Mealtimes are some of the most valuable and underutilized times in a pastor’s schedule. I think I sensed that intrinsically, but Keith Ferrazzi helped me understand its full importance in a book entitled, Never Eat Alone–and I would recommend it highly. He’s obviously coming at it from a corporate and networking standpoint. However, his value for people comes through. For pastors, the book is easily adapted to the realm of ministry.

I eat alone sometimes, but often. Those six hours a week (1.5 hours, four days a week), are too valuable to spend alone. It’s not that I don’t like being myself. In fact, I kind of love it. But, I am an extrovert who enjoys being around people–and I’ve found I can get more pastoring done during lunch times than I can on a Sunday. There’s something about sharing a meal together that opens the door for good conversation, and I can’t tell you how much simply eating breakfast or lunch with someone has blessed our church over the years. Some of the deepest partnerships and best ideas have come out of those simple gatherings.

It’s not about “networking”–though there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s about enjoying people.

  1. Staff members. Our staff team eats lunch together every Monday. I’ll also try to spend some one-on-one time with each staff person once a month. For those of you with larger church staffs, this obviously doesn’t scale. So, just use common sense. Ditto this for your elders if you have them. It’s well worth the energy to spend time here.
  2. Members of the church. I try to schedule at least one of these per week. It may be there is something we need to discuss. More than anything, it’s just trying to bless people with genuine care and fellowship over a meal. People are so much more open between the Sundays–it’s a great time. Sometimes, people will ask me. Most of the time, I simply ask them.
  3. People who are new to the church or guests of the church. I LOVE these. What an opportunity to talk about the church, answer any questions they have, and offer them a blessing.
  4. An area pastor. It might be someone I just want to get to know. Or, it might be for the purpose of mentoring, or building bridges for our church. This may set the table for some partnership in the Gospel, but usually, it’s just hearing what God’s doing in other parts of our community.
  5. My wife. Every now and then, I love to just enjoy eating with my wife, Emily. There’s nothing wrong with strengthening your bond with your spouse…ever.
  6. A community leader. Sometimes, it’s great to have lunch with community leaders–those running 501(c)3s, city workers, your banker, etc. Here, we’re networking–but that shouldn’t preclude simply enjoying getting to know them as a person.

I have, basically, 16 lunch slots a month. I usually spend two or so by myself–running errands, etc. I keep a list in Nozbe (my task manager of choice) with names of people I would like to have lunch with or call on the phone. As of this morning, there are more than sixty names on that list. I even keep notes about what they/I would like to talk about, and attach relevant stuff–their family information, any relevant emails, etc. it’s all on my phone. Some of these names are set to recur every so often. My best lunch slots, though, are reserved for staff and NVC members and guests.

Right now, some introverts are feeling drained even reading this post. Let me suggest you try it anyways. Start small, say, with one or two per week. If you don’t pull a muscle doing that, increase it. The bigger point is to use our time wisely–setting the table for God to grow us and others through relationship.

I rarely eat alone. It blesses me, blesses our church, and keeps me firmly rooted in an awareness that ministry is about people. It’s also more “productive” because I’m not just blowing the lunch hours. If you’re an elder or Senior Minister, encourage people to do this. Eat together, eat with others, but rarely eat alone.