“Don’t you recognise us?” I was a visiting preacher at a church last Sunday when a couple came up to me and asked if I recognised them. I didn’t. I have learnt not to be too embarrassed about such awkward moments because I meet many people in the course of my ministry. When it became apparent that I didn’t recognise them, the lady took out her cell phone and began searching for a photo. She found it and showed it to me. It was a picture of a Christmas turkey. With the help of my beloved Bernice who was nearby, I began to recall when I had met the couple before. It was at our cell group Christmas outreach dinner last year.
Our church had decided to decentralise our Christmas outreach last year. Instead of a grand central event to be held in our church premises or in a rented hall, we decided to ask individual cell groups to host their own Christmas outreach events. Our group hosted a Christmas dinner and invited many of our friends, some unchurched and some who were not followers of Jesus. No gospel hard sell, we had a short homily on the meaning of Christmas and a film clip about what some mission groups were doing. The focus of the evening was good food and good conversations. I recall having a nice chat with the gentleman half of the couple I met last Sunday. He had folks from Penang and I was from Penang and so we were “related”. I had not met them since. Last Christmas, I believe she was a follower of Jesus and he was not. I didn’t have time to talk in detail but now they both worship regularly in this church we were visiting. If the gentleman wasn’t a follower yet he was surely close to being one.
Bernice later told me that the lady was so intrigued and impressed by the Christmas turkey that she decided to take a photo of it with her phone camera. I am not sure if they remembered the short sermon or the gospel conversations — I like to believe they did — but they definitely remembered the turkey and therefore I hope they also remembered what was shared that night. The encounter reinforced what I have believed for some time now, that a key way of reaching people with the gospel is through sharing a meal with them. And it’s not just sharing a meal with folks as a warm up to the main act — the verbal sharing of the gospel — but that the act of offering food and eating together is sharing the gospel too.
Recently I picked up Tim Chester’s book, A Meal with Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011). Chester makes an intriguing observation about the phrase “The Son of man came” in the New Testament.
There are three ways the New Testament completes the sentence, “The Son of Man came” “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45); “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10); “The Son of Man came eating and drinking …” (Luke 7:34).
The first two are statements of purpose. Why did Jesus come? He came to serve, to give his life as a ransom, to seek and save the lost. The third is a statement of method. How did Jesus come? He came eating and drinking. (A Meal with Jesus, 12.)
Chester later summarises Jesus’ ministry strategy in this way: “His mission strategy was a long meal, stretching into evening. He did evangelism and discipleship round a table with some grilled fish, a loaf of bread, and a pitcher of wine.” (A Meal with Jesus, 13).
Eating is a basic human activity. We all do it. Indeed if we stop eating we die eventually. But meals are also times of celebration. We think of wedding dinners, birthday dinners, graduation parties, etc. I will never forget the family reunion dinners we have on the eve of the Lunar New Year. Jesus communicates through this basic human activity, the fact that God is throwing a grand celebratory dinner and that we are all invited. When we invite our non-believing friends to a meal with good food and good conversations, we are handing out God’s dinner invitations to this heavenly banquet (Isaiah 25:6-9; Luke 13:22-30).
Many of us are nervous and shy when we are told that we need to share the gospel. Few of us can preach like Billy Graham or have the ability to do scintillating gospel conversations like Ravi Zacharias. But we can all invite some friends to a meal. We can do evangelism the Jesus way.
Jesus didn’t run projects, establish ministries, create programs, or put on events. He ate meals. If you routinely share meals and you have a passion for Jesus, then you’ll be doing mission. It’s not that meals save people. People are saved through the gospel message. But meals will create natural opportunities to share that message in a context that resonates powerfully with what you’re saying. (Chester, A Meal with Jesus, 89).
We were delighted to meet this couple last Sunday who had come to our Christmas dinner last year. We were touched that she was still carrying in her phone the picture of the Christmas turkey. We were particularly glad to see that they had obviously made progress in their walk with God. Time to book the turkey for this Christmas.