Disciple-Making and the Dinner Table

Cultures are established and sustained around the dinner table. Each people group is distinguished by its food and table customs, whether Chinese, Italian, Jewish, or Ethiopian. In addition to daily meals there are the special holiday meals that are set apart to remember and retell the stories that have formed the beliefs and values for each culture.  Americans use the Thanksgiving Day meal and the 4th of July cookout to remind them of their heritage.

Rituals associated with these special meals are designed to help pass on the stories and values from one generation to the next. The Jewish people use the symbols of bitter herbs, bread, and roasted lamb from the Passover meal with the intent to help their children remember the story of God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt.

Each culture also understands (1) who is expected at what meal, (2) what behavior is appropriate at what meal, and (3) what food is fitting for each holiday. (Hamburgers are not on the Thanksgiving Day menu nor turkey and dressing at the 4th of July picnic.)

Luke in his gospel shows us the role of the dinner table in the ministry of Jesus and how he used the table to challenge the culture around him and to shape his kingdom. Around a meal Jesus demonstrates the good news of forgiveness, redemption, and belonging by eating with sinners and being the guest in the homes of the social undesirable.

A dramatic and powerful table scene in Luke is the last meal that Jesus had with his disciples. Around the dinner table Jesus illustrated the high kingdom values of a servant’s heart and love by his washing the feet of his disciples and by the laying down of his life for them. Here he also established a dinner table ritual with the simple symbols of bread and wine to remind generations to come of his love found in the story of his life, death, and resurrection.

In closing:

Our families in Chicago are exploring the use of the dinner table for the spiritual formation of our children.

 

We are asking the question how we can use our dinner tables to engage the culture of Chicago with the gospel?

 

 

 

Hospitality Was Central To My Spiritual Ancestry

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This past year we had over 200 overnight guests and even more dinner guests in our home. We believe that Jesus demonstrated the inseparable link between hospitality and the good news of the kingdom of God.

Meanwhile this summer I began investigating my spiritual ancestry by interviewing my parents and Taylor Gardner who had discipled me over 30 years ago. He, along with his wife Jimmye, taught me the role of hospitality in disciple-making.

While interviewing the Gardners I asked where they had learned about hospitality. It all began in the 1960’s while Taylor was in seminary when a missionary named Dick Patty spoke on disciple-making and hospitality, which resonated deeply in Taylor’s heart. Dick had discovered hospitality through a World War II veteran named Jesse Miller whose life was changed forever when he experienced the hospitality of missionaries Cyril and Anna Brooks while he was stationed in the Philippines.  A biographer wrote of Jesse Miller:

“Longing for Christian fellowship, Jesse joined other servicemen at the weekly dinner and Bible study hosted by missionaries Cyril and Anna Brooks. He was so touched and overwhelmed by their hospitality, the Christian fellowship, and the teaching of God’s Word, that he prayed to God, “If I ever have a home of my own, You can have it for servicemen.”

Six months ago I was unaware of the existence of Dick and Margret Patty, Jesse and Nettie Miller, nor Cyril and Anna Brooks but now I see their spiritual DNA not only in my ministry but also in the lives of my disciples. Where would my life and ministry be today if Cyril and Anna had not opened their home to Jesse Miller 70 years ago?

I shutter to think how close I came to missing out on the richness of my spiritual heritage and not being able to pass it on to my disciples and to their disciples.

Jimmye and Taylor Gardner

Jimmye and Taylor Gardner

Margret and Dick Patty

Margret and Dick Patty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anna and Cyril Brooks

Anna and Cyril Brooks

Jesse Miller

Jesse Miller

Bless This House

Recently one of our families moved into a new home and so this past weekend we gathered in their front doorway to bless this family in their new house.

The ceremony went something like this:

  • Affirmation of Hospitality. The time began with the reading of the story of Abraham and Sarah extending hospitality to three men who end up being messengers from God. (Genesis 18:1-8)
  • Presentation of Mezuzah-One of our Jewish followers of Yeshua presented the family a Mezuzah, which is a little box to be hung in the doorway containing a scroll with the following passage:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9

  • Statement of Husband and Wife’s Vision. Next the husband and wife shared with us the vision for their new home and for their family.
  • Group Affirmation. The group then verbally affirmed the couple’s vision believing that their vision was in alignment with kingdom values. We also affirmed that their family belonged to us and we belonged to them.
  • Individual Blessings. Members of the group then expressed their individual hopes and desires for this new home and the family members who lived there.
  • Prayer. We ended the time in prayer asking the Lord to bless this home and family.

