I’ve enjoyed working with several high-energy invigorated churches this past spring and summer.
Being around them, considering God’s calling for them and how to join God more fully on mission was delightful.
Reflecting on these experiences, I find myself wishing more people on this planet could experience this kind of faith community.
One practice common to each of these churches is Communion or the Lord’s Supper – gathering around God’s table to celebrate in the present while anticipating future celebration with all God’s people.
Gathering people around God’s table is a great metaphor for considering how we practice Christian hospitality and raises several questions.
How can we make more room around that table? What do we know about gathering with people around tables for meals? How can we practice Christian hospitality better, which really is making room for others around Christ’s table?
1. We invite others to the table when our family has capacity to host them.
Families in crisis, conflict or with serious illness don’t (typically and generally) invite others over for dinner. Why not? Their emotional energies are focused on resolving the crisis.
Have you ever been to someone’s house for a meal and you can tell they were in a big argument before you arrived? It’s awkward.
Or what about illness? You’re at someone’s house for a meal and learned while there about the family member who is sick, and you leave wondering how soon you will come down with the same illness.
Church families are the same way. When crisis, conflict or illness (various forms of toxicity) is the focus, the church does not have much capacity left to invite guests to the table.
In fact, most disciples don’t want others they like or care about to come to the table when the Christian family who eats there is preoccupied with its issues.
2. We prepare for others to join us at the table by cleaning up the house.
What’s this look like at your house? Vacuuming, sweeping the porch and walk, dusting, shoving items into closets, hiding stacks of things you may need but will never actually use?
When the house is too cluttered, dirty or unorganized to have guests for dinner, we clean it up. When the church family is in crisis, conflict or illness, we must do what it takes to clean up the house.
Call in a professional cleaning service (consultant) if needed. Do whatever it takes to increase the family’s capacity to make room at the table.
3. We invite others to the table who need what is served at this particular table.
This insight requires nuances of understanding. In one way, the same thing is served at every table because this is Christ’s table. Christ is who and what we find there.
In another way, many of us are aware of the tremendous diversity in the Christian family tree.
Each church expresses itself according to its DNA, personality, early childhood experiences, community context, culture and so on.
God has influenced the shaping of your congregation. So, not everyone will find what they need at the table in your house. That’s OK. You are not called to be the family down the street.
Be who you are as a church family because some people do need what’s at the table in your house.
Some people in your community will find Christ through the unique expression of Christ, which is your church.
4. When new people are coming to the table, we get up and make room for them.
Do you ask guests to climb the stairs, retrieve the spare chair from under the desk in the bonus room and tote it back down to the table?
No, you get up and go get a chair for them. You get up and make room. You take the initiative, and this means those of us already at the table have to reorient themselves.
In the same way, congregations have to make room in the symbolic sense of that phrase.
Our relationship dynamics around the table must change, our roles around the table shift, and the way we pass the food around modifies.
When new people come to the table, we intentionally make room in the fullest meaning of that phrase.
5. When new people join us at the table, we work hard to meet their needs, practicing hospitality.
What do they like to eat? Any food allergies? How about their children? Do they eat what we eat?
No, churches don’t literally adjust the elements on the Communion table, but we do work hard to help people get to Christ’s table, knowing that if we can help them get there, Christ will meet their needs.
How much room is there at the table? There is always room for one more.
Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates. A version of this article first appeared on Pinnacle’s blog and is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his personal blog.
Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates.