My family has always had a big front porch (nearly a non-negotiable expectation if you’re somewhere around the 12th generation of a family from Georgia). And sure enough my current home has one of the only front porches on our street. As a kid, “porch parties” – as we called them – were a normal part of the weekly rhythm, as my parent’s friends from up the street would come over and have a glass of wine or tea on the porch while the kids run around in the front yard until it was too dark to see, and often times well past.
Congregations need front porch ministry. The front porch represents basic, ordinary, unflashy neighborliness, a public and approachable presence, a desire to proclaim good news and invitation, and willingness to respond to the similar invitations of others. The front porch is the place of the prophetic. It’s the place where we can be on the “edge of inside” (to use Richard Rohr’s phrase), to be the person who is not locked in or limited by the inside “system”, but who stays connected, nurturing the values of invitation and belonging, making sure the boundaries are permeable. Front porch ministry means nurturing evangelism, witness, and a deeper sense of Christian vocation in ordinary daily life, so that we might return to the outside in faithfulness.
Like many of you, most places I’ve called home have included a living room full of family pictures, a couch with pillows and blankets strewn all over, some sort of recliner in the corner, and a coffee table convenient to everyone. The living room is the destination of that first invitation to come inside, where we welcome people in by name, where they can begin to see our identity marks and learn something unique about us. It’s where belonging begins.
Congregations need living room ministry. The living room teaches us that “nice” and “friendly” are not the same as hospitable, and that if we are not intentional about it, it is easy to overlook the stranger in our midst who awaits invitation. The living room also reminds us that creating a “neutral” space and suppressing authenticity for the sake of comfort is not hospitality. Often our attempts to be more relevant and not make anyone uncomfortable with what we believe or proclaim leads to lowest common denominator spirituality which turns out to be hardly worth participating in at all. A college student once said to me when I was a campus minister, “my church is so inclusive I don’t even know what we’re including people in anymore.” Living room ministry is being welcoming and loving in the midst of strangeness and particularity, not by doing away with it. When people come into our homes we don’t take down all the pictures. Where’s the hospitality in that? Rather, we proclaim, “This is us! Warts and all! It’s strange, mysterious, weird, and beautiful! Join us!”
The dining room is where we treat people especially well, where we serve them, where they are our honored guests. The dining room is where the hosts go the extra mile to make sure someone belongs, and even enjoy going that extra mile. The dining room is where people invest and pace themselves for an evening’s full duration, where they enjoy multi course meals and rich conversation.
Congregations need dining room ministry. The obvious reference point here is the communion table, but how can we extend the table? The community of faith can create spaces – both in our lives and in their literal spaces – for treating everyone like honored guests, for being intentional not only with our welcome, but with our desire for deeper, sustained relationships of mutual belonging. Often we find that the hosts emerge as guests in the lives of others, and ultimately all as guests in God’s intimate triune life.
Much like the front porch, the kitchen has had its unique and constant presence in my life as a place where friends and family gather for unplanned conversations and a sense of belonging. But the kitchen is also the place of creativity, the place of me asking my 3 year old daughter to help me crack some eggs, stir the pancake mix, and lay the thick cut bacon across the pan. The kitchen is a place of kinesthesis, of getting our hands dirty as we prepare, serve, and clean.
Congregations need kitchen ministry. We need places, communities of faith, where people are not only served, but are given the opportunity to serve others, to be creative, to add their own unique styles, tastes, and gifts to the ever-diversifying kingdom of God. We need to personally invite people into these kitchens. It wouldn’t suffice in your home to put up a sign in the living room that says, “If anyone wants to cook, call this number.” Similarly, it won’t suffice for us to fill our church bulletins, websites, and newsletters with “if anyone wants to….. then…. “Instead, use the power of personal invitation, just like Jesus’ disciple, Phillip who said, “come and see.” People are dying to be invited into the kitchen. Let’s invite them.
Our tendency is to rely on one of these types of spaces to accomplish the whole of Christian discipleship. But whatever the size of your congregation, you can in fact create all of these spaces and nurture faith through them.
Think about your congregation for a moment.
What’s your front porch ministry?
What’s your living room ministry?
What your dining room ministry?
What’s your kitchen ministry?
What part of your “house” needs renovation?