Fewer Fences, Bigger Tables
Breaking down barriers to building authentic, Biblical community
By Jon Weiner
A number of years ago I encountered the term, refrigerator rights. The term was coined by Dr. Will Miller in his book by the same name. In this book, Miller wrote about inviting people into our lives to form a community where folks know and trust us enough to enter our homes freely and, if hungry or thirsty, open our refrigerators without hesitation to take what they need. Now that’s the real mark of a trusting community!
This idea of refrigerator rights was a game-changer in my home. You see, I think most people these days have no-fly zones in our homes—places people can’t go. When company comes over, we close the doors to the bedrooms so nobody sees our mess.
And we certainly won’t let someone into our refrigerators! Dr. Miller challenged our cultural bias and reminded us that when we feel safe enough to share real life with other people, then we finally begin to understand Biblical community.
Open Hands and Homes
I remember when my family began living out refrigerator rights in our own home. We started by connecting with a group of neighbors. Often, we would come together around the kitchen table for coffee or a meal, and it was never anything special—it was just life. We told friends that our house was open; if they wanted something to eat or drink, they didn’t need to ask permission. Although, that offer always came with a warning: “If it’s green and it’s not supposed to be, don’t eat it!” We wanted to be real and enjoy the full experience of this community, telling folks they could come on over without calling.
This way of life has been the heartbeat of our home ever since. Recently, my family had a wall removed in our house so we could have more room for community around the table!
I know what you’re thinking: “I could never do that!” But let me tell you, this lifestyle is healthy and fulfilling. Most importantly, it’s Biblical. In Acts 4, Luke writes about the community of faith that marked the early church. Verse 32 is what I consider a life verse: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”
The earliest followers of Jesus were openhanded with the gifts God gave them. They knew everything they had, from their salvation to their daily bread, came to them by the grace of God. Even though many of them had little to their name, they kept every part of their lives free from the fence of a no-fly zone, extending the same grace and love to others that they received from Christ.
Make Room at the Table
Why is it so difficult for us to give refrigerator rights to our neighbors? Why do we build fences that restrict community? There are many reasons. Our 21st-century American society has morphed our homes into isolation zones and entertainment havens. Selfishness is rewarded in our modern life, and we’re worse off for it. But it doesn’t need to stay this way.
So, what can we do to create change? How can we build community? Here are a few things my family learned along the way:
- You must be intentional! For real community to happen, you have to keep it at the forefront as a family value.
- It all starts with getting to know your neighbors. Start praying and ask God to help you meet your neighbors. Take a prayer walk! Then respond in boldness to His answers.
- Know that people may resist your efforts to share your life and your table. You might hear, “Oh no, we would never think of just stopping by without calling first!” Nonetheless, your neighbors will know they’re welcome. I remember the first time I came home to find people in my house resting around the table, with kids running down the halls with at least two dogs that weren’t mine. Everyone was laughing, and someone said, “We were taking the dogs for a walk and decided to ‘test’ you about always being open!” It took about four months for that to finally happen. It takes time to build community.
- Simplicity is the key. You need a less complicated life, one that makes room for actual life to happen! Remember, you might have to stop doing something good to make room for something better. An open home and open life are worth it!
- Finally, remember that we were made to live in Christ-centered community. Caring, loving, and supporting others are the marks of a healthy faith. You are not alone in this endeavor! As your Community Pastors, we’re here to help you pull down fences and make room for more at the table.