“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:15–17).
The invitations are made, people are invited, signs are posted, the room is prepared, and the doors open — and that’s when we learn who shows up.
Detroit Dinner Church is different than brick-and-mortar churches in that we never invite people to “our” building; we go to theirs. We make the sacrifice to accept potential discomfort in order to enter someone else’s world. Incarnation was never intended to be a onetime thing. Instead it should be repeated by anyone who follows Jesus. This is the power of incarnation.
We hope people who are literally hungry will show up. Toni comes every week. She is a single mom and brings all seven of her children and two of their friends. Ten people crammed around a table meant for six, which actually multiplies the smiles and joy — ten empty cups of dessert pudding at the end of the night, ten stomachs full of food, laughter and hope. Toni rejoices because she provides an extravagant night out for her family and their friends. Our God is a generous God, and this family feels it every Monday night.
While we wish we could provide sweet and flavorful drinks, we typically serve only water — cold, ice-filled thermoses of water, the most basic of drinks. And every week, at least one person says, “This water is so good! I love this water!”
Interesting. We didn’t add anything to it. We didn’t spend anything for it. We turned on the tap and filled the bucket.
As you may know, most drinks sold are designed to make you more thirsty. We keep drinking these colorful, fizzy and sugary substances thinking at first that they are solving our thirst. These beverages pretend to be something they’re not. We fill up but aren’t fulfilled. We need the real thing; that’s for sure.
At Dinner Church, programs and professionalism quickly give way to telling stories about Jesus. Knowing Him is our highest priority. It’s simple, I know, but simple satisfies. Gwen lives alone. She attends Catholic Mass on Sundays but can’t hear or understand the priest, and she sits alone among strangers. But at Dinner Church, her voice is heard. She asks questions (usually by interrupting). She voices her thanks to God. She makes ridiculous comments that bring us all to laughter (although that is rarely what she intends). Gwen is welcomed and known. For other meals, Gwen usually dines alone. No one invites Gwen to dinner. Thanks to Meals on Wheels, this 83-year-old gets a meal a day. But in this musty, joy-filled basement, Gwen is part of the body of Christ.
Eight teens jam in around a table, shifting and pushing as their tablecloth scoots halfway off the table. Ten seconds after coming in, they dominate the room. Several of them have matching shirts. I comment, “Cool shirts; what team are you a part of anyway?” They answer, “Uh, no team, we found these in the center’s ‘clothes closet’ and thought it’d be fun to wear them.”
No Armani, Versace or even Old Navy, but free.
We don’t dress up at Dinner Church. Everyday clothes reign. No one feels embarrassed about what they do or do not have. We are all equals around the table (James 2:1–9).
Rich and poor alike find some salad stuck on their teeth. We are clothed in Christ, which is all that matters.
Avion is 11 years old. Last week he came without his mom (who was home, sick) and little brother and sister. He ate his food and listened intently to the story of Jesus. In this story, Jesus said, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35).
Just two months ago, Avion’s stepdad died suddenly. Fear permeates his home. Jesus’ stories of life and death are not ho-hum; they are meaningful and real. The sins of others attack Avion’s life.
But on that Monday, Avion was the hero. We packed his “to go” boxes especially full and, that night, he was the provider for his family.
Of course, every week there are people trapped in the impossible web of drug and alcohol addiction. They can’t get out, and their addictions defile their minds and bodies to the extent that most people look past or through them. Though they’ve imprisoned themselves in their addictions, there is no judgment here. Outside, they are avoided. But around the table, there is love.
So who comes to Dinner Church? The hungry, thirsty, lonely, those in need, the sick and the trapped (James 1:2–12, 5:13–19).
Who comes to Dinner Church? “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
In other words, Jesus.
Mark Cryderman is a Free Methodist elder who serves as the pastor of Detroit Dinner Church and provides dinner church training through Mission Igniter, the church planting incubator supported by the Southern Michigan Conference. Visit theharborfamily.com to learn more about Detroit Dinner Church and missionigniter.org to learn more about Mission Igniter.2