A collective gasp went up into the air in the middle of my sermon. I had committed heresy and my excommunication from the church needed to take place instantly. I had attacked one of the sacred cows of my church, and all those in attendance shuttered as I continued to speak against one of their beloved events—the church dinner.
These dinners were all special in some way to the congregation. There were dinners for new Christians and dinners for special Sundays. There were dinners for holidays, homecoming and dessert nights for every fifth Sunday. Before long, it had gotten so out of hand that most people didn't need to prepare anything to eat for Sunday because The Church Cafeteria almost always was open. They saw nothing wrong with it. I saw everything wrong with this practice.
Some of you reading this piece are immediately going to say we are to break bread in fellowship, a point with which I do not disagree in the least. At its heart, that point is biblical. However, I will challenge you to look at your congregation and assess it honestly. Are there more meals served for the members of your church, or do your members and your church as a whole serve more meals to those who are in need in your community? The answer to that question will tell you whether your congregation is a mission-minded church or a self-serving holy huddle.
I did not come to this realization on my own. The Holy Spirit revealed it to me as I gave the announcements at church each week. One week, upon gazing at my bulletin, I realized we had meals scheduled for two weeks in a row, a week off, then a Sunday night dessert time following the evening song service. The passage in Matthew 25
kept coming back to me, when Jesus applauded the sheep for feeding Him when He was hungry. I shuddered to think of the message we were silently sending to the community we were called to impact. Every week, we filled our stomachs full while many in the community wondered where their next meal would come from. Each week, we labored to prepare the best dishes so the ladies on the third pew would be impressed, while not lifting a finger for someone who truly needed something to eat. How could we say we were followers of Christ yet focus solely on ourselves?
The hypocrisy was obvious to me. We were failing to meet the needs of those around us. Two weeks after giving the message, one of the elders of the church came to me and said, "You are so right about these church dinners. This is ridiculous how many dinners we are having and how many people are in need around us." The scales had fallen off his eyes, as well. We talked for a moment about how to change the trend and how to become more biblical.
James gives us a glimpse as to how to change the culture of the church and the inward mindset when it comes to these issues. James tells us, "If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?" (James 2:15-16, NASB
). Here is where we take the Word of God and put it into action, transforming from a self-serving holy huddle into a mission-minded body of Christ.
The church still can prepare the meals, but instead of taking part in those meals with those who already are filled and already a part of the family of God, the mission-minded church takes the food to those who are in need and shares the story of Jesus Christ with them. This is an opportunity to feed the lost in a physical manner and a spiritual manner. This fills the stomach, as well as the soul; and the church reflects the image of Jesus Christ rather than becoming a local buffet restaurant.
Look at the church where you serve. Are you really mission-minded, or do you tend to be more self-serving? Look at the balance of activities that are performed in your church during a year and notice whether there is more work done to help outside the walls or inside the walls, and your answer will be extremely clear. The beauty is that God gives us the opportunity to change directions and start fulfilling the mission of taking Christ to the lost of the world. We can fill our stomachs and appease our appetites for a moment, or we can impact our neighbors for eternity. Those who are mission-minded stop sitting and eating, and start delivering food and the message of Christ to those who need it the most.