This past week I decided to sit in on a different Sunday School class than the one I usually attend. It’s a large class led by a friend of mine who is great at asking tough questions and facilitating thoughtful discussions. My intension was to spectate but he kept drawing me into their conversation that centered on church visitors, outreach, and hospitality.
It was interesting to hear the variety of views and comments. At one point I thought it would be helpful to read something from a book I contributed to. It was quote from a friend who does not identify himself as a Christian and it seemed to be very applicable to our topic.
“I would never describe Nazarenes as people who are comfortable eating (let alone opening their homes) with just anybody. I know how “you all” (clergy and laity alike) talk about us sinners, and I know that an invitation to your “home” is more like being invited to “learn about a tremendous business opportunity (i.e. AMWAY)” than to a party. I’m sure everyone is not like this, but it is the exceptional and not the normal Nazarene who doesn’t see the “lost” as projects or opportunities or offensive.
“Christians have small tables where only close family is invited to come and sit without fear of embarrassment or correction or judgment. You all may think you set a big table, but your actions and attitudes convey a different message. We know that our preferences, political positions, and social choices offend you and in turn encourage you to tell us how we need to change or risk going to hell. So, why would we want to sit at a table with you? In other words, we know you don’t like us for ourselves, just as we are, so we’ll take the lead and prevent making you any more uncomfortable than you already are.”
The passionate rebuttals began as soon as I stopped reading. I think the reactions ranged from shocked to offended to angry to hurt. When the conversation finally came back to me I asked how many in the room had shared a meal with someone who claims no connection to Christ or the church in the last week, two weeks, month, or six months.
That entire experience has stuck with me this week. And it has left me with some questions that I don’t want to forget anytime soon.
- Why is it that many of the people who can dissect the significance of Jesus eating with the people he chose to eat with, rarely follow his example?
- Does it really matter if I can exegete passages of scripture if I don’t have a sandwich with someone with a different world view?
- Do my table conversations sound like a sales pitch?
- How big is my table?
After the worship service a new friend pointed out to me that there are two barriers to eating with people. (which is the same thing as opening up your life and getting involved in someone else’s) Those barriers are comfort and convenience. He’s right and I need to put more energy into overcoming them. How about you?