I suspect that Jesus used all this delicious imagery because he knew that there is a difference between feeding people and dining with people.

Feeding people means keeping the hungry at arm's length. It means sending checks now and then, making thanksgiving baskets once a year, preaching about justice, and launching new ministries—all while sitting comfortably at the head of a tiny table, dropping scraps of our abundance to the floor.

Americans are good at feeding people.

But dining with people is an entirely different matter. Dining together means sitting next to one another and brushing arms, passing the bread basket and sharing the artichoke dip. It means double-dipping and spilling drinks, laughing together and crying together, exchanging stories, ideas, recipes and dreams. According to Jesus it means leaving the seat at the head of the table ceremoniously empty so that all are guests of honor and all are hosts. Dining together isn't charity; it's friendship.

For the church in North America to grow in a good way, we need to break down the distinction between those who serve and those who are served. The abundance must truly be shared. At the local level this may mean hosting literal banquets, complete with Jesus-style invitation lists. At the global level, it means sacrificing some of our own comforts so that when we care for our faraway neighbors we can still feel their presence beside us at the table.

In every case, it means slowing down long enough to savor both the food and the company. It means admitting that we need our neighbors as much as they need us.

So let's build bigger banquet tables.

Let's eat fruit that's in season and drink coffee that's fairly traded so that Latin farmers can join us at the table with their heads held high. Let's share the reputation of Jesus and dine with those who the religious love to hate—gays and lesbians, divorcees, single moms, junkies, dreamers and doubters. Let's squeeze in a little tighter to make enough room for people of all political persuasions, all religious backgrounds, all ethnicities and all denominations.

Let's eat a little less so that everyone has enough, and let's linger longer so that everyone gets a chance to share what's on their mind. Let's invite the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame so that our house will always be full.

Taken from Letters to a Future Church: Words of Encouragement and Prophetic Appeals edited by Chris Lewis. Copyright(c) 2012 by Chris Lewis. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press PO Box 1400 Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com.

For more conversation on Letters to a Future Church, visit the Patheos Book Club here.