A few years ago, I read Justin Earley’s book, The Common Rule. Earley wrote the book after he had to make some difficult decisions to get his chaotic and too busy life in balance. From that experience, he adopted four daily habits and four weekly ones that have changed his life. One of the daily habits is to eat at least one meal each day with others. I have adapted that rule to have a meal with someone at least once a week, and I have found it helpful and encouraging. Here’s why I’m encouraging pastors and church leaders to have at least one meal a week with someone—either a church member or a non-believer.
1. Many of us need to slow down and spend more time with people. You can learn a lot about people over a meal. This commitment has forced me to slow down at least once a week, take a break, and spend time with others. As an introvert with a tendency to be a loner, I need this commitment.
2. Simply reaching out to invite someone is a good step for a pastor. You say something positive to folks when you invite them to share a meal with you—“you matter to me” and “I want to spend time with you.” You give others meaning and significance, and you model for them what they ought to do with others.
3. Eating with others challenges us to turn our focus off self. Unless we’re narcissists who want to talk about only ourselves, having a meal with someone else forces us to think about others. It pushes us to be listeners and learners more than talkers and teachers. It demands that we focus our attention on the person(s) across the table—not on ourselves.
4. Eating with others provides an intentional opportunity to learn more about others. Ideally, we use table conversations to learn more about others, including their salvation experience, their present-tense work, and their future goals. If you ask a lot of questions, in fact, you can learn more about someone over a one-hour meal than you would ever learn with a surface-level, Sunday-only relationship between pastor and church member. A weekly meal with someone is a wise investment of the time and energy God gives us.
5. Even non-believers want to eat. I have a non-believing friend with whom I have a meal about every three weeks (because he lives about 3.5 hours away). He doesn’t believe as I believe, but he gives me space to hang out with him. A meal together gives me opportunity (1) to remind him that I love him and am praying for him, (2) to answer any questions he might have about life and faith, and (3) to simply show him respect and care. As long as he’s willing to spend time with me, I’m quite willing to cover the cost of a meal.
6. Making time for one meal a week is not difficult to do. Sure, we have to, as Justin Earley says, “reorient our schedules and our space around food and each other”¹ to make time for this habit—but that’s the point. We will make time for what matters to us. Finding an hour a week to eat with a church member or a non-believer should not be difficult to do if they matter to us.
Make this commitment, pastor and church leader. You won’t regret it.
¹Justin Whitmel Earley, The Common Rule (p. 61). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.