I love a real potluck!!

I looove a real potluck! Everyone brings whatever they have, whatever they love to cook, whatever their diet allows them to eat, whatever their kids will eat … and there are choices that usually accommodate everyone. There is always the chance that we end up with a meal of mostly desserts, but that rarely happens — and if it does, is anyone really complaining? The point is to get together and enjoy each other’s company, and part of getting to know each other is seeing what each likes and is good at. The potluck can reveal a lot about a person — that and playing volleyball, which is another post for another day!

It’s when the micromanagers get involved that the potluck goes awry. They assign categories of food to people who happen to have a name that starts with certain letters of the alphabet. They have a Sign Up Genius that only allows certain items. They limit the choices and say that everyone must bring lasagna, salad, bread, or brownies. These various levels of intrusion have a significant effect on my enjoyment of the occasion.

So what am I on about? It’s not just the food. It’s our roles in the Body of Christ that I have in mind more than anything else.

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)

God has given gifts to the church as He sees fit with the goal that we all contribute what we have been given, and this is what makes us all grow together in love. God has given each of us abilities and personalities that are a gift to the whole church. Sometimes those gifts lay dormant because there is no outlet for them. We’ve all had those moments where we look at someone and say, “I didn’t know you could do that!” Maybe it is because they have never been asked. Maybe they have been trying to be something they are not to fill a pre-decided slot.

Sure, there are things that need to get done that no one considers their special ‘gift.’ Of course, we should all pull together to do the routine set-up and nursery duties. But in other areas there is a lot more leeway, and just maybe we don’t know what each other has to offer because we micromanage too much. Just maybe we would benefit from letting each bring what they have rather than prescribing exactly what the role is.

One person may be great with kids’ activities. The children are laughing, jumping for joy, and filled with enthusiasm. They go running to their parents gushing about how much fun they had. This can make us think that every children’s activity should be like this. BUT pass this same lesson plan on to a person who is not of that bent, and the result is frustration all around. Maybe for some, telling a story, teaching a new song, or doing something artsy is the gift they have to offer, and we will never enjoy the true gifting God has given them. And this variety may be just what is needed to reach children who in turn have their own bents and respond better to different approaches.

This is not a plea for everyone to find his/her ‘gift’ and refuse to do anything that doesn’t fit what they consider to be their ‘ministry.’ (That is a kind of individualism that ‘seeks its own’ and does not seek the good of the whole church. This is a corporate venture we are involved in, and we must work together.) But it is a plea for appreciation of the great variety God has blessed the church with. God gives the gifts that are needed in His church, and maybe we need to accept the gifts He offers rather than being so intent on carrying out a particular program. We should learn to give up our micromanaging and trust God to orchestrate everything to accomplish His purpose in His Church as each is freed to make a unique contribution. And if we do end up with all ‘desserts,’ it is not a failure. It is exactly what our Father knows we need!

Author: sylvhill

I am an almost life-long Christian, wife of a PCA elder, mother of three grown boys, a teacher of ESL, and a lover of the Bible and theology as it impacts real life.

6 thoughts on “I love a real potluck!!”

  1. I definitely understand your love for free-for-all potlucks. However, after a few too many dessert-and-beverage-heavy potlucks (and a few too many sugar headaches from the same – Christmas potlucks especially seemed to drift inexorably towards sweet), I personally have a soft spot for either 1. category potlucks (of the “A-H bring a main dish” variety) or 2. some way for people to announce ahead of time what they’ll bring, either very approximately or specifically, so that it’s visible when people are deciding what to bring that 1/4 of the group is already planning on bringing desserts (or cornbread, or soda).

    Potlucks and church-role-filling are both a weird mix/balance of getting the necessary bases covered while not being more prescriptive than necessary about which bases those are, exactly, and how they get covered. But it’s the question of what is necessary or ideal or optimal that we tend to hit a snag on; how much do we “guide” people towards the holes that need to be filled, even though their peg type may not precisely conform, resulting in individual discomfort and less self-expression – and probably also growth and sanctification, ideally, although that is not an inevitable result of changing poopy diapers – and how much do we adjust our idea of what is necessary to conform to the shape of the church body we’ve got? The answer, for some things, probably depends on your sugar tolerance. 🙂

    (related questions: how much a person thrives on spontaneity vs. thrives on structure/predictability and what the responsibility of those two groups is towards each other; what our duty is, generally, to accommodate the convenience/comfort/needs/wants of those within the body; what to do when someone’s abilities/gifts don’t match up with a need within the church at all; what to do when someone’s preferred method of contribution to the body [teaching, baking, interpretive dance, greeting] isn’t something they’re actually any good at; how/whether to find a place for those with significant limitations to still be able to serve…)

    (and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying your blog – thank you for linking to it!)

