What God Accomplishes Around a Table
When I started out preaching, I attended a church growth conference where the presenter shared that the two most important rooms in the church were the nursery and the women’s bathroom. He explained that, if you wanted to make a good first impression, start here. He also said that the best day to have “Friend Day” was the last Sunday in October since that was when we “fell back” for Daylight Savings Time (it is now in November). That way, turning your clock back an hour, you gave everyone an extra hour to sleep. That might have been a good idea for the majority of states, but not Montana. That was opening day of our deer season. Bad idea!
I want to challenge you that the most important room in the church actually centers around a table.
In a disciple making movement, it is not about the building. It is about being relational and intentional. Reaching the lost, racial reconciliation, restoring the backslider, and building up believers all take place around a common table. This might be your kitchen table or a table at your favorite coffee shop.
“Reaching the lost, racial reconciliation, restoring the backslider, and building up believers all take place around a common table.”
We “equip the saints” (Eph. 4:12) by continually encouraging them to be intentional with their daily interaction with people within their circle of influence. I’d like to suggest that this daily interaction ideally begins with A) common table, then moves to B) inviting them to your small group, and then C) inviting them to the morning assembly. We too often skip A and B and jump right into C. Yet, if our friends are already in a small group before attending the morning assembly, we won’t have to worry about getting them “plugged in”—they are already there! And it all began around a common table.
Reaching the Lost Around a Common Table
I think it’s unfair for us to think that our preacher will be able to reach the spiritual diversity that is present in the auditorium merely with a 30-minute sermon. Example: My wife grew up in a home where her father was an elder. My parents ran the liquor store.
On any given Lord’s Day, you will have people who grew up in the church as well as those who came to Christ later in life. You will have the young couple from a high church background expecting their first baby, the 30-something wondering if there’s even a God, and young people wrestling with their sexual and gender “identity”—all in attendance. It is a rare preacher that can reach that mix week after week.
“My wife grew up in a home where her father was an elder. My parents ran the liquor store.”
Let me give you an example of what I’m suggesting. Let’s say you have befriended your next-door neighbors. They’re a young couple, unmarried, living together. After conversations over the fence, and more than a few barbeques, they begin to attend your small group. One weekend, your neighbors announce they will meet you in church. The weekend service happens to fall on Valentines’ Day, and the sermon is centered on marriage. So, from a discipleship perspective, you might respond, “That is fantastic! And my wife and I are taking you out for lunch following church.” You have been intentional along the way, and you now get an opportunity to discuss the sermon over lunch, answer questions, and remind them how God designed marriage and he knows best. It’s also a great opportunity to share your own testimony on marriage (this is when I tell people, “It is tough being married to a Hutton!”). Again, it happens around a common table.
Racial Reconciliation around a Common Table
Kenny O. is one of my best friends. (In fact, he is one of my “final six”—the guys that will lower me into the ground when the time arrives.) He and I are as opposite as you can possibly be. I am old; he is young. I am white; he is black. He is athletic, having played in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers. No one has ever accused me of spending too much time at the gym.
When I lived in Omaha, and when neither of us were traveling, Kenny and I would get together every Friday—for 18 months before he ever attended the morning assembly. So when he walked in that first Sunday, he was not as concerned about the racial diversity of the congregation (and thankfully we were a diverse congregation), as he was just meeting a friend. “I am here because of a friend.” Bridging the racial divide begins at a common table.
“Bridging the racial divide begins at a common table.”
Restoring the Backslider around a Common Table
When talking about someone who has drifted away from church or from the faith itself, I almost always hear, “I wish I could get them to come back to church.” Yes, that would be great, but, again, perhaps the return can start around a common table.
Quite often, those who have drifted away will say they left due to disappointment, mistrust, hypocrisy, etc. Yet I agree with longtime Christian Church preacher Bob Russell when he wrote,
“However, in reality, most are like a man in the New Testament named Demas, who the Apostle Paul describes as a ‘fellow worker’ in ministry with him. Yet Paul later writes that Demas left the faith because he ‘loved this present world’ (2 Tim. 4:10, NASB).
Whatever the reason, they need to know there is someone in church they can trust. And trust is built around a common table. I know for certain they will feel more comfortable in your life group than they will walking through the front door of the church. The longer they have been away from the morning assembly, the more time it will take to build up trust. As you lean into the promptings of the Holy Spirit, you will know when the time is right to invite them to join you in church.
“The longer they have been away from the morning assembly, the more time it will take to build up trust.”
Building Up Believers around a Common Table
Whereas neighborhood interactions used to be more common, many families have moved from the front porch to the back deck—and some to a total lockdown. People are lonely. Potlucks, Sunday School parties, and most large group gatherings are a faint memory to most. The news media knows we are attracted to things that cause fear, and unfortunately a number of our church members, because of their appetite for more news, are living a life of fear and increased isolation.
At a common table, we are able to guide people out of a life of fear, remind them they do not have to go through life “swimming laps,” and lead them to a higher purpose. As you meet around a common table, gently help them move the needle from fear to confidence. Once you have earned the right to speak into their lives, remind them that the Bible teaches us to “not forsake the assembly” (Heb. 10:25).
Reaching the lost, racial reconciliation, restoring the backslider, and building up believers all begin around a common table. We need to remind ourselves and one another that the Great Commission literally begins with the phrase “as you go.” We make disciples as we go along everyday life.
“We make disciples as we go along everyday life.”
The most important room in the church centers around a common table. And, I’ll add, if we maintain a proper mindset, it culminates at a common table. As the apostle Paul put it,
“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.” (1 Cor. 10:16-17, NIV)