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How the Kingdom Multiplies

Recently we had a farewell cookout for Jeremy and Julia Quigley who have been part of our ministry in Chicago for seven years. The first time I remember Jeremy was the night Ryan Seibert had invited him to our apartment for dinner.  Afterward I was cleaning up the kitchen and Jeremy said to me, “Lewie, I need to go home and study but what happened this evening is what I have been looking for my whole life and I am afraid if I leave now I will never find it again.” Well after seven years not only is Jeremy still hanging around but he and Julia have made many disciples and hosted countless meals in their home.

At the farewell we had a limited amount of time so I asked that only those who had been discipled by Jeremy or Julia to share their appreciation. There were tears as one after another men and women shared how their lives were forever changed because of the Quigley’s love. And then the unexpected happened-Peter spoke up and said, “Well I was not directly discipled by Jeremy but I am his spiritual grandson so I want to express my appreciation for him discipling Neal who discipled me.” Then Michael broke in and said “I was not discipled by Jeremy either but I have to say ‘thanks’ because Jeremy discipled my brother which made a huge impact on his life.” Then Derek spoke up and said, “I’m like Michael, though Jeremy did not disciple me he did disciple my brother which so changed his life that it impacted my family and my spiritual life.”

That evening we witnessed the multiplying nature of disciple-making. Jesus used agriculture to illustrate how the kingdom of God spreads and how only if the seed is placed in the ground with warmth and moisture does it germinate and produce a plant that will produce other seeds. Seeds sitting on the shelf do not multiply. Jesus said to his disciples:

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. John 12:23-26

Over the years Jeremy and Julie have consistently laid down their lives for others by pursuing them, by listening well, by giving groceries, by having people in their home for dinner, and by frequent hugs. As a result of their love for others there are now men and women throughout the country and around the world who are making followers of Jesus.

Hospitality: A Starting Point For Making Disciples

Hospitality is a good starting place for making disciples.  It provides for you an opportunity to serve your disciple and to carve out a safe place for him to belong. Serving and making followers of Jesus are inseparable.  Jesus told his disciples:

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.  (Mark 10:43-45)

Hospitality not only allows your disciple to observe service to others, it also provides him an opportunity to become part of the serving process; whether it is cutting the bread, setting the table, or taking drink orders.  Teaching your disciple hospitality is an important component for the spreading of the gospel through serving others.

Henri Nouwen writes:

How does healing take place?  Many words, such as care and compassion, understanding and forgiveness, fellowship and community, have been used for the healing task of the Christian minister.  I like to use the word hospitality, not only because it has such deep roots in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, but also, and primarily, because it gives us more insight into the nature of response to the human condition of loneliness.  Hospitality is the virtue which allows us to break through the narrowness of our own fears and to open our houses to the stranger, with the intuition that salvation comes to us in the form of a tired traveler.  Hospitality makes anxious disciples into powerful witnesses, makes suspicious owners into generous givers and makes closed-minded sectarians into interested recipients of new ideas and insights.

Recommended Reading on Hospitality:

  • “Real Love for Real Life:  The Art and Work of Caring” by Andi Ashworth.  Colorado Springs: Shaw Books.  ISBN  0-87788-048-4
  • “Contagious Holiness:  Jesus’ Meal with Sinners” by Craig L. Blomberg.  Downers Grove:  InterVarsity Press.  ISBN  0-8308-2620-3
  • “Reaching Out:  The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life” by Henri J.M. Nouwen. Garden City: Doubleday. ISBN  0-385-03212-9
  • “A Gentleman Entertains: A Guide to Making Memorable Occasions Happen” by John Bridges and Bryan Curtis.  Nashville: Rutledge Hill Press, 2000.  ISBN 1-55853-812-7 (Great for beginners!)
  • Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition” by Christine D. Pohl.
  • “L’Abri” by Edith Schaeffer.  Wheaton:  Crossway Books, 1969, 1992.  ISBN  0-89107-668-9

Why Hospitality?

Making disciples of Jesus is best done in the context of your home, whether for your natural children or your spiritual children.  Disciples are the children of God; therefore the home is an ideal environment for a disciple to experience, (1) the parental nature of God, (2) what it means to belong to a family, (3) how to love and serve others, and (4) how to attach to brothers and sisters.  Children can witness what it means to follow Jesus by observing the daily lives of their parents in various circumstances.

In the West we tend to compartmentalize our lives, often separating our ministry from our home.  Even when ministry is conducted in the home, it tends to be done as a “study” or “meeting” rather than being a family gathering.  (In the many small group training conferences that I have attended, never did “family” or “a meal” enter the discussion.  A house was only a convenient place to hold a meeting.)

Some Benefits of Hospitality:

  • Hospitality provides you an opportunity to serve your disciple.  (Serving is another way to say “I love you”.)
  • Hospitality opens up your life to your disciple.  (A person’s home tells a lot about a person.  I have been in very few homes of pastors or church leaders.)
  • Hospitality provides your disciple an opportunity to observe how you relate to your wife and children.
  • Hospitality provides an opportunity for your children to serve others and to learn how to share.
  • Hospitality provides an opportunity for your children to love others and for others to love your children.   (A hug from a 4 year old will melt any heart.)
  • Hospitality provides an opportunity for your children to observe how you minister and interact with others.
  • Hospitality provides a place for your disciple to belong.
  • Hospitality provides a place for your disciple to serve.  (Help cook, help clean up, help with the children)
  • Hospitality provides you an opportunity for you to observe how your disciple relates to others.

Hospitality and the Gospel

The question I am asked most often is “what does your ministry look like?” Although there are many components to our approach, hospitality would be central. If you would ask how we make disciples, I would say through the means of hospitality.  If you would ask our method for evangelism, again I would answer hospitality.

At my last church we were teaching through the qualifications of an elder, one of which is hospitality.  My immediate question was, “If hospitality is a qualification for spiritual leadership, then why was it not part of my pastoral training?” Although we would have said that our church was hospitable, as an elder I had to admit that I knew little of hospitality.  I had lived in the same apartment for 10 years with only 6 overnight guests and no dinner guests.  (Friends made fun of the fact that I used my oven for storage.)

In contrast, over the past 5 years we have had nearly a thousand overnight guests and even more dinner guests in our Chicago apartment.  Our prayer has been “bring the right people to us and keep the wrong people away.” We keep prepared for the unexpected guest, whether for a meal or overnight.

Rachel Davis is a friend in the hospitality industry.  She taught me the difference between entertainment and hospitality.  Entertainment is about “me” as the host or hostess-how my house looks, the quality of food, how good of a party I can give- whereas hospitality is about others and serving them.  As the Father, Son, and Spirit opened up their family at a great sacrifice allowing us to be adopted as children of God, so we can open up our homes to give an experiential demonstration of the love of the God to others.   It is hard work.  It does take time and cost money, but it is the sacrifice that empowers hospitality to be an illustration of the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Hospitality As A Means to Make Followers of Jesus

There are only a few requirements listed in the Bible for leaders (elders) of the family of God but on that short list hospitality is named. If one would ask 100 Christians to list their top ten qualifications for Christian leadership I doubt many would list hospitality and yet it does make the Holy Spirit’s top ten list.

Hospitality is an expression of the heart and nature of God. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit extended to mankind an opportunity to be adopted into the family of God through Jesus coming to earth. Jesus’ ministry on earth was marked by hospitality. “Luke portrays Jesus not only as a guest at the table of others, but also as an indiscriminate host who welcomes those outside the boundaries of religious and social approval.” [1] Jesus used hospitality to connect to the poor, the wealthy, the working man and the disenfranchised in order for them to become his followers. Craig Blomberg observes:

As to the meaning of Jesus’ behavior, the unifying theme that emerges is one that may be called  contagious holiness’. Jesus discloses not one instance of fearing contamination, whether moral or ritual, by associating with the wicked or impure. Rather, he believes that his purity can rub off on them, and he hopes that his magnanimity toward them will lead them to heed his calls to discipleship. [2]

I am not a cook. But after discovering hospitality in the life of Jesus I resolved (after great consternation) to learn how to cook. A group of men I was discipling were meeting in my home each week, so I decided to cook for them. After we started eating meals together the spiritual intensity of the group and our love for one another increased immediately. The simple act of preparing a meal exhibits one’s willingness to sacrifice and create for the benefit of another which reflects the power of the cross and the new created life found in Jesus.


[1] Delmar Paez, “The Missionary Dimension of Hospitality In The Third Gospel,” Maryhill School of Theology, p.2.
[2] Contagious Holiness: Jesus’ Meals With Sinners, p. 167