Rosslyn’s approach to Sunday lunch is so much better than mine. I’m usually brooding on the mess I made of the sermon I’ve just given, or distracted by the one that needs to be finished! But she usually thinks about how we could use it for the benefit of others and for the gospel. And so, at our newly arranged Monday lunch (which doubles as a diary session) she usually asks me who we should invite for Sunday lunch. After an intensive morning of review and planning with the CCB staff I just want to switch off and eat my croque monsiour. But it’s the right question to ask, even if I don’t feel capable of engaging with it.
My inclination is to err on the side of spontaneity. Rosslyn prefers a more disciplined approach. Her way gets things done. I’ve learnt that planning means that we’re more likely to get people round the lunch table if we’ve thought about it ahead of the game. But it’s still at the loose rather than the clenched end of planning!
In 1 Corinthians 10:31, The Apostle Paul tells us that we’re supposed to eat to the glory of God. That would include Sunday lunch, I assume. And so I’ve wondered about how we can use that for God’s glory. Of course, we’re free to ignore all of them. They’re simply suggestions and they’re probably pretty obvious, but I benefitted from thinking about them and thought that others might as well:
1. Have Sunday lunch with your own family
You don’t have to show hospitality every Sunday lunch. Sometimes it’s necessary to just gather the family and spend some time together catching up. If Dad’s been away for much of the week and hasn’t had a chance to see the kids, then this is especially important. If it’s just you and the kids then make sure that at least part of the meal is spent talking about what was taught in the children’s slot and in children’s church. You saw what went on in the children’s slot and so you’ve got something concrete to talk about. We haven’t been in Sunday School and so we don’t know what’s been going on and lunch is the time to find out. But we try not to use either the children’s slot or Sunday School as a memory test but as an opportunity to talk about the implications of what they’ve been learning. If we haven’t got children and our parents are within reach then Sunday lunch is a good time to go and see them. And we could treat them to lunch at a restaurant rather than reverting to type and thinking that it’s Mums job to put food on the table!
2. Have Sunday lunch with church friends
This is the default position for us. It’s where we naturally fall unless we think creatively about an alternative. It’s been ingrained in us as a result of being on the receiving ends of its benefits for so many years. When we were both students and then young adults we were looked after by wonderful Christian families. We’d like to stand in that line of gospel hearted hospitality! Over lunch we’ll try and cover lots of ground with the people who come; where they’re from, what’s going on in their lives and so on. But I’ll also try and talk about the sermon. That’s often hard because I gave it and so they’ll feel under pressure! But when you do it, try not to talk about whether it was any good but what you were supposed to learn. Resist the temptation to talk about the preacher’s performance or what you liked. Talk instead about the substance of his sermon; what did God intend for you to learn.
3. Have Sunday lunch with a church family
Be prepared for chaos. It may not be the most straightforward meal you’ve ever had. At CCB we’re probably talking anywhere between four and six children if two of the older families get together. That’s a lot of kids. And our houses aren’t big. But there’s something really precious about God’s people gathering not only to do church but to share their lives together over a meal. It’s not only potentially chaotic, it’s also potentially exposing. People will see what sort of father I am, how I interact with my kids, whether I discipline them and so on. They’ll pick up on my preference to talk rather than do the washing up and draw conclusions about my sinful nature. And they won’t be wide of the mark. But kids love seeing and being with other families. And the grownups get to have a meal with people at the same age and stage rather than looking after the ‘youngsters’ at church. And so it’s worth doing once in a while.
4. Have Sunday lunch at a local restaurant
When funds are flush we try to get along to Pizza Express. It’s a real treat for whoever does the cooking. And in our house, that’s Rosslyn. I have a limited culinary repertoire. And she’s not that keen on seafood pasta for Sunday lunch. It feels extravagant to go out for a meal, but it allows the parents to relax as long as the kids are well-behaved. Our kids are at an age where they know how they’re supposed to behave in a restaurant. Sometimes they manage it! But it’s often wonderfully relaxing to let the kids go off and watch a pizza being made whilst they’re being entertained by the waiters as we sip a cool lager and catch up with friends.
5. Have Sunday lunch with someone from another congregation
CCB is one church with two congregations. There’s a good deal of mixing across them. Evening Church are especially good at resourcing the morning with musicians, children’s workers and ‘twicers’. And it’s always appreciated when it happens. Morning Church is less good at supporting Evening Church when Evening Curch happens, but it’s hard to escape at bed, bath and Bible time. And so inviting someone from another congregation is a great way of fostering our partnership in the gospel as well as discovering what life is like for others. Some of us look back of our younger days with wistful regret and can pass on one or two titbits of wisdom. Others look forward and wonder what lies ahead in midlife. Usually this cross-congregational hosting involves someone from Morning Church hosting someone from the evening. But it doesn’t have to be. But it’s a tad easier to add one or two adult portions to the mix than it is for a single person to host a family in their flat share! One of the privileges of running an urban church is that God has given us lots of young adults. Our kids love them. They’re grownups but they’re cooler than Mum and Dad. And they’re like big brothers and sisters without being annoying. One of the highlights of the year so far was watching Diggers bond with a twenty something Star Wars devotee.
6. Have Sunday lunch with a crowd
At the end of Morning Church someone usually rounds up a crowd to head off to the local greasy spoon. This ‘catch all’ provides a means of welcoming newcomers. It’s brilliant. And should be much encouraged. There was a newcomer last week at church and she ended up in one of Balham’s finest for her Sunday lunch with a bunch of people she’d only met a couple of hours earlier. That’s simply terrific. And this sort of eclectic gathering mixes up the cliques and makes sure that no-one gets left out.
7. Have Sunday lunch with a non-Christian family
We very much hope that they’ll join us at church beforehand. That invitation isn’t often accepted. But people are happy to join us for lunch. We’ve never once withdrawn the invitation to lunch if they’ve declined our offer of church! It’s not conditional. Yet! But at lunch we tend to do all the things that we usually do; we give thanks, we ask the kids about Sunday School and there’ll be some discussion about church. Sometimes people will pick up on that and it can stimulate a useful discussion. If you’ve got a large enough table then you get a church family along as well. All too often we isolate our church friends from our non-Christian friends. This would mix it up a little and show people who don’t normally go to church that we haven’t surrendered being interesting and engaging by worshipping God, quite the opposite one would hope!
I’m not ‘strategic’ in our use of Sunday lunch. And that’s OK. I wouldn’t want people to feel part of a project. But there’s something to be said for being a little more planned than I would naturally like to be. I’m pretty sure that there are people in church who’ve never had lunch with us. Obviously they’ll be gutted! I just haven’t got a clue who they are. But although I’d like to make better use of Sunday lunch, I’m not going to keep a register!