    1. Mary, Thanks for your thoughts. I have had all these questions too, and I realize that the reality of the situation often requires that we give more guidance than I have suggested here. But I must say that I have seen some good results from a more hands-off approach — it’s the surprise factor when you find out that someone has a skill you never expected. And I think I have been burned by micromanaging of the sort that makes me needlessly uncomfortable. For instance, I was once perfectly willing to contribute food for a fundraiser, but I was pressured into doing tacos that had to be assembled individually (and tortillas being individually fried) as people went through the line. My style is to have everything ready ahead of time, which will let me enjoy the fellowship more rather than worrying about the line being held up by doing each taco to order. Of course, the real point is that in all of this, I’m transferring the potluck idea to a bigger scenario. Do we limit people by only offering certain slots to fill in our church ministries? And could we have something better if the categories were more open to interpretation and individual styles and methods. Probably the answer lies somewhere in the middle! We don’t want anyone going into a diabetic coma…

      1. The taco situation sounds appalling. I mean, I have nothing against fresh tacos, but there’s an enormous difference between signing up to bring something convenient-to-you and signing up to not only bring something very specific but also publicly “perform” at an event. Bait-and-switch is not okay!

        I’ve had much more easygoing potluck-attending experiences, although some mildly harrowing experiences as a potluck host. (surprise! someone arrives late with an unexpected giant pot of soup and there are no bowls, only paper plates and not-heat-resistant cups!)(fortunately our house was less than 5 min away, so a motley collection of mugs and bowls meant that people could have soup for a “second course” a bit belatedly)(soup is my favorite food group, but it has to be a really thick soup to work on plates, and I still felt at that point like everyone’s contribution needed to be Properly Appreciated and as much of it eaten as possible to make sure they felt wanted and a part of the group; now I think that maybe one can make someone feel welcome without their cookies being eaten, although I have not yet tested this theory.)

        In a more perfect world, I think the church (or a potluck) would be able to list basic necessities and people would first see if there was a definite need they could fill (setup, nursery, whatever; or main dish, side, etc.) and once the bare minimum is filled, people would do their particular specific thing that isn’t quite as much a “need” but that brings glory to God and joy to the church. As it is, though, I neither know how to definitely get all the needs covered all the time (at least without burning some people out) nor how to coax the “special gifts” out of people whose gifts aren’t in line with the default church volunteering slots and who may not even have any ideas for how to apply “how God made them” to church uses. Harrumph.

        1. Yes, finding everyone’s place and gifting/contribution is challenging. And the ‘true pot luck’ provides an opportunity for all to contribute — but it doesn’t ensure the participation of every member. I guess I’m feeling around for the best way to encourage 100% participation and appreciation for the unique giftings of each member.

  2. What a great analogy, potluck and talents!
    There is a cliche that who God calls, He also equips. Still it seems that In a denomination that is doctrinely and culturally inflexible about male female roles, some talents are more useful than others. Is that the same as saying fried chicken is more potluck friendly than Vichyssoise?

    Still I am not convinced that talents equal calling. I recall that a named reason to elect the first openly gay bishop in the American Episcopal church, Gene Robinson, was his outstanding administrative gifts.

    Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that when it comes to service leadership in the church, the qualifiers are not talent or abilities but godly character.

    1. Yes, it definitely complicates matters when we toss into the mix character qualifications — which we definitely must when we are talking about office ministries. I was not thinking so much about these offices — or even of individual ‘callings’ — but each Christian’s contribution to the general ministry of the church. I think we may be surprised what would happen if everyone did ‘what they can’ rather than waiting to be assigned a generic slot to fill. When we start by being engaged in what we are good at, we are more likely to do the mundane that is attached to it. I know that sometimes there is a tendency to give people jobs designed to make them feel ‘invested’ in a project — but I hate the feeling that I am simply doing busywork to make me feel included. Maybe I’m idealistic, but I think we all have meaningful contributions to make.

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