We invited a family from our church to join us for dinner. Amy and I had both sets of parents there as well. We reclined at our dining room table for seven and a half hours. That may sound like a long time, but it went fast. There was something liberating about a tech-free dinner, the countless stories we shared, and all the laughs we had together. That’s what you call “fellowship,” and it’s one of the most important purposes of the church.

At the end of the night, we were refreshed rather than exhausted. We had two loads of dishes to do, but that didn’t bother us. As we cleaned up, we recounted stories and re-lived the meal itself. Sometimes I wonder if we had fewer gadgets and less technology, would long, enjoyable meals be the norm?

It’s not only refreshing but absolutely necessary for pastors to lay down the leadership mantle from time to time and simply enjoy the company of others. Our souls need it and our ministries benefit from it. When we don’t have this kind of fellowship, we lose sight of why we were called into ministry: to love and care for people.

Fellowship around the table is where the church started. Max Lucado writes, “Long before the church had pulpits and baptisteries, she had kitchens and dinner tables. ‘The believers met together in the Temple every day. They ate together in their homes, happy to share their food with joyful hearts’ (Acts 2:46 NCV) … Something holy happens around a dinner table that will never happen in a sanctuary. In a church auditorium you see the backs of heads. Around the table you see the expressions on faces. In the auditorium one person speaks; around the table everyone has a voice. Church services are on the clock. Around the table there is time to talk.” [http://www.christianity.com/devotionals/upwords-max-lucado/open-your-door-open-your-heart-upwords-week-of-october-8-14-11639250.html]

My wife says I enjoy fellowship best when it is free of expectation. By that she means that I do not feel the pressure to counsel someone, secure a new volunteer, or listen for a new sermon illustration. Leaders need fellowship to unwind, tell stories, and laugh. Most leaders spend their days in meetings with agendas. Reclining at a table with a good meal frees you up to enjoy each other. Here are a few suggestions to help you create memorable times of gathering around the table free of leadership responsibilities:

Go tech free

Placing your phone in another room frees you to be fully engaged in conversation. Nothing says “you are not important” like glancing at a text message in the middle of a face-to-face conversation.

Include everyone

In our home, we removed the kids’ table a long time ago. We want everyone at the table and included in the discussion. This also helps our children learn how to engage in adult conversation.

Be aware

Take notice if someone is not participating and find ways to draw that person into the conversation. Mix up the subject matter so that everyone’s interests are included. Honour everyone at the table by speaking words of high value over them. When they tell a story, ask great questions to seek deeper understanding.

Be spontaneous

Allow the conversation to flow. It may go unexpected places, but that is okay. Spontaneity often leads to discovery and fascination.

Be prepared if the conversation stalls

Experts say conversations turn over every seven minutes. Here are questions we find helpful at those moments when our discussion is met with awkward silence:

Who played a significant role in your faith journey?
What is your best childhood memory?
Tell us about your parents.
What world event most impacted you?
Which leader inspires you the most? Why?
What is your greatest hope for our generation?
What is your greatest hope for your family?
Which TV sitcom best represents your marriage and family?
Do you have a regular date night?
What was your most creative date?
What is the best holiday you’ve been on as a family?
What is the worst holiday you’ve been on as a family?
What would you do differently if you could take that trip over again?
What are your favourite travel destinations?
Do you prefer buffets or gourmet dining?
Describe your dream holiday.
How do you make each other laugh?
How do you divide household chores?
Describe a family member’s personality in one word.
What one big dream do you have for your marriage or family?

The holidays are over, but opportunities for fellowship are not. As you plan your calendar for the New Year, carve out time each week to enjoy people. Invite a family over for dinner and guide the conversation away from church business and toward relationship building. Max Lucado reminds us, “When you open your door to someone, you are sending this message: ‘You matter to me and to God.’ You may think you are saying, ‘Come over for a visit.’ But what your guest hears is, ‘I’m worth the effort.’”

Ted Cunningham

Ted Cunningham is the founding pastor of Woodland Hills Family Church in Branson, Missouri. He and his wife, Amy, have been married for over 20 years and have two children, Corynn and Carson. Ted is the author of Fun Loving YouTrophy Child, and Young and In Love, and coauthor of four books with Dr. Gary Smalley including The Language of Sex and From Anger to Intimacy. Ted’s most recent release is A Love That Laughs. He is a comedian on the Date Night Comedy Tour and a frequent conference speaker at churches and events across the nation. Ted is a graduate of Liberty University and Dallas Theological Seminary.

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