I remember it like it was yesterday. My mom would hand us bags of corn on the cob to carry down to the local church on hot summer nights. We would walk down into the basement, where it was about 20 degrees cooler. Tables would fill the large recreational room, and it was filled with our neighbors.
There were barbecue pork sandwiches, delicious pies, and casseroles. There was fresh fruit and lemonade.
Someone would pray. We would eat. We would laugh, tell stories, and it was as if our whole neighborhood was one big family.
That’s how we did it back then. It was unintentional community dinner.
Fast forward a few years. Things have changed. We live in communities where we go to work, pick up the kids, pull into the driveway, open the garage door, shut the garage door, and shut ourselves out from the world – unintentionally. We live in a world that asks a lot of us. We live in a world that over time, is losing its sense of belonging to each other; it’s sense of family. Why gather, when we have social media to fill our space? We live in a world that is unintentionally becoming disconnected.
About three and a half years ago I was sitting in a meeting when a question came up that rocked my world. Someone asked, “How are we being good news to our neighborhoods?” That’s when the feel, the smell, the nostalgia of the church basement community dinners came flooding back into my mind.
I think it starts with a table.
And it always has.
If we look at history, specifically, the life of Jesus, Jesus’ ministry was most often around a table. Some scholars even say that Jesus “ate his way through the gospels”. Zacchaeus, (Luke 19) the Pharisee dinners, (Luke 11 and 14) Feeding the 5,000 ((Matthew 14) and the 4,000, (Matthew 15) the Emmaus Road encounter meal, (Luke 24) and of course, the Lord’s Supper with twelve of his closest friends. (Luke 22)
Eating together is this formative experience that cultivates relationships. It creates community. Why do you suppose we call the Lord’s Supper communion? Because we are given these means of grace to partake of together. Because being a disciple of Jesus means that we are never alone. Because when Jesus sat around the table with twelve of his closest friends, he was showing them what a new kind of family looks like.
But here’s the tricky part: We have to be intentional about it…
Eating together takes work.
I once heard someone say, “Sometimes you have to say no to some good things, in order to say yes to the really great things.” Which means, you have to learn to be intentional.
That question, the one about being good news to our neighbors stuck with me. I wrestled with it for months. How could I, in a world that is busier than ever, live so intentionally, that I could be good news to my neighbors?
Of course, we came up with lots of different ways we could be intentional, but one opportunity kept coming up that seemed like the best fit. They are called Missional Communities.
Essentially, a Missional Community is a lightweight, low maintenance weekly gathering in someone’s home. We eat, we give thanks, and we pray.
But it’s intentional.
Every Wednesday, for the past two years, we have opened the doors, cooked some food, and said, “Come, eat.” We’ve had to say no to things, but we believe, that being good news to our neighbors through Missional Community is our great yes.
I know what you’re thinking…”That is a lot of work!” or “I can’t afford that!” or “My house isn’t big enough for that.” And I get all of those thoughts. I actually said all of those things myself. But here is what I have learned as time goes on:
We set family rules – there are five of them:
- Once you have entered into our home, you are our family. If you need anything, call.
- If you want something, open the cupboard and find it.
- If you make a mess, please clean it up. (That includes your plate.)
- If there is a door shut in our home, that means it is off limits that night.
- Have fun.
We’ve learned little things like… using real dinnerware is actually cheaper than buying paper or plastic. So, we’ve gone “garage-saling” or “Goodwilling” (as I like to call it) and asking for dinnerware. We now have enough to feed nearly 50 people, which we have hosted in our house.
People don’t mind eating on the floor. So on that crazy week when everyone shows up, there always seems to be grace.
I can tell you that in all of the times we have opened up the front door on a Wednesday night, never once have we felt stressed about a mess, or what to talk about, or if we have enough food.
Never once have we regretted opening our home once a week and having meaningful conversations with people.
But what we have found is this: the people who walk through our doors every week have become our family. We are all so different; politically, socially, spiritually (the list could go on and on). But there is something about the table that allows us to put our differences aside and commune.