Following Jesus

discipleship • the inner life • prayer
community of goods • faith • repentance

Following Jesus

Is This Church? Losing Table Fellowship

July 17, 2018 by

“We did a lot of eating together then, but not anymore,” a woman told me after my presentation.

I had been invited to speak to a congregation – a small fellowship smack dab in the middle of Manhattan – when a member came up to me and began telling me about the history of their church. What she said struck me – not only because it was sad, but also unsettling.

At the outset, the church was a lively group of young adults who ate supper together and read the Bible. It was in 1972. Streams of discontented youth were looking for something different. Every Saturday night, for twelve years, they crammed together around a common table in an upstairs room of an old historic church building. It was simple, informal, natural, normal, alive.

Then a certain pastor so-and-so suggested they start meeting properly on Sundays for worship. “That’s when we became a church,” the woman said. “We’ve been meeting here ever since.”

I asked if she ever missed how it used to be. “Yeah…. But we’re just too many people and too busy now. We don’t eat together anymore. By the way, these brownies are really good. Want one?”

Something has gone awry if we as Christ’s body can’t share our homes and tables together.

I couldn’t help but think back on another conversation I had a month earlier. I was in Nashville speaking at a Christian scholars conference. A pastor was exuberantly telling me about his church, which was in Atlanta, and how it had become interracial, including the church staff. It wasn’t easy, he said, but a turning point came when they decided that every member had to invite one other member to her home for a meal.

“How did that go?” I asked.

“It began with a revolt,” the pastor told me. “No one wanted anyone else in their home.”

“Why not?”

“They were either too embarrassed by how dumpy their house was or by how nice it was in comparison with others.”

“Well, what happened?”

“I made an ultimatum from the pulpit. I told the congregation that if we couldn’t invite each other into our homes then we weren’t fit to come together in God’s house.”

“Wow. Then what?” I begged him to go on.

“Well, we tried it. And believe it or not, it was a good experience. It also turned the tide. Shortly thereafter we hired our first person of color on staff.”

The pastor went on to describe in detail the many programs and services they operated and how exactly their church worked.

“Do you still share meals in each other’s homes?” I asked.

“Not really. People are too busy and too private. Their lives are lived elsewhere.”

“So, how do your members get to know each other?”

“Well, with a large staff and facility we are able to offer enough venues to keep the congregants involved. I’m still amazed by how many people come with all their different backgrounds. The church keeps growing.”

I have to admit, these two conversations unsettled me. They still do. Something is amiss. It’s as if the table fellowship Jesus regularly participated in – even commanded us to do (Luke 14:7–24; Luke 22:19) – is irrelevant, an anomaly. It’s as if the first church in Acts never existed. “All the believers were together and had everything in common.…They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.…” (Acts 2:44). It’s as if the New Testament church, the people who met in each other’s homes, had never existed.

I understand how times change. We don’t live in the same world Jesus did. But in my mind, something has gone awry if we as Christ’s body can’t share our homes and tables together.

Recently I spent the evening in a small house community. “Come by and join us for supper,” a friend of mine and member of the household told me. “Spend the night too, if you like.”

people enjoying a picnic

I took him up on the offer. Together, with ten others, my wife and daughter and I sat around the table till nearly midnight, chatting, eating, singing, swapping life stories and experiences, and praying. The next morning we ate breakfast together, read from scripture and from Kierkegaard, taking time to share our thoughts and responses. All this in a home of believers who simply are trying to be church together. No sermons, no choirs, no clergy, no pews, no praise band, no program. Just fellowship around a common table in a shared life giving witness to God’s love. I felt Jesus in their midst.

After the resurrection, two of Jesus’ disciples were on their way to the village of Emmaus. Jesus came to them and entered into conversation with them, but they didn’t recognize him. As they approached the village Jesus intended to go on his way. But the two disciples urged him to stay with them. It was only when they were breaking bread together that their eyes were finally opened – only then did they recognize Jesus (Luke 24:13–33).

Isn’t this what the church is all about – being together in such a way that Jesus can show up and truly be recognized?

I don’t pretend for a moment that there is only one way of being the church. But whatever else the church is or does, there is something radically missing if we can’t gladly break bread together in each other’s homes. If this can’t happen, then why gather elsewhere?

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About the author

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore resides with his wife and daughter in Esopus, New York where he teaches Bible and Christian Thought at The...

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  • Thank you for this article. It brings back a deep conviction I've lost on the way. Peter (Germany)

    Peter
  • This reminds me of the small group I attend in Ashland,Virginia. We come together weekly and share our ongoing life story. However, I do wish our gatherings would be interwoven with prayer and scripture. Sometimes, scripture is mentioned, but not regularly. Thank you so much for sharing your reflections!

    Liz