I have had the privilege of working with my friends in Wesley Methodist Church, Singapore, to help set up their new discipleship initiative, Discipleship Bands. Here is how they define a discipleship band:
A “Discipleship Band” is a group of three or four people, who meet over a meal, to share and pray together to become the love of God for one another and the world.
I love their definition. I was struck by how they put “meet over a meal” as a component of the discipleship band practice. Most times, churches may suggest that you meet over a meal to share life but here the meal is a component part of the discipleship band practice. I think they put that in to emphasise that discipleship band meetings are meant to be in person and not just virtual meet ups. On further reflection, I thought that there were also good biblical reasons for sharing a meal as a spiritual discipline.
Robert Banks has done extensive research on the life of the early church and this is what he has to say about the church’s communal meals:
This (communal) meal is vital, for as members of the community eat and drink together their unity comes to visible expression. The meal is therefore a truly social occasion. The sharing of the wine at the close of the meal is appropriate for another reason. This action anticipates the time when they shall all “drink” (i.e., “fellowship”) with Christ in God’s kingdom in a more direct way. What could be a more fitting note to conclude the meal with? It is a truly eschatological event for those who participate in it.
Thus the meal that they shared together reminded the members of their relationship with Christ and one another and deepened those relationships in the same way that participation in an ordinary meal cements and symbolizes the bond between a family or group. (Robert Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994], 83.)
Here Banks is talking about the communal meals for the church as a whole, but his points about Christians sharing a meal can be applied to other times when Christians eat together. Banks makes at least three points:
- Eating together symbolises our relationship with God and each other.
- Eating together deepens our relationship with God and each other.
- Eating together reminds us of a day to come when our relationships with God and with each other will be perfected.
Wolfgang Simson reinforces this point by reminding us that the church feasts of the early church were:
. . .the unprecedented, revolutionary reality, of a redeemed people, irrespective of classes and caste, sharing real food with a prophetic meaning, having dinner with God, expecting His physical presence at any time just like after the resurrection. (Wolfgang Simson, Houses That Change The World [Cumbria, UK: OM Publishing, 1998], 27.)
Maybe our Wesley friends are onto something. Well, it’s not just a matter of eating together but the awareness that we share a meal in the presence of Jesus.
Many of us are a bit embarrassed to talk about eating because we are aware of the many who die daily from a lack of food, and the many of us who eat more than we need. Perhaps when we dine with Jesus He will teach us how we can be part of the solution. As the Wesley definition of discipleship bands reminds us, we meet together so that we can deepen our love for each other and for the world.