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Dinner Church

“The Table” is one of the most important places of human connection. It’s no wonder that so much of our Lord’s ministry took place around meals. Some of the most scandalous moments in the Gospels come from moments when Jesus broke bread with the outcasts and the marginalized. It was at these tables that broken people found connection, belonging, and redemptive life.

The table is also a place where dignity can be restored. It’s such a powerful missional practice because breaking bread together is where the “us vs. them” paradigms are erased, and the lines are blurred between who is doing the serving and who is being served. We all come together as equals, recognizing the face of God in the face of the person passing the potatoes. We may differ in our opinions about politics or social issues, but when we eat together we see each other’s humanity and value.

People don’t want to be projects. They want their humanity to be recognized and their potential to be valued.

Many charitable efforts today unintentionally add to stigmas of shame and dignity loss because they are merely about a handout and not a hand up. Handouts only further stigmatize the already stigmatized. That’s not how Jesus did ministry. He invited the poor, the marginalized, the stigmatized, and the criminalized to not just receive a charitable deed, but to break bread together in a manner of life-on-life community (a routine practice that drove the Pharisees nuts). A hand up is about meeting needs while inviting broken and hurting people into a community of shared life together.

Poverty alleviation and dignity restoration isn’t merely meeting a material need, it’s the ministry of reconciliation: moving people closer to glorifying God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation. We seek to empower others by reconciling these four imperative relationships so that people facing hardship can grow into self-sustained, responsible contributors in their homes and their communities.

“Dinner Church” is foundational to this kind of life-giving shared community with the families of kids Breakaway Outreach is serving. We not only provide enrichment programs for children affected by parental incarceration, trauma, domestic violence, low-income households, juvenile delinquency, and other societal hardships, we also invite their families into a “shared” life togetherness that often takes place around meals.

Equality is embraced at the table. Dignity is restored at the table. Hope and reconciliation can be found at the table. From God’s provision of food to fleeing refugees of Exodus, to the celebratory feast of its remembrance, to the sacrament of our Lord’s Supper, our food and our tables are marked as sacred. The earliest church knew it too: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

Those early disciples learned from the Greatest Missionary to every walk this earth—the Son of God in the flesh. They would never forget the experiences they had around a table with Jesus, the new life they encountered, and the missional practices He taught them about how to extend God’s kingdom to those in the margins.

In Luke 14, Jesus had just healed a man with dropsy, and then we see him dining in the home of a prominent Pharisee. At one point during the meal, Jesus shares a parable that likens the Kingdom of God to this Great Dinner Banquet, where multitudes were invited, yet one by one they all made excuses for not showing up. Here Jesus says something that would’ve been so radical for this audience to grasp, yet it taught a powerful truth about the Kingdom of God. He said to the Pharisee:

“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

The detail that the invitation is opened up to society’s maimed and most downtrodden is so key because these were the types of people that the Pharisees considered “unclean” or under God’s curse (John 9:1-2, 34). It would’ve been insulting to them to imply that they should break bread with these untouchables. But Jesus was never concerned about insulating people’s feelings—especially those haughty Pharisees, right?!

He makes a very clear point: The guest list for the kingdom will look a little different than these dinner guests would imagine. It’s a poignant lesson about serving people who might never be in a position to repay your kindness or hospitality. And Jesus says, THIS IS THE KINGDOM OF GOD.

This “Dinner Church” ministry model is reflective of the way Jesus did ministry on earth—valuing the disrepute, restoring dignity, building faith, and fostering discipleship. Today, we can be ministers of reconciliation and effective disciplers by following his example.

Dinner Church Christmas Outreach

Here’s how the “Dinner Church” model looks with the Breakaway Outreach Christmas initiative, as we partner together with local churches to serve disadvantaged kids and under-resourced families in our communities:

  1. Local Church Sponsorship: Members of the local church/community sponsor disadvantaged and at-risk children for Christmas gifts.
  2. A Festive Christmas Party: The children and their families are invited to a celebratory Christmas party that is hosted by the local church.
  3. A Shared Meal Together: A meal is provided, making no discrimination based on who is serving versus who is being served. The event is one big community eating, playing, and worshiping together the way God intended… as equals.
  4. Fun Activities: May include inflatables for the kids, stations for unique games or face painting, Christmas jeopardy for adults, story telling, singing Christmas carols, and ultimately gift giving for the children.
  5. Next Steps: Connection points are made for each guest/household to consider next steps with the local church and Breakaway youth programs, as well as sharing pertinent prayer requests. 

There are countless testimonies of how this initiative has empowered the lives of children and adults. Children have gone on to attend Breakaway summer camps, KidVenturez programs, and get matched with mentors. Families have joined the church, or taken next steps with a small group or follow-up Dinner Church event. We’ve had folks get baptized, and some guests have gone from being served to serving the following year by stepping up and becoming a child sponsor the following year. That’s what a hand up looks like, and we praise God for the many changed lives!