Jesus, Food & The Mission
Each week at Northridge Church, our team gathers for W3. W3 is just a clever acronym for: celebrating the wins our ministry is experiencing, sharing God’s Word with a brief devotion and worshipping through singing and/or prayer. Recently, I had a chance to share. But what do you share with a church staff full of communicators better than you and people who are further along in their spiritual journey?
I landed on food.
I like food. So much so that I rate my dining experiences.
You (and my growing figure) could say that it’s a passion.
Below is what I shared with our team on the importance of food for life and ministry. This brief talk was structured and strongly reflective of two excellent books on food and ministry by Tim Chester and Leonard Sweet.
Throughout the Gospels, the writers highlight Jesus’ mission on earth with the formula “Jesus came ___.” The phrase occurs three times.
The first two describe the purpose that Jesus came. The “why”.
Jesus came …
- Not to be served but to serve (Mk 10:45)
- To seek and save the lost (Lk. 19:10)
The third describes his method. The “how”.
- Eating and drinking (Lk. 7:34)
Luke 7 sets up Jesus speaking to a crowd about the comparisons and contrasts between his ministry and John the Baptist’s. Jesus states that both individuals have been attacked by the Pharisees. One was attacked for abstaining from the social scene, namely eating and drinking (John), and the other, was attacked for participating in the social scene (Jesus). For more detail on their different ministry styles read here.
It’s certainly clear: Jesus was a foodie! Well, maybe not literally, but when he changed water into wine, its excellence was announced by the wedding’s host as the best of the celebration (see John 2:9–10). So we’ll stick with that idea.
In the Luke’s Gospel, where he emphasizes the movement of the good news, we often see Jesus going to or coming from a meal. At least nine meals are clearly evident in Luke’s account of Jesus’ life:
- Jesus eats with tax collectors at Levi’s (Luke 5)
- Jesus anointed at Simon the Pharisee’s home (Luke 7)
- Jesus feeds the 5,000 (Luke 9)
- Jesus eats at Mary and Martha’s (Luke 10)
- Jesus condemns the Pharisees at a meal (Luke 11)
- Jesus is eating when he encourages his audience to invite the poor not their friends to meals (Luke 14)
- Jesus invites himself to dinner with Zacchaeus (Luke 19)
- Jesus eats at the Last Supper (Luke 22)
- Jesus eats with disciples in Emmaus and in Jerusalem (Luke 24)
Apart from his ministry of teaching, Jesus’ primary method of evangelism, discipleship and community was investing time around a table filled with fish, bread and a jug of wine. In his work From Tablet to Table author Leonard Sweet quotes 17th Century Swiss theologian Jean Leclerc, “Jesus ate good food with bad people.”
For Jesus, meals were an opportunity for mission.
We can use meals in the same way. Here are a few ways we can use meals to further the mission.
- Break down the fences between neighbors. Meals give us an opportunity to meet, connect and invest in the lives of those whose proximity places them near us. Hosting our neighbors is a powerful first step for Pi2 living (Pray, Invest & Invite).
- Cast vision to early adopters and laggards. Helping someone see the need to move from here to there is often best accomplished one-on-one. Allowing for individual connection and the opportunity for specific questions that can’t happen in a large crowd, eating with people is setting made for detailed communication when needed.
- Strengthen staff/team relationships & culture. Whether you have a need to grease the wheel for a project to be completed, just take a few minutes away from the office or show appreciation for a job well-done, coffee or a meal is a great way to efficiently maximize schedules and tasks.
- Care for or confront Community Group members. It’s easier to say hard things over good coffee.
- Relax and refresh with friends. When we gather together at the table with friends, we don’t just feed people. We also build relationships, share stories and create memories.
- Disciple kids through connection and decompression with family. There may be more frustration at a table full of toddlers, but building this rhythm into your family now will yield great dividends when your teenage daughter is able to ask questions because you’ve created a place for such dialogue to occur.
Our senses and memory is connected with food. I’m certain that you can almost picture every detail about the best meal you’ve ever had. I know I can. I can still remember where I sat, what I wore, the smell of the kitchen and the smokiness of the meat. Of course Instagram helps with those memories too.
I can still remember the Starbucks below the El in Chicago where I had my first cup of Casi Cielo. I remember pushing my way through the line of dozens of college students with their Macs and my bitterness that I had a corporate issued Dell.
You can almost picture every detail of a bad experience too.
The grilled fish with eyeballs and scales. Washed down with warm V8 Splash. Unforgettable. But in all the wrong ways.
Meals are reminders that God loves us, provides for us and wants us to be satisfied with lives lived to please him.
Solomon writes, “A person can do nothing better than to eat, drink and find satisfaction on their own toil. This too, I see is from the hand of God” (Ecclesiastes 2:24).
Meals also come tensions. Remember that hospitality is messy.
- Cost of food hits your budget…hard.
- Food will be spilled on your floor.
- Stains will be left on your carpet.
- Guests will outstay their welcome.
- You’ll have to clean your house, at least a little.
- You’ll have to clean your house again. Dirty dishes.
- Arguments will be had.
Run toward the mess. Sitting at a table allows: our souls to catch up with our bodies, the opportunity to eat satisfying and nutritious meals and the chance to share ourselves as we accomplish God’s mission of making more and better disciples. By slowing down we’ll be able to better advance God’s mission with those around us.
While you may not be able to speak like Billy Graham or Drew Karschner, we can all eat like them. So, the next time you’re hungry, begin thinking about who you can influence to move closer to God over a meal together. By using meals as strategic opportunities, we can help fulfill the Great Commission.