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Multiply – Vision for Mission

Helping everyday disciples live on mission

Sharing Meals

In my ongoing quest to understand how to make disciples who multiply, the most common answer I’ve heard is “I don’t know”. Christian authors I’ve talked with can explain their discipleship models in detail, but if I ask them why their kids turned out so well, how they discipled them, they don’t know. It just happened. They say discipleship happens through “life on life” interaction, which I’ve never understood. What does that actually mean?

Several months ago I started learning how to ask better questions. One of the things I discovered is that meals are a big deal. I’ve heard it’s possible that church in the first century wasn’t around a house, but around a meal: the Lord’s Supper. That is, the meal wasn’t the warm-up before the church service, it was church.

I have a friend in Uganda who’s helped plant a hundred churches, cares for dozens of orphans, and does evangelism in the local prison. A good sample size. 

“Hey Robert, of all the people you’ve successfully discipled, how many of them did you eat with versus just meet with?”

“About 50-50.”

“Oh, I don’t mean they became pastors or church leaders, I mean the ones who are overflowing with life in the Holy Spirit.”

“Oh, then it’s 100% eating together.”

I had to look back at all the relationships I’ve had where people responded positively to Jesus, rethinking them through this lens:

  • Friends from school – oh, my mom would feed them and she actually led them to Christ
  • Guys I played sports with – oh, it was on the trips, when we ate together
  • Co-workers at my corporate job – oh, it was eating lunch together
  • People who lived in our basement suite – oh, they’d come up for dinner
  • My children – oh, we ate together (In fact, my eldest just told me that a big part of him following Jesus was listening to us debrief what God had spoken that morning and how it played out during the day, at the dinner table)

This is why The Alpha Course works, why Bible Studies with potluck dinners are more memorable, etc. But let’s be clear: it’s not about the meal, it’s about Jesus at the meal. The Passover had an empty chair for the Messiah, but in communion we eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood. It’s like communally getting filled with the Holy Spirit. Without God’s presence, it’s just food.

When I had an office job I used to schedule about four breakfast meetings and four lunch meetings every week. We had young kids and I had a long commute, so this was the only way to fit in my discipleship meetings. This bore pretty close to zero fruit, because I wasn’t really with them to eat with them, it was just an efficient way to have meetings over my meal breaks.

Eating with people for real is connecting with them because you love them. Listening to their stories because you want to know them. Sharing things that aren’t planned just because you feel loved and want to be understood. This is where Jesus is at work, off in the margins outside our agendas. 

This is a different way:

  • Disciple the people you already eat with (it scales up and down with how extraverted you are)
  • Invite people to remember Jesus is here. It looks like dinner with Jesus: talking with him, sharing words from him, reading scripture, listening to people’s stories, praying like Jesus is right there 
  • Encourage them to do the same (it’s not that complicated, and lots of their unbelieving friends would be open to this form of church) 

In this way we’re proclaiming the nature of the kingdom, the banquet feast we’re all going to enjoy with him in heaven. 

Doug Penner, Director of Global Mission