Recently a pastor friend in my city was reflecting on the practices that most shaped his faith and family. He shared how he, his wife, and three kids gathered weekly for a meal with three other families for twelve years. Every. Week. The entire four families had dinner in chaos; then the kids would go off to play. When the kids were younger, they’d arrange for a babysitter or two. As the kids got older, they could babysit the younger ones.
All the while, the adults were free to linger around the table, and a sacred space would open up. My pastor-friend said the best laughs of his life happened here, as did the rip-you-apart cries. Questions bubbled to the surface—wonderings of how to deal with the inevitable struggles of family and faith. They prayed and worked through marital crises, financial emergencies, parenting challenges, and illnesses. He joked with me about how he would wait until those meals to bring up issues he had with his wife because, he laughed, “She’s smarter than I am! I needed the group’s help so someone had my back!”
Over a decade on, these couples have weathered together the inevitable storms of marriage and parenting, and they have done so in the company of friends and fun. Their children, too, have been formed by their friendships with one another and with the adults; they, too, will likely seek out a similar “extended family” and rhythm of shared experiences as they move into adulthood themselves.
But more than a comfortable support system, consider how these meals have drawn these families into the life of Jesus—living in the fellowship with which the Holy Spirit has blessed us, these families are drawn not only closer to each other, but also closer to God.
In Acts 2, after the Holy Spirit has been given to God’s people, one of the many qualities that marked the lives of Jesus’ followers was this: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:46-47).
Jesus’ life and ministry were marked by table fellowship: throughout the Gospels, Jesus shows us that who we break bread with matters and that all should be included. But the text from Acts shows us that there is an additional, important dimension of table fellowship lived out by these first believers.
In this text, the word “homes” is the Greek oikos. It does not just reference a building; it means “extended family.” The first followers of Jesus had a regular, daily rhythm of shared meals together—with their extended families. When the disciples prayed, as Jesus had taught them, “give us this day our daily bread,” they were doing it in the presence of their daily family, their oikos.
Doubtless a daily sacred space would open up for the disciples– perhaps the best laughs of their lives— and the rip-you-apart cries—happened at their tables.
What the disciples knew, and what my pastor-friend learned, is that a regular rhythm of “extended family” table fellowship that welcomes the Holy Spirit to come and dwell, lead, and change is incomparably life-giving for us as we seek to follow Jesus with our families.
These stories—ancient and alive, contemporary and close—gave me a deep sense of longing. Yes, I want this, too, this intentional community with other families. Committed together for the long haul. Establishing together a rhythm of seeking and finding God in extended family community.
And so, despite—or maybe because of—the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, my husband and I are twice monthly gathering with four other couples.
It’s not like the business (and busy-ness) of life suddenly stopped so that we might plan community with others—most of us have one or two (or three!) children under four! But, together, we make it work, we build this oikos: we have two babysitters, we do potluck (or order pizza), and we rotate homes. We created an Excel spreadsheet to coordinate dates, menu, babysitters, and availability. We meet mostly Sunday evenings, but we switch to Fridays when holidays conflict. Creating community space, it turns out, takes community. But our work is worth it: once we arrive, once we are together, once the kids transition into their post-dinner playtime, someone passes the dessert, and we ask each other:
What is God saying to you?
What are you going to do about it?
To ask these questions opens us up to noticing the themes God is bubbling up around us, the events we need to pay attention to, the possibilities of how God is inviting us each to grow and be changed.
Two months in, and it is already transformative—it is Immanuel, God with us. It is the slow forming of an extended family. I savor these times; for as I sit at the table just a little ways off, someone is lovingly playing with my daughter on a blanket in the grass, while I enjoy a glass of wine with wonderful people as we listen together for God’s movement in our lives. There is formation, too, for the young teen babysitters who join us for the meal and are also a part of this oikos.
Do you already have oikos? What does that look like for you? (Please share in the comments below). If not, what families/individuals would you invite to the table? Consider how you and your family could be formed by the practice of oikos over the years to come. Invite others to your table to find this rhythm, to build oikos, and to create this sacred space in which God will enter in.