The church isn’t a restaurant. It’s culinary school.

Restaurant.035Snark MeterrealMID.003

Last week’s “The church doesn’t exist to feed you” post pushed lots of people’s buttons…mainly because I put myself in the awkward position appearing to argue against the Bible. Let me morph the analogy a bit…

For most of my Christian life I disliked church. REALLY disliked it.

Not bored, as in “I would rather watch my team play.”  Not, “Oops I forgot to set my alarm.” But a tension in the neck that ruins Saturday date night when I realize that in the morning my wife expects me to get up and go to church sort of a dislike.

It wasn’t a God problem. At 18 I fell in love with Jesus. Soon after I developed a crush on the Bible. I love serving others. Most weeks I would rather do ministry than go on vacation. But church? Not so much.

I found church relentlessly reductionistic: four songs, sermon, pass the hat, then off to lunch. The best part of that liturgy was the lunch. I had an undergrad degree in the Bible and a pile of master’s credit in theology. Give me the text and I could give you the conclusion to nine out of ten sermons. I was more than bored. I was convinced Sunday worship was utterly irrelevant.

Can you relate just a little? Have you ever sat in church and wondered, “What is this getting me, besides 10% poorer?”

Part of the problem was my mental image of the church: I saw it as a restaurant designed to feed me.

Think about what happens at a restaurant:

            -You choose one you like

            -You drive to it

            -Someone seats you

            -You order what you are in the mood for

            -Then you eat the meal and sit in judgment on it: “I like this”,  “I don’t like that.”

A restaurant is a narcissistic, preference-driven experience. Which is fine for a restaurant, but it is a certain kind of soul death when I view the church that way.

Lobster.036My wife and I once went to Pappadeux’s on “all you can eat lobster night.” We watched people with butter dripping down their forearms and chins, eating three and four enormous lobsters in a single sitting. It was as revolting as it sounds. You can imagine the girth of people who consume 5000 calories before dessert. When we use the church as a restaurant, and sit back waiting for someone to serve us we will either go home hungry or huge.

But what if we changed our perspective? What if we saw the church less like a restaurant and more like culinary school.

Culinary School.038

While a restaurant is a place of preference that exists to meet MY desires. Culinary school is a place of perseverance where one comes to be equipped to feed OTHERS. Culinary school is something you invest your time, talent and treasure in because you have a sense of calling.

In Ephesians four, Paul describes us as “baptized into one body,” “living lives worthy of our calling,” “in the unity of the Spirit” and THEN Paul portrays God as giving gifts “to equip the saints” to change the world …in the case of culinary school, through tasty, nourishing, healthy, well-prepared, well-presented food.

The Church does not exist to feed us. It exists to equip us.

The “church,” “ecclesia” in Greek, literally “the called out ones” have been “called out” specifically to be equipped through Word, Sacrament and discipline to return to the world and call others to the banquet table of God’s great love feast.

Think about the joy that happens over a table in a great little neighborhood bistro: Joy is made possible in culinary school. Culinary school is the place where:

-You sell your stuff, pay big tuition dollars, and move into a bad apartment, all because you are committed to a goal

-You get a set of tools – really good ones!

-You learn a new set of skills

-You are in a community of people with a vision

-It is also a place where there is tremendous conflict as you learn your craft…but a place with support and encouragement and accountability also

-They set you in front of a dangerous stove and let you play with the nobs, and try mixing stuff up and seeing how it tastes and hope you don’t blow the place up while you learn

All so your class can go out into the world with a vision for places where people will be fed and cared for and real community built.

That, friends, I would suggest to you, is what the church is supposed to be:

-Those “called out”

-Equipped with tools and knowledge

-Allowed to practice

-Giving grace to one-another, with support and encouragement provided

-A community where conflict is expected and forgiveness extended

-A community where we are playing with dangerous tools: the Keys to the Kingdom of God

-A community with a mission to change the world.

That is why the church asks people to spend valuable time seeking God, give 10% of their money, and serve others…because Jesus and his kingdom is just so important. We are all busy. But we find time to do what we want to do. What if we fell so in love with Jesus and his call on our lives that we make HIM our priority, and the culinary school that is the Church the place where we are equipped?

In the Christian life one is only truly blessed when they are in the community of faith, giving themselves to that community and giving themselves and the Gospel message away to create a different world.

What about you?

-Have you met the Master Chef, Jesus the Messiah? Have you given your life to him by faith? Have you been baptized as the public entrance into that faith?

What is your view of the Church? Have you been showing up, as at a restaurant, to be fed? Or are you coming to be equipped and move out to change God’s world?

The world awaits. It awaits the flavor and seasoning and the freshness that can only come when we step into God’s mission. It awaits the beauty and warm relationships that happen when we do our parts and dish up a big steaming bowl of the goodness of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

There is the aroma of Christ on those who serve (2 Cor. 2:15). There is the taste of the goodness of our God.  There is a beauty for the eye to behold when the presentation is with grace.

