The Café or the Family Dinner?

by Jill McFadden

Every morning I get up, brew coffee that I think is delicious, grab one of my favorite granola bars, wash my hair with a very particular type of shampoo, and pick out an outfit from one of the too-many items squeezed into our too-tiny closet.1   I drive to work listening to music that I like.  I go to lunch at my favorite café, peruse the menu, and order the entrée that I think looks best.  After work I may watch a movie that I pick out myself,2  hang out with people that I enjoy, go where I want to go, or shop where I want to shop.


Each day brings with it a host of choices, and for most of them, I’m free to choose only the options that are pleasing/interesting/ lovely/delicious/entertaining.  When I go to Starbucks I can order the venti-skinny-double-shot-no-whip-soy-whatever, and I sense the right to be a little miffed if they don’t get it just right.  The truth is, for as much as I complain about doing dishes and sorting laundry, there is almost nothing in my life that I didn’t choose to do because I wanted to do it.  My felt identity as someone who can choose—someone who has the right to choose—is probably even more fundamental than I realize.

Enter Sunday morning.  It starts similarly to every other day, making choices about breakfast and coffee and clothes.  And then I choose to go to church, and I choose which church to go to.  Do I feel like a powerful choice-making consumer?  Check.  But when I come to church something different happens—something that can be uncomfortable, threatening, irritating:

I stop calling the shots.

As I pull into the parking lot and walk through the church doors, I voluntarily enter a 75 minute service for which I didn’t choose the sermon topic, or the songs.  In fact, I may not even like the songs.  And I certainly might not care for the singer’s voice.  And I may find the person who sits down next to me to be annoying/high maintenance/smelly/loud—definitely not someone I’m going to hang out with on the weekend.   And all of my choice-loving internal red flags are going up—why are you here? You do not prefer this style or speaker or space or smelly personEvery other aspect of your life is tailored to your preferences.  Surely you can find another place of worship that suits you better.  I mean seriously, what if I went to my favorite café and someone else ordered for me, and they chose eggplant and I don’t even like eggplant?!  Craziness.  Kind of like church.

Corporate worship runs counter to my normal choice-making routine and thus requires an entirely different mindset:  not one of consumerism (picking out whatever I want to satisfy my needs and desires), but one of openness and receptivity.  Some weeks I may encounter songs and styles and speaking that aren’t my favorite.  But even through this, God can and will speak to me, if I ask him to, for he is here.  What would you have me hear? Do? I can declare how good and praise-worthy he is and can cry out to him in my need in a service that is ‘right up my alley’ and one that isn’t.  Some services may resonate with me more naturally than others.  That’s great and natural.  But if I’m leaving a service thinking I “couldn’t” worship because it wasn’t my “style” or I “don’t like that song” or I “didn’t get much out of the sermon”… I may be letting a consumerist culture dictate how I approach the worship of God, instead of the other way around.   Did I walk into corporate worship with open hands, asking God to meet me through whatever way he would choose?  Or did my inability to choose frustrate me so much that I closed off the opportunity to fellowship with God and his people?

A colleague of mine3 describes corporate worship as a “family dinner.”  Some days, Mom cooks your favorite meal,4 and it’s awesome.  Most of the time there’s at least something on your plate that you love, and maybe one or two things that you just eat because that’s what the family is eating tonight.  And some nights it may be eggplant, and you still kind of can’t stand eggplant.  But you come to the table because it’s good and fitting and right and nourishing (even the eggplant), and it’s what a family does.

So we come, walking in ready to praise him no matter what, wanting to meet him however he would choose to show up.  Open.  Receptive.  And as we practice this posture weekly, maybe, just maybe some of that openness and receptivity will begin to leak out of Sunday mornings and start to affect the other six days.  Maybe this watchfulness and openness will make you able to see God meeting you throughout the week in ways you would have missed before.  Maybe you’ll be more willing to give up your felt “right” to have every element of your day line up with your preferences, and you will be surprised at your own spontaneous generosity, or at the unexpected God-ordained encounter with the stranger in the supermarket that you would have previously thought only an inconvenience.

What would you have me hear?  Do? How will you meet me today?  You have promised to be with me always.   I’m ready and waiting for you to show up—however you choose.


1 All of the above is true except one thing… my husband brews the coffee.

2 Two notes: First, if I didn’t pick out the movies, I’d be watching shark attack and zombie movies exclusively (the fruit of my husband’s choosing).  Second, in a post on choices and consumerism, it should be noted that one way to curb the consumerist impulse when choosing a movie is to rent from a Redbox.  The selection is usually pretty thin, and the limited options could serve as a healthy balance to getting-what-I-want-when-I-want-it.  What I want is never there.

3 My friend Derek Miller, who leads worship at Gallery Church in Baltimore.  He might have borrowed this phrase from someone else, not sure.

4 Fried chicken, rice and gravy, and zipper peas.  Mom, you’re the best. 

15 thoughts on “The Café or the Family Dinner?

  1. Having spent six months at your church, I miss you and all of the people with which you serve the Lord.
    Keep up the “Good Work!” Hope to see you in coming months!

  2. Great post. If I am a Christ-follower, church is about anything and everybody but me. And in God’s amazing goodness, I will be blessed just by showing up with a glad heart!

  3. Nice post Jill. Love fried chicken w/ rice & gravy but don’t know zipper peas? There is a beautiful interplay b/w Mom’s attentive provision at the family dinner and what Jimmy needs to be eating. Blessed to have Mom’s who care 😉

    • Great point– loving and other-centered decisions are being made by the provider of the family dinner.

      Zipper peas are mild-flavored peas grown in the Southern US (maybe other places too). I have great memories of shelling them every summer, and they’re a favorite! 🙂

      • I am going to try some zipper peas: wonder if they just go by another name here? Miss you both.

  4. Really enjoyed this post Jill! Kinda made me a little sad though bc I thought it would have been really cool to discuss in person at one of our coffee shop meetings – miss such rich and meaningful conversations with you!!

  5. You pulled these thoughts together so well and I can tell it is very personal. Thanks, Jill for sharing this (and for even including me in a footnote!) and for the record, Mark DeYmaz said this in a conference call that I was a part of on Multi-Ethnic and Multi-Cultural Worship.
    I would even add to your thoughts here that God wants to meet us in those moments that we didn’t choose because he wants to show off through the choices of others. When we see something and think, “Hmm…that’s not the way I would have done it.” We should praise God! God does more than we think! He is creative enough to create seemingly infinite things through the thoughts/actions/choices of those he has made. If that does not prompt you to worship, then there are some other things that need to be examined!

  6. “The truth is, for as much as I complain about doing dishes and sorting laundry, there is almost nothing in my life that I didn’t choose to do because I wanted to do it. My felt identity as someone who can choose—someone who has the right to choose—is probably even more fundamental than I realize.”

    Well put. As Americans/the global 1 percent-ers, we have so many privileges and freedoms (which leads to having choices), that most of the world can only dream of. Furthermore, we feel entitled to be decision makers in our own lives, but we should always keep an open mind-heart to the Spirit (as you said) for sure.

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