Glenn Packiam: The Church As Bread

We are meant to give ourselves lovingly to our communities from the outflow of our love for Christ.

Glenn Packiam is one of the associate senior pastors of New Life Church and lead pastor of New Life Downtown, both in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Packiam is also a speaker, songwriter and author. His fifth book, Blessed Broken Given: How Your Story Becomes Sacred in the Hands of Jesus publishes August 2019 (Multnomah).

Bread is a great metaphor for our lives. It’s an ordinary thing, a food staple in many cultures around the world. The way it’s used in Scripture gives us a little clue that God delights in taking the ordinary things of this world and using them to reveal something extraordinary, to reveal his glory. The ordinary is actually a container for the glory of God. So even when your life feels ordinary, or messy, or painful, or broken, it can reveal the grace and the glory of God.

When we began several years ago at New Life to have weekly communion, it began to shape the way we planned our services. We realized our preaching needed to be intentionally Christ-centered. We wanted to end by pointing people toward the finished work of Christ and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. Coming to the table each week began to shape our worship practices, but it also shaped the way we began to think about the church. One thing that struck me was every time Jesus took bread in his hands in the gospels, it says these specific three words: that he blessed it, he broke it and he gave it.

The church is like the bread that is blessed, broken and given. So when we gather in worship, we remember our true blessedness in Christ because of the gospel. Then when we live our lives with one another in community, we’re being broken. We’re being opened up to one another. And then when we’re given, that speaks about our mission in the world, that we exist in the world for the sake of the world. All of that became clear for me, and we began to use that language, specifically in our downtown congregation, to help people understand that. Jesus describes himself as the bread of heaven. He calls bread his body. Well, that’s the church, that’s the body of Christ. All of that imagery began to come alive for us in terms of our worship, our community life and our mission in the city.

Beginning early on, Christians gathered around a meal. It’s a meal that makes us face one another, that makes us remember who we are as the family of God. It’s a perfect picture of how God has fit into his family people who otherwise have no business belonging together. In the New Testament it was Jews and Gentiles. But in our day, it’s across racial and socioeconomic lines. It’s a powerful reminder that when we come to the Lord’s table every Sunday, it’s Jesus who gives freely of himself, who gives freely of his grace. Nobody’s coming to the Lord’s table with something to contribute. We all come with empty hands, and Jesus has given us everything. He becomes our portion. He blesses us.

There are three different kinds of brokenness. There’s a kind of brokenness that refers to failure or sin. There’s a kind of brokenness that relates to the fallenness of this world, to suffering and pain. But then there’s a third kind of brokenness that has to do with frailty, and that’s the thing that’s hard for anyone in leadership to be honest about. What do you do when you just feel frail? You just feel like you’re running up against the limits of your own capacity and can’t keep up. You’re going to disappoint people, let some people down. That’s usually hard for pastors because we put unrealistic expectations on ourselves.

When we started our downtown congregation, I very quickly realized I needed to reach out to someone to walk with me through that. A spiritual director is like a hybrid between a mentor and a counselor, and I was able to be honest with him about the thoughts, the weight, the pressures, and to have him speak truth, to guide me into hearing the voice of the Lord. It was powerful. I would really encourage other pastors to seek and find someone, whether a mentor, a sage, a guide, or a counselor, to listen and pray with you.

Think of givenness as a posture. It’s a way of waking up every morning and saying, Okay, Lord, who is going to come across my path today that you can give me to? That you can help me give my attention and time encouragement to? How do we take the things we’re already doing and orient those outward? We’re already showing up at our kids’ soccer games. How do we be more attentive to the other parents who are there, to see that as part of our mission with God? We already live on a street with neighbors. How can we think about that? I think one of the most helpful things we can do is to move people away from just thinking of the big commitment stuff and to begin to see every little moment as a missional moment, and to see our givenness as being spent versus drained. Rather than thinking of it as other people taking from me, I think of it as I’m choosing to spend myself in this way for someone. The action and the circumstance aren’t different, but the mindset is.

That’s something every church can do regardless of whether the project is big or small: Think about our posture in the communities we’re in. Are we always the ones with the megaphone? Are we always the ones trying to get people to come to our event, or do we ever show up at their thing? Do we ever listen to them? Do we ever take a seat in a meeting we didn’t convene so we can listen to the community talk about its own needs and its own pain? We need to be a listening, attentive presence in the world rather than coming to “save the day,” when it comes to problems nobody else is talking about.

Just as bread is one of the most common things in our daily lives, so this message is for all of us, wherever we are, church leaders or not. God delights in showing his glory in the ordinary, and giving us glory in the midst of our mess, and helping us discover purpose in the everyday moments.

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