I served in various churches as a youth minister for a number of years before surrendering to full-time ministry in the military. I learned many lessons through that journey — probably more than I ever taught to the scores of teenagers who passed through my doors. Of all the lessons I learned, though, one of the most vital was eating.
I cut my teeth in youth ministry at a smallish church in my hometown. We had around 15 kids in the youth group when I arrived, but they were committed and came to church with their families. Because the church was so family-connected, they held monthly potluck meals after Sunday service. It wasn’t a ministry gimmick, either. These people really loved and desired each other’s company and this seemed like the best way to facilitate that. Also, the food was good. Just … SO good.
Because I was a staff minister there, I took the attitude that all of the members should eat first. I would alternate between working in the kitchen — whether preparing food or washing dishes — and helping to serve the food. When everyone was seated, I worked the room, greeting people, making sure they had everything they needed, sharing a joke or a smile. You know … ministry.
These potluck lunches would last for at least a couple of hours, as people would eat, laugh, socialize and just generally enjoy the experience together. The pastor would share a brief word of encouragement to make it an official church gathering, and the kids would play outside while the grownups sipped coffee with their desserts. Once the program wrapped up and all the food was eaten, the cleanup phase began.
Our church was in a tiny Quonset hut on the modest church property. The church broke ground on a new worship center adjacent to the hut shortly after I got there, but a year later the ground was still broken and no nails had been driven. Since it was one of only three structures our church owned back then—the other two being a parsonage that sat empty and an office space up the road — we had to both worship there and hold the potluck socials. We turned the worship center into a fellowship hall, ate an expansive meal, then turned it back into a worship center for the evening service before going home for a couple of hours to sleep off the meats, veggies and desserts.
One Sunday, after a very well-stocked potluck meal that took hours to set up, feast on and recover from, I stumbled in the front door of my house, which sat around the corner from the church. I fell into my recliner, looked up at the ceiling, and immediately heard a strange noise. This low rumble started inconspicuously, but very quickly grew to a loud roar in my ears. It wasn’t thunder outside — it was my stomach.
My wife walked in the room from somewhere in the back of the house and saw the look on my face and asked what was wrong. I sat up, cleared my throat and asked her what we had in the refrigerator to eat.
“You have to be kidding me,” she said. “Dude. We just came from the biggest potluck I have ever seen in my life. How is it even possible that you’re hungry right now?!”
I realized something that day that has impacted me ever since. I was so busy taking care of everyone’s needs and making sure everyone was enjoying themselves and each other that I just plain forgot to eat. At a potluck lunch. A very large potluck lunch, at that.
I learned that day that we can spend every ounce of energy we have taking care of other people, whether it be family, friends, co-workers, strangers, or whatever, but we must invest in ourselves too if we want to be effective.
I encourage you to think about what it is that gives you the drive to be successful in your life. Think about what gives you peace. Think about the things you can do for yourself that will give you the energy and the internal ability to impact the world around you. Do those things.
It is important to invest in those around us — feed them, if you will. Just remember that you must feed yourself as well.