Table Churches

Stumbled onto this blog post Fulcrum Express, and this post,  Improbable Church, where the author starts off with

The church that meets together at my home each Friday evening to share a meal, encounter God and minister one to another is an improbable assembly of believers and even not-yet believers. We cut across races, cultures, nationalities, social status, and so many other lines — producing a rich tapestry of interwoven lives.

I love his explanation of how the church meets in his context – share a meal, encounter God and minister to one another.  That is so simple, yet so profound!  A mottley crew of people of all walks of life – even people who have not yet committed to the faith… that’s so awesome!

It makes me remember my friend Archie, who’s starting a whole new expression of the body of Christ called Fresh Connection.  He told me the first time people are meeting is this Wednesday – I told him I’d love to be there online.. maybe we can see how that can work.  God’s doing some great things!

His post references another post on the same blog site, “Table Church, Podium Church and Facilitating Leadership” which has an interesting ‘twist’ to the New Testament church model, made popular by the proliferation of ‘house based’ or ‘cell based’ churches that are gaining popularity.

The first part of this new post speaks to the author’s having to deal with a controlling pastor and how this experience made him search the Scriptures to find Biblical evidence of leadership.  He says, in part:

“Church” as it’s come to be is now largely pastor led and podium focused, with professional “ministry” and largely passive pew sitters. We have lost the New Testament pattern of a community of believers served by local elders and other leaders, who function in a collegial framework of diverse gifts to sacrificially equip all believers for works of service as we all minister to each other. See Eph. 4:11-12 & 16.

So there’s the challenge of our day: Do we want New Testament leadership that is facilitating rather than controlling, elders who are engaged rather than pastor-centric, and ministry that is diversified rather than centralized? Are we willing to take back our churches and once again be the church?

He coins an interesting term for traditionally styled churches – podium churches.  I don’t want to beat the dead horse of traditonal vs non traditional churches specifically… I want to get to how the church is shaped in his context – what he  calls ‘table churches‘.

The home-based model for the first three centuries of church history was firmly rooted in the New Testament, where believers met, fellowshipped, shared communion and a meal together in each other’s homes. Interestingly, and contrary to our current male dominated “churches” where women are typically excluded from key roles, those home fellowships were often hosted by women such as Mark’s mom in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12), Lydia in Philippi (Acts 16:15 & 40), and Priscilla in Ephesus and then Rome (Rom. 16:3-5 and 1 Cor. 16:19).

That’s the beginning of his context.  He mentions that Jesus himself orchestrated the home based model

Jesus himself established this pattern of home-oriented fellowship in Luke 10:1-11. He sent seventy disciples, two by two, to find houses of peace (likely headed by those who were not yet believers) to serve as focal points for bringing the Kingdom of God into a new town or village.

The author says that he focused this text – wrongly – on the disciples, but that the fulcrum was the homes of peace that the disciples were to use to operate from:

For too long, I wrongly focused in this passage on the disciples. After all, they were the ones sent out by Jesus himself and I thought they were the most important element for advancing God’s Kingdom. In reality, however, the key was those homes of peace, where hospitality and blessing could flow forth and draw people in. Absent such households, the disciples could do nothing and were commanded to shake the dust off their feet as they left for the next town.

Again, he says

I don’t think this focus by Jesus, Peter or Paul on using peaceful homes as the foundation for authentic fellowship, discipleship and church growth was an accident. It simply is not possible for people to feel the intimacy and security needed to open up, share with each other, develop their gifts, and minister one to another in larger, podium-focused meetings. Plus, homes of peace are the ideal setting for being the church, because the gift of hospitality naturally draws people in and fosters authentic relationships.

So how does he express the meeting of the believers? These are the points in his article that are expanded on:

New Testament churches typically met in homes where people shared communion and fellowship over a meal.

When New Testament Christians gathered together, they each were to come with something to contribute so they could minister one to another.

Table churches are not supplements or tack-on’s for podium churches. If anything, it should be the other way around!

