Close to ten years ago I went to a conference with a bunch of other pastors and ministry professionals. Despite my best attempts to avoid eye contact that might lead to conversation, I met a guy who was in the early stages of starting a church on Long Island, specifically in the Hamptons. As he described their church plant strategy he explained matter-of-factly that they would throw a lot of parties. It’s not often that I remember something a person said ten minutes ago, let alone ten years ago. But I remember his comment. And lately I’ve been thinking more about it. I’ve been thinking about parties.
Throw Good Parties
If Christians want to embody the Kingdom of God and picture the lavish love of God to the world, we need to throw good parties. One of the greatest acts of faithfulness for followers of Jesus is to play and laugh and eat and drink with friends and neighbors, even strangers and enemies. By shaping shared experiences of celebration that don’t demean others and that don’t cost anything, we mirror the welcoming and gratuitous hospitality of God.
Earlier this summer Christianity Today ran an article about a church n Nashville that throws good parties. Three or four times a year the church hosts community-based parties for upwards of three thousand people. The church’s pastor, Scott Sauls, explains, “We celebrate and have fun for its own sake, because Jesus always seemed to be feasting.”
That’s a message I find myself regularly repeating with the leaders of City Church. While it may not be carried out at the same scale as larger churches and while it most certainly won’t be done with the same level of tastefulness as HGTV, City Church wants to throw good parties. That’s one of the reasons that we have held a Fall Harvest Party for the last six years. It’s an occasion to be together, to feast, to have fun enjoying the blessings of our heavenly Father—and to do it all with friends who might never come to a City Church worship service. This year’s Harvest Party will take place on Saturday, October 3rd. If you’re reading this, we want you to come. And if you’ve been before, we want you to think about who you can invite to join you this year.
The Ministry of Hospitality
Last week, as a new ministry season got underway at City Church and within some of our associated ministries, staff people were busy with party planning, cooking vast amounts of food, buying presents, readying homes for more guests than would seem comfortable. As I observed all of this effort, I realized that was the work of ministry, as much as teaching a Bible study or leading a worship service. Although it never came up during any of my classes in seminary, fifteen years of experience has taught me that a big part of gospel ministry is party planning.
It’s important, too, that these parties face outward and feel inclusive. I forget where I heard it, but the comment has stuck with me: “You don’t have the gift of hospitality if you like having your friends over.” Too much of what passes as Christian hospitality is overwrought styling meant to impress our friends rather than ministry meant to serve outsiders, the marginalized, the lonely. Christian hospitality is often an echo chamber of entertaining—the same people clinking glasses with each other, congratulating peers on their superb styling. Instead, Jesus’ parable of the banquet in Luke 14 is an instructive alternative: “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” The real measure of Christian party-throwing isn’t which socialites will invite you to their next party but how well you have imaged the rejoicing of God.
What’s true about party-throwing on a church-wide scale and among ministry staff should be true on a smaller, personal scale, too. One of the great encouragements to me at City Church is the way that members of the church are hosting parties that are completely unaffiliated with the church. Some have been hosting a sweaty New Year’s Eve Dance Party for several years. Others host annual house parties replete with clever themes, thoughtful invitations, and extravagant scale. One friend has recently launched a dinner series of more modest scope, but wonderful design: the Maisonette Kitchen—a dinner party for 12 in her small home that is big on warmth and charm.
The Road to Heaven
Throwing good parties for all sorts of people is at the core of what we do as a church because it’s right to take pleasure in the stuff of earth for its own sake, because it’s in line with what Jesus did, and because our parties now are a foretaste of the Final Party to which all of human history is headed. In his seminal book The Supper of the Lamb, Robert Farrar Capon (the late Anglican priest and all around bon vivant) says this about parties:
“We are great, my friend; we shall not be saved for trampling that greatness under foot… The road to Heaven does not run from the world but through it. The longest Session of all is no discontinuation of these sessions here, but a lifting of them all by priestly love. It is a place for men, not ghosts—for the risen gorgeousness of the New Earth and the glorious earthiness of the True Jerusalem.
“Eat well then. Between our love and His Priesthood, He makes all things new. Our Last Home will be home indeed.”
Party now because we will party then. The road to heaven, it turns out, runs right through a Harvest Party.