Like a restaurant that hasn’t opened, the neighborhood might not know the wonderful things in store for them until they begin to smell the aroma of Christ in your kitchen and you begin to serve God’s recipes at the banquet table of the Kingdom. Are you waiting to be fed or being equipped to taking your gifts into the world? A hungry world awaits its Savior.

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19 thoughts on “The church isn’t a restaurant. It’s culinary school.

  1. Agreed. I think this “offends” some readers because many of our churches are still stuck in the mentality that it is the minister’s job to proclaim the gospel and many ministers only see the congregants jobs as inviters to church service so he can proclaim it. We aren’t teaching and equipping saints to DO the work of the ministry. We aren’t making disciples, we’re just building audiences to watch a show.

    • Thanks Charjoobean. It is strange to me that it is offensive that Christians could experience the blessings of God as we move in mission where we are, as we seek Jesus and give away the good news of God’s forgiveness in Christ.

  2. I love this post! I loved the one about not being fed at church as well. A friend of mine complained to me that you were whining about immature Christians when going to church is part of a well-balanced Christian diet. (“The church is a body–it needs nutrition” my friend said.) My response?

    Yes, going to church is part of a well-balanced Christian diet. I am not disagreeing with that statement. However, there are more Christians with imbalanced diets than there are with balanced diets. I’d say that when many Christians only read their bibles fifteen minutes a week–not including their time at church–that there is a major imbalance. Don’t stop speaking the truth! You’re spot on. People who whine about your posts probably have a skewed perception anyway. Many people are too busy being relevant to see the truth.

    • Hi Audragayle. Thanks for the comment.

      The funny thing is that I was actually whining about pastors causing the immaturity and passivity, not blaming the victims.

      I am really glad people are talking about things in our Christian world. Lots of people in the pews are confused by my posts, but their pastors are reading specifically because we are all trying to figure out how to faithfully be the Body of our Lord. Some are very defensive, forgetting that relevance is new. Some of us are just scratching our heads and trying to thoughtfully and prayerfully pursue what the Holy Spirit is leading us toward as the culture changes. The intersection of a God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever in a world that is forever yearning is a wonderful challenge, isn’t it?

      Blessings, Audragayle.

  3. Pingback: Your church isn’t supposed to “feed” you | the gospel side

  4. As a former seminarian, licensed minister, and now current culinary student, all I can say to this is, “Love, love, love!” I pressed this and sharing your post on my blog. Thank you so much for this!!

    • Thank you, Jason. I appreciate your comments and pressing the post. The “Church isn’t supposed to feed you” post was supposed to be just be a teaser for the “culinary school” post. The joke has been on me: the unbalanced teaser has gotten 10x the traffic.Thanks for helping along what I was really trying to get at. :-)

  5. Pingback: The church isn’t a restaurant. It’s culinary school. | JOE, Taste and See!

  6. Pingback: Second Helpings | Faith UMC Blog

  7. This is brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!!!! I LOVE this! I wish more churches were like this. Just finished reading “Radical” I am so on board with this new line of thinking, that the purpose of the church is not to cater to our whims, but to equip us to minister. Beautiful concept. Therefore, go and make disciples…

    I take only one exception with this, however: the slam against big people. Why are people who have weight problems always classified as gluttons by those who have never struggled with their weight? Some big people have never experienced butter dripping down their forearms or gorging on buffets. Some people have to fight their bodies to drop weight; fight a Rocky-like battle that the prescription of “eating less and moving more” does not fully transform. You talk of learning to minister to all of God’s people, yet take an opportunity to slam some of them in a reference that frankly didn’t fit.

    A better one, I think, would be to describe the culinary aficionados, the people enamored with celebrity chefs and cooking shows, people–well, kinda like me!–uber picky about their cuisine: “The salmon’s hint of smokiness offset by the prominent acid of the chutney didn’t quite work with the silky cream nuttiness of the polenta.”

    Yeah, I think that’s kinda like today’s church. “The pastor had some relevant teaching about Matthew 10, but the parking lot lacks convenient spaces and the espresso at the coffee bar isn’t up to par.”

    • Hi Cat,
      Thank you for your comments. I too appreciated Platt’s book.

      I like your culinary aficionados analogy better than lobster night. I wish I would have thought of it. :-)

      …My Pappadeux analogy can certainly be read as critical of people who struggle with weight in a country that makes it incredibly difficult not to. (At my son’s elementary school, for example, 25% of the 6th graders were struggling with obesity. That degree of struggle by that many at that early an age says social & economic causes as well as genetic ones are at play). I do think, though, that eating contests at “all you can eat” nights, are, by definition, the group NOT fighting our genetics.

      Your final paragraph made me laugh out loud (I am at a conference and woke my roomie). It reminded me of the mystery worshiper website…and, closer to home, a bunch of things I said myself when looking at churches a number of years ago.

      Thanks for your comments. You are intelligent, thoughtful and altogether elevated the dialogue. Please do continue to comment on the gospel side!

    • Where are you going? The critique of many today is that many big churches have so bought into the entertainment driven model…concert quality, etc to the point that it drives out a sense of the holy.

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