I am slowly reading Listening to the Beliefs of the Emerging Church, edited by Robert Webber. I have previously mentioned a couple of passages from John Burke’s chapter (see “What needs to change?” and “Can we trust God for growth?“). I am now reading Karen Ward’s chapter, which is called “The Emerging Church and Communal Theology”.
As with all books that I read about the church, I am looking for those passages that best express the church as I see it in the New Testament. Ward compares the church to a “potluck dinner”:
The closest image or analogy I have for how we do everything (“preaching,” community, and theology-making) at Apostles is the “potluck,” as this is how we function at our Abbey community kitchen meals, at our theology pubs, and in our weekly eucharistic gathering and other forms of comunity life.
A potluck is a curious, fun, risky, and unpredictable way to eat. I remember growing up in my Missouri Synod Lutheran Church in Ohio, where I first discovered, and then was horrified by, the whole concept of the church potluck.
Lutheran church potlucks are things to behold … six-foot tables covered with red plastic checkered tablecloths lined up in rows in the church parish hall. Each one filled with heaping bowls (“dishes to pass”) of often tasteless food covered with either shredded carrots, raisins, tiny marshmallows, dried fried onions, or two of the above. Much of which was served up at these suppers was not my idea of fine dining, but what I found to be tasteless, others found to be rich, what I considered too hot, others considered just right, what I considered smelly, others considered pungently gourmet. Yet despite my upturned teenage nose at these suppers, I always managed to find enough dishes to nourish my body and satisfy my hunger, somewhere between the lutefisk and lefse.
Since then, my appreciation for the potluck has only grown and deepened. Somehow, between the tiny wieners and cold sauerkraut, God always feeds us … likewise are we theologically “fed” at the Church of the Apostles’ potlucks.
Eating potluck is not quick or neat, and it also has little need for adding protein bars or other additive “high energy” packaged supplements. Potluck as a metaphor for church and for “renewed human life and community” is a rich one.
A potluck is a very interesting analogy for the church. But, it seems to fit. God has provided the church with everything that it needs – and He has provided it in the various people that are part of the church. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:16, the church grows when each part within the church does its share – each believer has something to bring to this “potluck”.
Similarly, those within the body that seemingly have little to add are in fact indispensible (1 Cor. 12:22), necessary for the proper functioning of the body – much like a “potluck” is not complete without each dish, including those side items that make everything just right.
What happens when every dish is placed on the table? What happens when every believer does his or her share – speaking as God directs and serving with the power of God? God is glorified! (1 Peter 4:10-11)
Will every dish on the table satisfy my needs? No. But, if I have a need, God has promised to meet it. Of course, that is assuming that everyone brings their dish, and everyone is allowed to place their dish on the table. We also learn to cook by sampling what other chefs have prepared, knowing that there is a master chef and a master recipe.
The church as a potluck… this truly is an interesting analogy. Imagine the sights, smells, sounds, tastes of a potluck… Imagine how these all join together to create a feast… Perhaps this is a good analogy of the kind of community that God is building.