Jesus told us to go out into the world to gather the harvest, and that’s what New Testament Christians did.

I will encourage you to read the article, but basically I will end with one more quote from this author:

Go! Find a household of peace or, if there are no households, then a person of peace — even if they are not yet believers. Bless them by asking what they need Jesus to do for them, then pray for them. If the Lord confirms his blessing by meeting them in their needs, you don’t have to “organize” things. They, instead, will call their friends and neighbors to come and share a meal at their house as they exclaim what the Lord has done for them. They will be excited and God will use their natural gift of hospitality and peace to attract people into the Kingdom.

From there, it’s easy — ask those who come (even if they are not yet Christians!) to share with each other what God is saying to them as he draws them to himself. They just sort of naturally become Christians without needing to be pushed!

In fact, I’m seeing on average about two to three people testify each week, sitting around various tables, that God met them over the prior week and they committed their lives to Jesus. Others in that fellowship will quickly come beside them to help them to find their own gifts, teach them to expect that God will continue to speak to them, and to lean that God will give them whatever is needed to minister one to another. Sometimes I jump in, but mostly I just sit back and watch ‘em take off!

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10 Responses

  1. Robert — I love your commentary on the church as always. I find that this subject (today’s Western church) crosses my subject (abuse) on alarming levels. More on that later.

    • I’m eager to hear ur views… yet concerned that our topics link at such high levels…..

      • THE reason churches are failing to deliver on any of their God-given destiny, is widespread, unchecked abuse in the church on all levels. So many are seeking to ‘reform’ the church or ‘reinvent’ the church, but it is not the style of church that is the problem. It is abuse. This abuse can exist on any level of relationship and ministry, regardless of the size, format, culture, volume level, giftedness of ministers or anything. It doesn’t have to exist … but it can. Large churches or boring churches or upbeat churches, it doesnt matter … abuse doesn’t have an allegiance to a style. It will find its way in wherever it can. And unfortunately it only takes a relationship of two people to offer this thing a foothold. Scary, but … I’d rather see the root and know where to attack, rather than constantly whacking at the branches.

    • The problem with abuse in our churches is that we tolerate it and refuse to openly expose it, following Biblical procedures like Matt. 18 and 1 Tim. 5:19-21. I faced such a situation and finally decided that silence was no longer an option because silence would allow more people to be exploited. In 1 Tim. 5 we are Biblically commanded to expose leadership abuses where there is sufficient supporting evidence; sweeping predatory abuses under the rug is not allowed. If interested, I did a blog on this. It’s hard hitting, but it is the culmination of the mandates set forth in Scripture. It’s at http://fulcrumexpress.com/2009/06/30/enablers/. However, there is often a price to pay for exposing abuse. Are you willing to pay that price? It’s easy to decry abuse, but another thing to expose it. I pray that you find your own grace for dealing with what you’ve witnessed.

      • I can vouch for Annie, Jim. She’s one of my best friends. Believe me… she is paying the price, even as she writes this. She IS exposing it, even in her own personal situation, and on her own blog at Calling To Deep.

        In my humble opinion,her integrity is 100% impeccable. She has been an intercessor and fellow warrior for some time, and I will defend her integrity with my own 🙂

  2. Robert, great stuff, a real awakening on hospitality….It is in these places, where homes are opened for prayer and testimonies that our faith increases and giftings manifest.
    Awesome

    • Yeah Deni 🙂 Like your ladies’ meeting at Jen’s house, right? I pray that you all get released to explore this concept on your own as well… 🙂

  3. Thanks. I’m honored by your comments on my blog. Keep in touch!

    • Jim! I’ve been honoured ‘stumbling’ into your blog …. I’d LOVE to keep in touch! I love the idea of the Table church …. I definitely plan on implementing eating more into my simple church experience. Awesome stuff. Keep on coming – and WELCOME to the HAND OF GOD!!!

  4. I’m with you on that, Annie…. Too many people have been hurt by the church – the abuse is too rampant… 😦

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