NOTE: This is a lesson that I wrote for our church several years ago when teaching on household evangelism. I came across this today while looking back through old notes and thought it might be helpful again. –S.P.
It is interesting to consider how eating together—feasting—was related to evangelism in the early church. First century believers broke bread in formal worship (“breaking of the bread”—Acts 2:42), but they also broke bread from house to house (Acts 2:46). It seems rather certain that this “house-to-house” practice was not an early form of our modern canvassing. Eating meals from house to house meant that they fellowshipped from household to household, from family to family, witnessing in the intimate setting of friends and family about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the power of the gospel. It seems that eating meals together were a central part of early church evangelism. This underlies the theme I have emphasized a great deal recently on “Household Evangelism.
Consider Acts 2:41-46 (with comments added throughout):
“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (v.41).
This is the point of conversion.
“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (v.42).
This is the earliest form of the formal, public Christian worship service. They continued in the apostles’ doctrine by receiving their teaching and instruction in Solomon’s Porch (Acts 5:12); they continued in the apostles’ fellowship, or society (koinonia); they continued in the Lord’s Supper by “the breaking of bread” (definite article in the original Greek) in their public worship services, which may have been daily at first and later became the weekly Christian observance of the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week; and they continued in public, corporate prayers (see Acts 4:24-30 for an example of this sort of public, corporate prayer).
“And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles” (v.43).
The people feared the Lord and miracles were done by the apostles as the confirmation of the Word they preached. Evangelism can only be done by those who fear the Lord. One of the greatest hindrances to evangelism is the fear of man. We must fear God more than we fear man. Indeed, the more we fear God, the less we fear man. This is why the early church prayed for boldness (Acts 4:24). They were being persecuted for the gospel’s sake, and they needed the boldness to stand up in the face of persecution. We need the boldness to face the scorn of our world, which is the mild, but very effective form of “persecution” that we suffer today in America.
“And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need” (vs. 44, 45).
The church supported the poor, and this became one of the greatest marks of a Christian community. This is the “love” that Jesus spoke of when He said that all men would know that we are His disciples when we show love to one another. This sort of love is more than mere sentiment; it is an action. Specifically, the church is commanded to take care of the poor—the poor in the church and the poor around us in the community. This is an evangelistic work. When we help the poor, all men can see that we are true Christians.
“And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (vs. 46, 47).
The church continued daily (later, weekly) in the formal public worship, but they also fellowshipped from house to house, eating, rejoicing and serving the Lord. This, too, is evangelism. For when they ate together and fellowshipped from house to house, witnessing of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Ghost, they gained favor with the people in the city, and the Lord added daily to the church such as should be saved. The Lord added daily because they were evangelizing daily!
Thus, we see the evangelistic method of the early church:
1. The public worship service
2. The fear of God
5. Central/local daily worship
6. Feasting together
7. Favor with the people
8. Souls added daily
Household evangelism was fundamental to the approach of the early church. They won souls to God because they fellowshipped and feasted together. This is so different from the sterile, cold-call, hard-sell, salesmanship, marketing approach that we often employ. We should re-work our approach and evangelize our communities around the kitchen table. This is where friends are made and souls are won.
We need to reclaim the power of the table to open the hearts and minds of men to the gospel. This should be the basis for our new churches. Indeed, this sort of evangelism (household evangelism) works both for the pastor who is planting a church and the individual family that desires to be a witness in their neighborhood. We need the boldness to open up our homes and use our tables to reach family and friends. We must do more than just invite people to church. They should ask us if they can come. We should simply open up our homes and befriend everyone we can.
The key to household evangelism is family renewal and a restoration of biblical hospitality. We must learn once again how to open our homes to friends and strangers. Those who want to plant a new church need to get a Bible and a grill. They need to learn how to put together a backyard barbeque. Bring in friends from the home church, set up a band on the back porch, and grill hamburgers in Jesus’ name. (Just don’t offer up burnt offerings!) This is the key to the sort of evangelism that results in the Lord adding to the church daily such as should be saved.
Jesus used this approach. We find Him often spending time with sinners at feasts in various homes. The kingdom is a feast, and everywhere we look, God is preparing a table for His people. We should see this as the primary invitation of the Kingdom: “Come to the table!” This should be our approach to evangelism. “Come to the table!”
The only way we can sustain household evangelism is to have a renewal of the Christian household. We cannot win souls in our home if our house is divided. This is one of many reasons why Satan works so hard against the Christian house. The Lord has chosen to use the Christian house as the central component in the task of evangelism, and Satan can effectively frustrate the purpose of God if he can divide the house. The Christian household should be the center of evangelism in the community. We have been focused primarily on inviting people to church, but we should consider turning our focus more toward inviting people into our homes and then “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (I Peter 3:15).
We should prepare meals, eat around our table, then sing and pray together, and conclude with scripture. This should not be a hard-sell event where we market the gospel like Amway soap. We should simply allow visitors to join us in worshipping God at our table, and we should present the gospel as they are hungry to receive it. Jesus ate with sinners, but we do not find evidence of Him turning the dinners into preaching points. He simply fellowshipped with sinners (without joining in their sin), and they followed Him into the arenas where He preached.
I do believe that we should combine the elements that the early church did: “Breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people.” In other words, we should feast with gladness and generosity and praise God for His blessings at our table. This should include prayers of thanksgiving, songs of praise, and testimonies of God’s goodness at our table. If the opportunity arises, we should give an answer to every man of the reason of the hope that lies within us. But I do not think that the meal should be just a prelude, a set-up, a sort of “Gotcha!”, to a Home Bible Study. We should use the meal to reach out and make friends, and then if the opportunity arises, speak further to those who ask. Those who are hungry for God, those who are profoundly affected by the spirit of our home and the love our family displays to one another, will begin to ask questions about our hope. We should allow the meal to lead to the presentation of the gospel as the Lord wills.
So, what do we need to do to implement what the Holy Ghost is leading us to do? We need household renewal, first of all. Our home must become the sort of place where we can exemplify the Christian life and offer a valid Christian witness. Second, we need a revival of boldness where we are not afraid to extend a Christian welcome to our family, friends and neighbors. We must pray for the courage to be truly Christian in the face of rejection and scorn. Thirdly, we need to learn again the art of Christian hospitality. We must learn to open our homes to friends and strangers. Who knows, we may entertain angels unaware! (Hebrews 13:2)