Monday, June 20, 2011

Shared Meals - Scattered Metrics

We eat at my wife's parents on Sunday afternoons. This is part of our Sabbath rhythm. I enjoy the tradition--probably more than the frozen pizza--but it does limit our opportunity to eat lunch with others from our church.

Shared meals are a mark of spiritual health (not considering the trans fat and high fructose corn syrup). The New Testament calls this "table fellowship." The table might be implied: the leg space between squatters at Jesus' miraculous feeding (John 6). Or the table could be literal: Martha's fine China and best gourmet dish (Luke 10:38ff). These meals happened outside the synagogue walls and temple courts. They happened in upper rooms, courtyards, and small homes. They happened often (Acts. 2:42ff).

In the Western world, the family dinner has all but disappeared. Dinner has been expedited, commercialized, and reduced to a short drive and value meal number: McFamily Dinner. Its disappearance is highlighted by a recent PSA I heard encouraging families to eat together several times a week. Apparently shared meals promote healthy family dynamics. So it goes for the church family.

But the good news is this: A couple from our church invited us to dine. We ate salad and homemade pizza grilled on their back porch. Each slice was personalized, replete with custom toppings and designer crust. And this couple has invited others. Many. They are resurrecting the ancient practice of hospitality. Others are reciprocating. You come to my house, I come to yours.

More thoughtful work on spiritual community and shared meals has been penned by Wendell Berry, Albert Borgmann, and Eugene Peterson. But I propose that the frequency of shared meals is a good measurement for health in the scattered church for three reasons.

Shared Space: An invitation to another person's home provides knowledge that is not always easily accessible from online profiles or Sunday morning small talk. Decorum, cleanliness, DVD titles, background music and magazine subscriptions are all on display. Truth be told, shared meals feed our curiosity as much as our belly.

Shared Resources: Communal meals loosen the grip that our resources hold on us. They require us to give of our refrigerator and cabinets, our stack of napkins and tray of clean silverware, our milk and eggs and busy schedules.

Shared Words: The supper table provides a context for conversation that might range from meal blessing to story-telling and everything in between. More words are passed with bread rolls than the offering plate.

A healthy church shares meals. Space, resources, and words are exchanged regularly. Frozen pizzas stay in the box.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


I'm ordering multivitamins for my wife. They're suppose to save her digestive track and boost her energy. They're part of a pyramid scheme, but so was Israel and she was delivered from her suffering (see Exodus 1-15).

My father-in-law wants in on the goods. His skin has been revolting for years, and he owns a cough that will not subside. Poor old Mel. Good old vitamins.

Herbalife is one of the notorious vitamin distributors. Their product boasts measurable improvements in immune system health, bone density, memory, heart function, and clarity of vision. The proof of the Herbalife's efficiency is in the metrics. If a customer's bones continue to degenerate and vision continues to blur while ingesting the guaranteed product, she can get her money back... or increase intake volumes and add Vitamin D.

Metrics are not so easy in church life. Health measurements are too often restricted to programmatic elements: Sunday morning attendance, number and percentage of volunteers, budget, missionaries sent and supported. Unfortunately, this treats the church less like a bios (a living, breathing organism) and more like a heiros (temple building).

We need better metrics for church health beyond the building. Perhaps we need better vitamins, too (shaped like crosses). Sadly, when I recently asked a friend trained in organic church ministry about "metrics for the scattered church," his response was null. Then he invited me to a conference that would sell me books and network affiliations. More pyramid schemes.

I need to figure this question out: How do you measure the health of the local church when scattered (i.e., bios). Thus begins my journey.

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