Lessons from a Tavern

Friday, August 18, 2023

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Dear Pastors

Lessons from a Tavern

I want to begin with a really cool illustration. It’s by Charles Swindoll and I first read it back in 2007. It challenged me to the core back then and it still does today.

“An old Marine Corps buddy of mine, to my pleasant surprise, came to know Christ after he was discharged. I say surprise because he cursed loudly, fought hard, chased women, drank heavily, loved war and weapons, and hated chapel services. A number of months ago, I ran into this fellow, and after we’d talked awhile, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘You know, Chuck, the only thing I still miss is that old fellowship I used to have with all the guys down at the tavern. I remember how we used to sit around and let our hair down. I can’t find anything like that for Christians. I no longer have a place to admit my faults and talk about my battles — where somebody won’t preach at me and frown and quote me a verse.’

It wasn’t one month later that in my reading I came across this profound paragraph: ‘The neighbourhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit that there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give his church. It’s an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality — but it is a permissive, accepting, and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable. You can tell people secrets, and they usually don’t tell others or even want to. The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, and so many seek a counterfeit at the price of a few beers. With all my heart,’ this writer concludes, ‘I believe that Christ wants his church to be unshockable, a fellowship where people can come in and say, “I’m sunk, I’m beat, I’ve had it.” Alcoholics Anonymous has this quality — our churches too often miss it.’”

What we are talking about of course is koinōnia, the Greek word for fellowship mentioned 19 times in the New Testament. Add into that the 30 or so ‘one-another’ injunctions and I’m sure you get the picture. Koinōnia means fellowship, communion, participation, sharing. It can refer to the mutual interests and sharing of members in the community of faith, the church. This mutual sharing is seen in the description of the newly founded church in Acts 2:42, in which one of the four patterns of discipleship is the early Christians’ continuing together in koinōnia. In the context of the early church in Acts, such sharing involved not only associating with each other, but also sharing food and other necessities of life. Today we often refer to koinonia as ‘community building’ and doing life together.

Since September last year I attend and serve at my son, Shane’s church, Te Whanau Putahi (The Family Centre) in Fairfield, Hamilton. Earlier this year we noted that there were many single and single again men who were living on there own and often lonely. I offered to start a Wednesday morning Group for them. Honestly, it has been an amazing and heart warming experience. These men show up faithfully every week at 10.00am for coffee, chat and devotion. I have been staggered at the honesty and the grittiness of their sharing mixed in with some very colourful language I might add. I have observed these men genuinely care for and look out for their new mates. I have noticed their interest and attentiveness to the sharing of biblical truth and the most beautiful thing of all their growing relationship with Jesus. Sometimes I wonder that if they had to choose between this hour on Wednesday morning or the church service hour on Sunday morning they would choose Wednesday morning.

I agree with Pastor Chuck – “I believe that Christ wants his church to be unshockable, a fellowship where people can come in and say, “I’m sunk, I’m beat, I’ve had it”. Nothing has changed. We all have a natural desire to ‘hang out, catch up and shoot the breeze’. A local church is the ideal place for this to take place because here you are welcome to come as you are and to be yourself. Welcome Home!


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