I go to church because Jesus and the Bible are spiritual food and church is a family meal. I work with low income families as a public health dietitian and teach community nutrition at a local university. I read, teach, and think about hunger and food insecurity often. Hunger refers to a physical sensation from lack of food, while food insecurity refers to a lack of available resources to obtain food.
When I feel the effects of the fallen world in my life, such as sin, death, and disease, I experience both spiritual hunger and spiritual insecurity. Just as a hungry or food insecure individual needs refreshment, I too, am in desperate need. My family and I need church the way someone suffering from hunger needs nourishing food.
God frequently uses church to feed us using hymns, Scripture readings, preaching, confession, prayer, and communion.
When families that I work with experience hunger and food insecurity, we refer them to a local food pantry or food bank. We also point them towards government programs in our city to help them meet their immediate physical need for food, like schools, health departments, and social service agencies. These organizations work with individuals and families to address their long-term food insecurity. When I am spiritually hungry and insecure, God refers me to the local church.
Hungry and food insecure persons are at higher risk for nutrient deficiencies, nutrition-related diseases, and psychological disorders. Nutrition professionals are uniquely positioned to help reduce the health disparities affecting food insecure populations by screening clients and applying an evidence-based approach known as the Nutrition Care Process.
I too am at high risk for deficiencies of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22) and the spiritual disease of sin (Rom 3:23). God has uniquely positioned his Church, through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, to reduce my risk for spiritual deficiencies and the effects of sin. The pastors, deacons, elders, Sunday school teachers, youth ministry leaders, children’s ministry leaders, and women’s ministry leaders are available and equipped to help my family with our spiritual formation. In terms of my spiritual growth, church has been like a pre-pandemic grocery store, fully stocked and no labor shortage.
The Blue Zones research identifies belonging to a faith-based community as one of the power nine lifestyle habits of the world’s longest living and healthiest people. “All but five of the 263 centenarians interviewed belonged to some faith-based community…Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy” (Buettner, 2018). I don’t know if I’ll live to be a centenarian, but regular attendance and participation in church and small group have been essential to my physical, cognitive, emotional, and spiritual health over the years, spilling over into my roles as wife, mother, neighbor, and colleague.
In addition, research findings show a significant relationship between frequent family meals and better nutritional health, even among food insecure populations. Regular shared meals with the family offer a rich learning environment with role modelling and encouragement, which may positively influence children’s dietary behaviors, resulting in an overall healthier diet.
Dinner with the Smileys by Sarah Smiley is the true story of a wife and her sons’ yearlong experience inviting one new guest, including senators, teachers, artists, and athletes, to dinner for each week while her husband was deployed overseas. Can you imagine being one of the guests invited to the Smileys’ dinner table? What an honor and privilege! Church is like that family meal for me. Each week my family is invited to sit at the table with God’s family, to share spiritual food, and to be nourished by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
*Learn more about hunger and food insecurity in America at feedingamerica.org. NOTE: Food banks often benefit the most from our financial donations, rather than product donations, because they are able to purchase healthy options in bulk at lower cost. So, check with your local food bank or pantry first to see what they need before hosting a food drive!
Buettner, Dan (2018). Power 9: Reverse Engineering Longevity. Blue Zones. https://www.bluezones.com/2016/11/power-9/