Drenched with sweat from setting up a tent and dodging bees swarming by the food; the 90-degree sun rays barreled on my forehead. It was a good thing all the discomfort of the summer heat hid the uneasiness of my soul. Today was the day! We were branching out into a new adventure. There was a call to a specific neighborhood driving our efforts. With sleeves rolled up, we began our work at expanding the Kingdom!
I recall a few things from that first day. One is this: Summer BBQ left outside too long attracts all sorts of life, like bees and people! Maybe it’s the sweet BBQ to fill people’s stomachs, or maybe it’s the sweet presence of the Lord welcoming people to His table. Probably, it’s a combination of both.
Another thing I remember is that this was the day I first met Matt. But it wasn’t our first interaction that etched in my memory; it was the next morning at the grocery store where discussion became interesting. Yes, I learned his name at our first Community Dinner, but I remembered his name in the grocery store, and little did I know what saying, “Hi Matt!” would end up bringing about.
We engaged in some small talk. My 10-minute errand turned into a 40-minute conversation. I have no idea how this topic came up, but I’ll never forget a certain part of our discussion standing outside the local grocery store:
“I want you to know that I’m agnostic,” Matt told me. He continued to explain he’s heard of Jesus, but that he’s not convinced at all. He also said he enjoyed dinner, but made it a specific point to express that he had no interest in Jesus.
Curious, I followed his invitation into discussion on the topic. “What would it take for you to believe in Jesus?” I asked.
“For Him to heal me of my MS,” he responded.
Alright. Challenge accepted, I thought to myself. After all, Elijah did a showdown with water logs bursting into flames to reveal the primacy of The One True God. And obviously, here was Jesus’ opportunity to do the same! Well, except for the flames.
In good Pentecostal fashion and hopeful (maybe more wishful) confidence, Matt allowed me to pray with him in the grocery store parking lot.
After praying I asked: “Feel any different.”
“Nope.” With a friendly smirk on his face.
Matt was not healed of MS. And as of this writing, he still isn’t.
Yet, he joined us for dinner in the presence of the Lord, week after week.
At first, he discarded the stories of Jesus by leaving the room or tent and opting for a smoke while remaining at a distance waiting for the Jesus story to conclude.
Moving Toward Jesus
Over about five or six months, Matt seemed to no longer disappear and to begin listening to the Jesus stories. Eventually, one of his friends asked for a Bible—the Jesus Stories—to read. It just so happened that Matt decided he wanted to read one, too.
About three months later, Matt had read through Matthew, Mark, and Luke, making his way to John. It was a regular thing for Matt and I to meet up each week and talk through the Jesus stories he was reading. It just so happened that the place where I found to engage in my pastoral study was a few doors down from his place where he lived.
Roughly nine months after we had met, as we were sitting and talking one day, he said he had something to share with me. He smiled and said, “I’m no longer agnostic.”
Smirking, I said, “Huh. Well, that’s awesome! What changed?” (He was not healed of MS).
“As I was reading about Jesus, I became convinced that He is real,” he replied.
He continued, explaining that he’s thinking about water baptism or submersion, and that for the first time in his life, he’s feeling a purpose inside of him, like God has something for him to do.
It was a cold, dreary winter day, where extra warmth entered my heart. Matt had made a pronouncement of trust in Jesus. He didn’t pray a “sinner’s prayer” or check a box on a connection card in our Sunday Worship Gathering.
Matt’s denouncement of agnosticism was his profession of faith in Christ.
As we continued talking together week by week, Matt shared how the lost sheep story means so much to him: that there’s hope for people like him, that he’s not lost but has been welcomed home, that being a part of this family gives him confidence and hope.
Every couple of weeks, Matt would circle around to discuss another story sticking to him: the lost son. So, I asked, and he agreed! Agreed to what? To share the lost son story with me during our Community Dinner.
We read the story together, and we had a conversation together, over how the story was speaking to him and regarding the point of the story. You could have heard a pin drop. The teens at the dinner, often dismissive of the Jesus stories, dialed in on Matt telling the story. And of course, the adults and his friends found it awesome that one of them was sharing a story with me that evening. In about 11 months, Matt moved from proclaiming agnosticism to proclaiming Christ and His love as revealed in the Christ story of the lost son. He has asked about baptism on his own initiative. He has invited friends and family to join in the Community Dinners (and yes, they’ve gathered with us for dinner). In about 11 months, Matt has moved from resisting the Gospel to expanding the Kingdom!
The Training that Got Us There
Three months into this 11-month journey I was invited to participate in something called the Dinner Church School of Leadership (DCSL). Please understand, while the Lord had guided us through His Spirit to begin before we had heard the words “Dinner Church” strung together; DCSL has been such a valuable experience to gain the theological, historical, and practical paradigms to see this missional movement develop into a fully functioning church.
When we began to dream and even launch our endeavor, we did not know of others also having been and being led by the Spirit of God into this missional movement, this recovery project of radical orthodoxy, linking us with the first century organic expansion strategy of the early church. If the Spirit of God is whispering to you to refocus upon finding the lost and bringing them home to the house of God, then you should consider enrolling in the next class of the Dinner Church School of Leadership.