Potlucking is an art, a science, a social study, and a ministry in the church community.
So what happened to it?
Recently my home church has undergone some…difference in opinion over potlucks. Some of us grew up with it as a staple of life (yours truly included), and for some it is a way to be fed but not something to get involved with. I have listened to debates over whether to continue our Wednesday night potlucks, with many saying we need to make more food for the masses, and some declaring they can’t afford to feed everyone, they’re too busy, etc. It has come to a point where our associate pastor overseeing Wednesday night fellowship is almost ready to throw in the towel on the whole practice altogether. Which, as a lifelong potlucker (yes, that’s a thing!) makes me a little more than irritated, so I did what a good Christian woman should do: I prayed and looked up Scripture.
At first it seemed silly to pray for guidance in this debate over green bean casseroles and dinner rolls, but as I sat down Sunday morning to do my devotions (I help prep and serve coffee so I am at church for both services; I sit in the second service and pray during the first), God hit me with immediate Scripture to look up and it couldn’t have been more perfect.
“When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (John 6:5-7)
Sound familiar? The “not enough money to feed all these people” excuse? I used to think that about my own involvement with potlucks. Oh man, oh man, I LOVE church potlucks, but to bring something that would feed that many people? Waaaayyyyy above my budget! I was an avid consumer but didn’t think I qualified to bring anything, so I harbored this attitude of entitlement. Feed me, but I won’t feed you because I can’t afford it.
And guess what….I struggled more and more to put food on my own table and to keep money in my bank. The more I panicked over where my next meal would be, the fewer resources I actually had to solve the problem. It wasn’t until I felt renewed in God’s Spirit (yay Christian women’s convention!) that I felt the urge to be a provider for my church community, starting with not only bringing dishes to the Wednesday night potlucks but MAIN courses. You know, the things I can’t afford? Wouldn’t you know, as my perspective changed, so did my own financial and dining situation. I haven’t missed a meal yet, I always have money in the bank, and every Wednesday has been a guaranteed free meal as well as an opportunity to feel accomplishment and (godly) pride in offering my creations to my brothers and sisters in Christ.
The disciples looked for food to hand out, but all they found was a small boy’s lunch, which in today’s standards would be the equivalent of a Lunchables (John 6:8-11). Think about it: they definitely cannot afford to feed thousands of people on their fishing budget, and the only available food, period, is literally a couple dinner rolls and fish somewhat bigger than sardines. Think I’m exaggerating? This was a lunch for a small boy. Small boys don’t need huge loaves of bread or tuna steaks in their lunchbox, they just need something to tie them over until supper.
So what did Jesus do? Hand it out!
Just like I experienced the near-miraculous turnaround of my resources and food, the disciples watched as people broke chunks of bread apart and passed it on…and on…and on…until they had to pick up enough leftovers to fill 12 large baskets! (John 6:12-13) I used to think that the loaves of bread would just magically regrow with each share, but nowadays I wonder if it was far more subtle than that. Jesus does have a great sense of humor, and it seems more likely that people would take a piece and pass it down, not even noticing that the loaf hasn’t run out yet until they picked up the leftovers and had way more than a packed lunch.
So what happened to the potluck? I honestly think we’ve forgotten this story, forgotten that God feeds His children and never lets us truly starve on real food or His Word. If everyone brought a small pasta salad, there would be enough pasta salad to feed an entire congregation AND guests, with possible leftovers! I personally love to cook from scratch, and prefer it that way, but I have days where my overnight shift and daily commitments hand my butt to me on a silver platter, so Pillsbury becomes my friend. Today is one of those days. I actually ran very low on my funds in these few hours right before my paycheck direct deposits, but I’d committed to bringing biscuits. $9 got me enough canned biscuit and croissant dough for 48 bread rolls, and we usually only have 10 people show!
I work overnights at Walmart, I can’t afford my own place, I sleep on my parents’ couch, I am STILL in college, and yet I cook and bake for my church because it’s the right thing to do. I know that sharing a meal tears down walls of communication and opens up doors to new friendships, and I know that it feels great sharing a part of me with others via cooking. Sometimes a stranger comes in off the streets and helps themselves to the food, but while it was a little off-putting at first, I realized that could be the only food they get that entire day, and I’ve been there. So now I make sure everyone gets seconds.
Heat up the oven, turn on the stove, and tie on your favorite apron. Make a dish, or two, or three, for your church and watch your community grow!
P.s. Do potlucks really affect a church’s growth? In my 25 years as a Christian and church attendee, my family has attended several churches across the nation and I noticed two things: churches that consistently potlucked together, like my childhood church, have expanded almost double, if not triple within the past decade. The churches that didn’t potluck and viewed it as an “outdated inconvenience” struggled then and now to maintain fellowship and attendance, if the church is still around at all.