Friday, December 2, 2011

What used to be the centerpiece of the early church service? (Part 9: Values & Practices Unpacked)

Did you know there's a half chapter in the Bible on how to handle the meal portion of your weekly church service? 1 Corinthians 11.17-34 covers principles like: choose pot-luck approach over everyone providing only for themselves and if you're too hungry to wait then have a snack because it's important for the whole church to share the meal. Paul also challenges us to take seriously the communion portion of the meal. That's usually the only section referenced in a typical church.

There are multiple mentions of eating meals as a regular practice of the early church. Acts 2:42; 2:46; 20:7;  etc. In fact, scholars believe the early church centered their gatherings around a shared meal. They called it the Agape (godly love) Feast. Meals as a spiritual practice is all over the Bible, from the Passover to the Lord's Supper to Heaven described as a wedding feast.

So our first defining practice is Eating Meals Together. For example, one of our members brought the dish below not long ago. And it's not cupcakes. That's actually meatless meatloaf with mashed potatoes and cherry tomatoes. It was delicious! (I'm still trying to figure out the "meatless meatloaf"--is that just called loaf?)

Don't get me wrong. Eating meals during Sunday gatherings is not a biblical requirement. But we do think it's a great way to live out the mandate to pursue Authentic Community. It also reflects our value of Growth Through Practice. (See other posts for more on our core values.)

If being a real community, the family of God, is so important to having a healthy church (and I don't know a church leader who doesn't say so), then what are you doing to stimulate that during your services?

The "shake-your-neighbor's-hand" time in the service? Seriously? Does anyone actually believe that's going to build authentic relationships? If anything, it encourages us to be more fake! It's harder to reveal that I'm hurting knowing I'm about to sit right back down. So I've just smiled and said, "I'm fine" in response to the standard "How are you?" greeting.

What it looks like practically:

Our meals typically last an hour. As a result of having a weekly meal, we don't meet on Sunday morning, but start at lunch time and go into the afternoon. It's harder to get up earlier to cook and breakfast food doesn't have as much variety and lunch/dinner food. The food is placed on long folding tables. A handful of members sanitize their hands and stand on the back side of the tables, dishing out food. And each week I email a food theme for variety without boredom. Some of our favorites have been: casseroles, kid's favorites, red & green (where each dish should have red and/or green in it)…it's fun. And delicious!

The question isn't really why we choose to eat together, but why don't all church still eat meals? It's so effective for building community. It's not hard or expensive to do. So what happened? Seriously, what do you think happened?

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