea, outside of church, and without a Bible College degree. I believe it is time to bridge the divide. One of the places we can do this is when we share food together.
Humankind has an ancient tradition of connecting through hospitality. The act of sharing food and drinks is extremely social. Every culture, every sub-culture, has its own rituals and ceremonies – the most universal is the shared space of a family meal. A latte with a friend at the local coffee house, drinks with colleagues on a Friday night, a neighborhood barbecue – these are the spaces where people engage, connect, share their dreams, catch up and get to know one another more deeply.
The act of sharing food draws us together. It relaxes us, and creates an intimate space to talk and interact. It “greases the wheels” of conversation and fellowship. In most churches today, we’ve drawn a dividing line between the “spiritual” (the chapel, where only the pastor is allowed to speak), and the “everyday” (the morning tea area, where the rest of us are invited to chat). We’ve divided “breaking bread” to two separate occasions in our meetings – a personal (and “spiritual”) act of eating a cracker and drinking a sip of grape juice, and a corporate (and “unspiritual”) act of socialising and chatting over morning tea and coffee in a separate area of the building. It feels like we may have missed the point.
Many Christians are choosing to celebrate the Lord’s Supper as a shared meal, rather than a individualistic ritual involving a piece of cracker and a shot glass of grape juice. In the past few weeks, I’ve read posts by Alan Knox, Jon’s Journey and Miguel Labrador questioning whether churches should move towards celebrating communion as a common meal. Frank Viola and John Howard Yoder suggest that the early church celebrated the eucharist as a community meal, and that churches today would benefit from doing likewise. David Fitch has also written a post today about sharing a common meal. When Fresh Start Community gather each week, we end our meeting time by eating lunch together. It’s a central part of our meeting. It flows naturally out of the time we have spent together. We continue the spiritual conversations we began earlier. We slow down, open up to each other and minister to one another. The informal times in our meeting are just as important as the formal times.
Sharing a meal is a highly relational, inclusive, community building event. Our God is a highly relational, inclusive, community-building God. Eating together has always been at the heart of community living. Let’s stop rushing through a performance at church and slow down and live life side-by-side as God’s people.
This post is part 5 of my 12 part blog series – “Tomorrow’s church: a new formula for a new era“, presenting 9 adaptable strategies to change church culture from within. Subscribe now or follow me on Facebook so you don’t miss any posts. I’d love you to interact and discuss the ideas in these posts, and share your experiences. The next post will be called “From spoon-feeding to hands-on learning”.
The following posts in the series are now up;