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February 13, 2016

The Place Where Planters Need to Be

By JR Woodward

The Mealtime Prayer, Fritz von Uhde (1885)

It’s the place we come to when we are hungry and thirsty. It’s the place where we experience laughter and tears and where we share stories, surprises and secrets. It’s the place where families are formed and community is deepened. It’s the place where there is opportunity for honest conversation and where words that are shared shape who we are and who we are becoming.

It’s the place where church planters need to be – the table.

I find it fascinating that the story of God starts with a picnic and ends with a feast. The climax of the story is Jesus. And the table is the most used piece of furniture in his life.

Jesus Taught at the Table

It was at the dinner table of the Pharisees that we find the town harlot anointing Jesus’ feet with a very expensive bottle of perfume, as well as her kisses. And when the religious leaders murmured about the harlot, Jesus told them a story about the table, at the table. He tells them when someone invites you to dinner, don’t sit in the place of honor because if someone more important than you arrives, the host may have to call you out in front of everybody and re-seat you to a less honorable place at the table. Where people sat at the table spoke to their rank in society.

Jesus taught them table manners saying something to the effect of, “Don’t just invite your friends and the wealthy to your dinner parties, invite people from the other side of the tracks.” Jesus understood that one of the best places to find reconciliation, for those with and those without was at the table. For it is at the table that strangers can become friends and wrongs can be made right.

Jesus Trained at the Table

When the disciples wanted to disperse the crowds because they didn’t have enough food, Jesus told them to feed the five thousand. When Jesus is present in our lives, we can move from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mentality and be generous.

Jesus consistently trained the twelve at the table. Because people sat by rank in that day, every time the disciples got ready to sit at the table, they argued about who was the greatest. Because Jesus understood who he was and where he came from, he was comfortable with any seat at the table. He didn’t just teach servant leadership, he lived it out. Jesus got up from the table and washed the disciples’ feet, because none of the disciples were comfortable enough in their own skin to do the lowliest task of washing feet. Jesus knew that transformation comes primarily through imitation, not just instruction.

Jesus Extended the Table

Jesus loved extending the table to those whom religious leaders and society had dismissed and damned—the tax collectors and “sinners”. Jesus accepted invitations to dinner parties where many disreputable people could be found, and he even took initiative to invite himself to dine at the table of Zacchaeus, who was a crook.

The table wasn’t limited to the temple and to those who went to the temple. Jesus extended the table to “the unclean” because it’s the sick that need a doctor. Jesus knew that mission is best done at the table.

Jesus Turned Over Tables

Jesus used the table over and over again in his ministry. But when he went to the temple, the center of religious life, he turned the table upside down. He sought to not only re-order religious life, but economic life as well.

The moneychangers were the first century banks, and they were being used by the ruling elite to feed their appetite for more, off the backs of those who had little. Jesus turned over the tables at the temple because his ministry trajectory was reflected in Mary’s Song. “He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold” (Luke 1: 52-53).

Jesus consistently indicted those who gained their wealth unscrupulously or hoarded wealth ungenerously. Jesus loved rich people too much to abandon them to a shallow life. He wanted them to experience the riches of community and meaning of mission by extending the table to the outcast and the down and out.

No wonder Len Sweet writes, “Jesus was killed because of his table talk and his table manners – the stories he told and the people he ate with.”[1] And so we find Jesus at the table sharing the last supper with his disciples.

So as you plant churches, are you spending more time preparing for the pulpit or ministering at the table?

NOTE

[1] Leonard Sweet, From Tablet to Table: Where Community is Formed and Identity Found (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014) p. 6.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

JR Woodward

JR Woodward (@dreamawakener) is a church planter, activist, missiologist, and author of Creating a Missional Culture. He co-founded Kairos Los Angeles, the Ecclesia Network, the Solis Foundation and Missio Alliance. He currently serves as the National Director for the V3 Church Planting Movement. He serves locally at the District Church in Washington DC and is pursuing a PhD at the University of Manchester (UK). He just turned in the manuscript of his next book The Church as Movement, with co-author Dan White Jr. It is scheduled to be released the summer of 2016. He loves to surf, travel, read, skateboard and meet new people. He enjoys photography and film and tries to attend the Sundance Festival whenever he can.

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