We recently moved cities and left our previous team. It was hard to leave because after three years of teaming together, things were good. Now, we had certainly had our seasons of team storming and conflict. Some of them were quite intense. Sometimes we wanted to pull out our hair in frustration at yet another miscommunication or disagreement over next steps. But as we left in preparation to come alongside a different team in a new city, it was hard because we were leaving more than teammates, we were leaving our friends.
There were many things that God was doing in us and in spite of us to keep our team together through those difficult years of seeing a small church planted in our previous city up in the mountains. Some would be unique to us and not reproducible. But there would be a few things that could be implemented by other teams of believers who have a vision to grow towards being a healthy team. Today I want to mention one eminently practical piece of team unity – the humble kabob. Well, not just the kabob, but the idea of regularly eating together as a normal part of team life and culture. As my former team leader put it, at the end of the day, we always enjoyed eating together. We ate together regularly as a team, even if we were just coming from a meeting full of intense debate, even when it was hard to make eye contact with the person you had just upset in the last discussion. We had a favorite local restaurant where we could always go and get a big plate of local spicy kabob and flatbread for around $3. Always followed by hot, sugary Central Asian chai. So yes, that definitely helped.
This principle of eating food regularly together is not rocket science, nor is it a novel idea. But when you dig into the theological significance of breaking bread together, you are wading in deep waters. Consider that the tree of life bore fruit, a meal which when eaten, gave eternal life. The fall into sin came by a meal shared at the other tree, that of the knowledge of good and evil. God enacted covenants with his people through meals, such as that at Sinai with the seventy elders of Israel, and he reminded his people of their covenant relationship through divinely-ordained feasts. God fed his people in the wilderness with miraculous bread from heaven and later we find out that Jesus is the true bread come down from heaven, the bread of life. Did you know that the feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle repeated in all four gospels? Then we are given the Lord’s Supper as a meal to remember Jesus and to look forward to his return, when history will be consummated with the marriage supper of the lamb. And this is just scratching the surface. You could even say that food is at the center of our very salvation, key to our reconciliation to God and to one another. So it makes sense that it would be an important part of team unity.
This kind of advice could be easily dismissed because of how simple it is. Yet I know from experience that some teams do not have a regular time where they are eating together. And they are worse off for it. I cannot parse exactly what is going on spiritually and relationally when we eat in one another’s presence, but it has to do with trust, peace, friendship, service, respect, and even joy. The mutual enjoyment of sustenance perhaps provides tangible common ground that can complement spiritual common ground, which can make all the difference when the relational side of things is feeling frayed. I find myself recalling a pastor from a more liturgical tradition once waving his hand in a service and saying, “This too is a mystery.” Indeed, a delicious mystery.
Is your team scheduled to regularly eat together? If not, why not? Why not use the restart which emerging from Covid-19 provides us to build in this kind of practice? Experiment. I’ll bet you some kabob that you will be a happier team because of it.