“The Son of Man has come eating and drinking” (Lk 7:34). A key component of Jesus’ ministry revolved around having meals with people. As we read the Gospels, we see Jesus on the move, from one meal to the next. Often he would eat with scandalous company, from a party of sinners (Mk 2:16) to the traitorous tax collector named Zacchaeus (Lk 19:7) to his disciples in the upper room (Lk 22:14). Tim Chester’s book, A Meal with Jesus, reflects on the eating habits of Jesus. He writes, “His mission strategy was a long meal, stretching into the evening. He did evangelism and discipleship round a table with some grilled fish, a loaf of bread, and a pitcher of wine.” Though we Baptists would prefer a pitcher of grape juice than wine, I believe we pastors and ministry leaders would be wise to fill our calendar each week with meals. The best place for evangelism and discipleship happens over the course of the meal. Here are a few reasons to encourage you to prioritize meeting with people.
Three Reasons Why You Should Prioritize Eating with Others
First, You Have to Eat
Everyone has to eat. Our days are structured around three square meals a day. Meals consistently force us to take a break from work and life so that we receive the nourishment we need to continue. Though you may be a busy pastor with little margin time, chances are you can take 40-60 minutes to eat with someone for lunch. However, not only do we have availability for lunch, it is often the only time we can get together with people who work. Part of the struggle of pastoral ministry is shepherding those in business and industry. Unlike retired senior adults, you can’t just pop by their house to check in at your convenience. For most of our flock, the only time we have to get together with our members for discipleship is over a meal. Take advantage of this opportunity and make the most of it.
Second, The Table is Less Threatening than the Study
As a pastor, when I schedule a meeting in my study at the church, the meeting begins tense. For most of your members, inviting them to meet with you in the study feels threatening, akin to the principle calling you to his office. Inviting someone to a meal provides no threat, and the invitation is often warmly received. In my experience, discipleship happens best around the table. People are more comfortable to open up about their life, their struggles, and their concerns. Meals create community and vulnerability, and it provides a wonderful opportunity for discipleship.
Third, Eating Pictures the Gospel and Community
The Lord Jesus invites us to dine with him. At the end of the age, we will feast with him at the great wedding supper (Rev 19:9). Meals picture the Gospel, not only of the union and fellowship we have with Christ, but also with one another. The act of feasting together is an act of spiritual war. The joy, laughter, and communion that happens through eating and drinking together terrifies the kingdom of darkness.
In C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wadrobe, the White Witch feels the threat of Aslan, the great lion, whose presence begins to loosen her power. As she travels to catch the Pevensie children, she encounters the Narnian animals feasting on a meal given to them by Father Christmas. The witch, in her wrath, turns the entire group into stone.
The act of eating together displays the effects of the Gospel and anticipates the coming celebration of Christ’s victory at the end of the age. Every time Christians gather to eat together, we are proclaiming the reconciling work of Christ.
Three Tip for Beginning this Practice
So, perhaps in this short blog post, I’v convinced you to prioritize eating with people for evangelism and discipleship. Practically, how do you begin?
First, Fill Your Calendar with Meals
Whenever you review your calendar each week, figure out your lunch plans ahead of time. Sometimes we have prior commitments or obligations during lunch, but where their is a vacancy, seek to fill it. Never eat lunch alone if you can help it. Is there a brother struggling with sin that you need to check in on in your church? Invite him to lunch. Was there a visitor at your church this last week? See if they’d like to grab breakfast one morning. Is there a leader in your church who needs some encouragement? See if they are available for a meal. Part of this means that you have to take a bit of initiative and planning ahead of time, but the rewards are worth it.
As pastors, occasionally we have people who want to get together with us. Again, we can’t eat with everyone and we must use discernment, but it’s best to be open to these invitations and try to honor their request with a meal together if possible. For example, I had a college student in our church who recently asked to grab a meal together. I was able to work out my schedule and fit him in for breakfast to talk and pray about some big decisions he’s wresting with in his life.
Plan your time, and if possible squeeze in meals with those who ask.
Second, Make the Most of Your Meals
When you do get a meal with someone, make the most of your time. Don’t spend the entire meal discussing sports or politics. Do your best to turn the conversation to spiritual things, and press into their life. Ask guided questions like, “How is your family?” or “How did you come to know the Lord?” or “How is your time in word and prayer going?” or “What struggles and temptations have you had at work?” Such open ended questions provide an opportunity for further discipleship and encouragement.
Always be sure to close with a time of prayer. Ask, “In what ways can I pray for you today?” Then be sure to close your time together in a final prayer, right there in the restaurant.
Though these tips might seem to be common sense, such intentionality in conversation can shape and encourage people spiritually.
Third, Prioritize the Funds
If you are going to prioritize eating with others, you need to be prepared for the expense. Though it is a good idea to exercise Christian hospitality to inviting others into your home, in this post we are thinking primarily about the pastor’s daily calendar. Although sometimes you can do a bag lunch with others, its usually easiest and most conducive to meet at a restaurant together. However, eating out regularly can be a bit expensive. If possible, convince your church of the value of eating with others. Thankfully, my church provides me with a small “hospitality” account that I can use to eat with people. However, it is worth it to prioritize it in your family budget. Yes, going out to eat regularly costs more than just hiding in your office with a peanut butter sandwich, but the spiritual fruit is worth the cost. In addition, select cheap places to eat and then be as frugal as possible as you order. Save that ribeye steak for a dinner out with your wife.
The Ministry of Eating
I’m convinced that eating is one of the most fruitful strategies in the pastor’s tool belt. It follows in the pattern of Christ, and provides a ripe opportunity for evangelism and discipleship. This practice has provided me with some of the most fruitful conversations in my ministry, and has helped me shepherd the members of my church. After all, if the son of man has come eating and drinking, lets follow in his example.
 Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community and Mission around the Table, 13.