My wife Missy is one of the most compassionate people I have ever met. She has taught me a lot over the last eleven years about how to view people with the love and value of Christ. One of the most valuable ways she has taught me that is when we have shared meals with people. We have eaten with people in so many different places and around so many different tables that it is hard to keep up with it all. However, there is one thing that I know and have learned from her example. We are not just going to serve food to you. We are going to do our best to eat with you.
That statement doesn’t make any sense if you think I am talking about our dining room table at home or a table at a restaurant with friends. You always eat with people in those situations. I am also talking about times of ministry when we are helping provide food to those who struggle to even have daily bread. We don’t just want them to have more food. We want to connect with them because we care about them. Often that means eating with them.
When you serve and minister to people, the attitude is get in the kitchen, get the food prepared and get it out to the people so they can eat. Once the food is served, you clean up and go home. Missy has taught me by her example that there is a better way. I first noticed this in the times I was busy in the kitchen making food at a soup kitchen or at the Ronald McDonald House or Saint Francis and I would see her with the people. It is the gift of presence and community along with the gift of food. The two mesh perfectly. It has always been that way even back to Jesus’ day. Sometimes that means we eat food along with them if there is enough and it is appropriate. Other times it means we sit with people while they eat and get to know them. On other occasions we get to talk with people and connect with them while we hand out food. The goal is not just to get food to people but to connect with real people in real ways so they know they are loved and that they are invited over the line from the margin to the center. The best way to do that is around a table.
Margin, by its very definition is a line. Margins exist because people draw lines. These lines communicate a lot about our values and who is in and who is out. We need to learn to cross them in both directions. Ministry to people on the margins should be line crossing ministries. Jesus had this way of taking the people that prided their centrality and pushing them toward the margins and taking those on the margins and including them in the center of community life and identity. Life and love on the margins is not just about one more ministry at your church. Life and love on the margins is Jesus’ way of ministry. It is impossible to programize it and put it on the church calendar because much of it will happen in private on a day to day basis. There is no way to measure how much of it is happening but it is the right way for Christians to live and and love and and be present with people on the margins.
Last, I believe one of the biggest challenges this posture of ministry faces is the paradigm of centralized ministry. Being outside the margin means you are not in the center. The contemporary church paradigm gravitates toward centralized ministry. This is a facility focus rather than a people focus. This is the idea that ministry happens at a location that we draw people to (part of the attractional model) rather than a part of who we are that goes with us when we walk out the door on Sunday. The paradigm of centralized ministry is reflected to a degree in the announcement that we served 400 people lunch on Sunday at the church building rather than 400 Christians inviting 400 people to eat at their own dinner table. It is possible to do the first and it not be personal but not so much with the second. This is personal. This is communal. This is about identity, value and belonging. Church has too often become a place where religious goods and services are doled out to typically affluent consumers rather than a place where people are transformed into ambassadors of reconciliation in the name of Jesus. Remember, Jesus didn’t have a home office, church building or place to hang a shingle and have people come to him. He was the very essence of decentralized ministry on the margins. We would do well to follow His example.
A few of these thoughts were sparked by a conversation I had earlier in the week that will be posted in a few days. More on that later!