Do you ever wonder how long it takes for those who are ‘added to the number’ following an Alpha course to begin to question where all the free meals have gone?! Much as I have the greatest of respect for Alpha and the way it has impacted the lives of so many, I truly believe that the ‘secret’ to its success is not to be found in the witty presentations which may or may not answer the questions those attending have been pondering, or in the gripping discussion that follows, but rather in the act of generous hospitality that is offered unconditionally each session to all who attend.
It’s really not rocket science, is it? For those who love a good biblical imperative, try Romans 12:13, “Practice hospitality”. If you prefer a sociological approach, sitting down together over a meal is the ultimate leveller; prince or pauper, old or young, whatever ethnicity or faith or background… we all need to eat. Jesus modelled this extremely well. In ‘A Meal with Jesus’, Tim Chester helpfully examines the way Jesus interacted with others whilst eating with them as recorded in the gospel of Luke. Come to think of it, I can only think of a few occasions in the gospels where Jesus teaches or performs a miracle when food is not included in some way (either catching it, preparing it or eating it). Jewish culture has always been marked by extravagant hospitality.
So how have we managed to reduce this most powerful of missional gifts down to a soggy biscuit dipped in to a green (or blue) cup of stale instant coffee after our main weekly gatherings. Has anyone else seriously considered making up some major pastoral problem so you could receive a L-O-T of prayer from the Ministry Team at the end of a service to avoid having to drink the awful coffee?!
I think we need to recapture the power of the God-given gift of hospitality. My last church used to take the mickey out of me because I made such a point of this. In the end our unofficial church strap-line became ‘No eating? No meeting’. I’ll happily admit that this led to me needing to lose a few pounds(!) but reflecting the way of Jesus through hospitality changed our leadership team meetings, our church meetings, our witness to our neighbours and friends and influenced many of our missional activities. One of the most profound missional initiatives that the church launched was a weekly Community Meal. Each Friday 50-60 people (about 80% of whom had had no previous contact with the church community) gather to eat together and to share life. Around the tables the discussions range from light-hearted to deeply profound. Often questions of spirituality and faith are debated… the questions people are pondering… and those from the church community are actively contributing to those conversations. You can find out more about it here.
Yes, I know hospitality is much more than just eating together (I’m a fan of the other types too!)… but it is not not eating together either. So, come on Church… the people in your communities are watching ‘Bake Off’ and deeply desiring the kind of community that begins to happen when life is shared over a decent meal – are you still going to settle for a soggy Bourbon? Really???!!!