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A Working Lunch? Not For Me, Thanks

I am surely the least introspective person you know. Something happens to me, I find it a little odd, I move on. Anyone else would analyze it and dig out whatever messages or lessons the event contained and learn from it.

I ignore it, go forward, and make the same mistakes the next day.

One day after many years in the ministry it finally dawned on me that when all those friends or co-workers or colleagues in various denominational offices invite me to lunch where we can a) work on a problem, b) settle a difference, or c) plan a meeting, there is a reason my spirit drags its feet. (Does a spirit have feet?)

I hate working lunches.

Let’s do lunch or have a working meeting, but not both please.

Most definitely, I do not want to go to lunch to work on a problem in our relationship. If I have offended you or you have trod on my sensibilities, then let’s get together and clear the air. But not over lunch.

Lunch is a time to enjoy food and relax. It is an event that calls for happy chatter and good fellowship.

What it does not call for–what intrudes as obviously as a stomach-ache at a banquet or gossip at a concert–is work. We spread out our notebooks, stress out our minds, slave over the problem–all while a waiter is asking whether we want a salad or soup.

No thanks.

There is a reason for this dislike of mine for working mealtimes. A few horror stories in fact.

I will go to my grave remembering the time Luke invited me to lunch. “I have something exciting I want to talk with you about,” he said.

And, because I was newly arrived as his pastor and wanted to build relationships in every direction, because Luke was one of our deacons and respected among the membership, and because I enjoy a good meal, we put it on the calendar. I went unsuspecting.

What we ate that day, I have no memory of whatsoever. But I’ll never forget our meeting. It lasted four hours. I could not get away from the man.

Luke had a scheme, something he called “a plan from God” for revolutionizing the churches of this area. I’ll spare you the details, but they had nothing to do with reality. This man was off the chart. He was a manipulator of the first order–and I had been sent from God to be his pastor.

I couldn’t just brush him off. I had to see him and his family every week, deal with him in deacons meetings, and accompany him at church visitation. What’s more, no one in the congregation seemed to see anything odd in his behavior or his mannerisms. I was alone in my concern and he had me in his sights. I was–he stated unequivocably–God’s man for this church, the Lord’s instrument for this city, and, wouldn’t you know, God’s answer for Luke’s scheme.

Long story short, I finally was able to respond that, “As soon as the Lord gives me the go-ahead on that, I’ll participate. But not until.”

He was not a happy camper. Soon his unhappiness was spreading like an infection throughout the congregation.

The next time someone called inviting me to lunch because “I have something to share with you,” I said, “Can I make a suggestion.”

“Let’s meet in my office and you share it. Then we’ll decide whether we want to go to lunch. Let’s not try to do both.”

Early in that same pastorate, I invited a man to lunch so we could talk about the Christian faith. His wife and daughters were members of our church, but he seemed to have some resistance to the gospel and I wanted to see if I could help him through it. He chose the restaurant, one I was not familiar with, and told me how to get there.

It’s one lunch-time I will not soon forget.

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Joe McKeever has been a preacher for nearly 60 years, a pastor for 42 years, and a cartoonist/writer for Christian publications all his adult life. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.