We’ve spent the summer putting words to the broad “feeling” of what The Table should be. The word “should” is important – these are the initial building blocks of an organic community, and these are just words until that community begins to live them out. As we’ve talked to many people who are interested in the initial ideas, a few things have become clear. Here is what we are pretty sure of – a list of concepts, mission, vision, and core values that will drive everything we do from here on. As I say, this is the only the beginning, but you have to start somewhere…
Definition of Terms
The Table is a different kind of community of faith. There are a few words we’d like to define in the context of our relationships with each other…
“Church” can mean a lot of different things, so it’s important to define it from a couple of angles. First, the weekly gathering: We have become convinced that creating an attractive, entertaining church service is not enough to reach the greater Seattle area with the message of Jesus. As we’ve lived and worked in our communities, we’ve come to the stunning revelation that the very best church programs, marketing, teachers, music, and events have failed to transform the culture at large. Research statistics on church attendance and profession of faith confirm it. We think this is because these systems, at their very best, have a limited reach due to the overall suspicion and sometimes outright hostility toward church culture we’ve found to exist outside the walls of church buildings. Our friends, family, and co-workers are often not “seekers.” They wouldn’t visit a church to search for answers. So how will they ever hear the message of Jesus? By watching and listening to each of us. Simply put, we believe a lot of people might accept Jesus a long time before they would consider being a part of the American church sub-culture.
Second, there is the broader meaning, the “church of Jesus.” We believe church is more than a series of meetings, gatherings, and groups at a centralized location. The church of Jesus is represented by everyone who believes in Jesus and has chosen to follow Him, all over the world, throughout history. Jesus called twelve people to follow Him during his three and a half years of ministry on earth. Then he sent them to go and make “disciples” – other people who would follow Him.
Being part of Jesus’ church, then, is not a matter of joining an organization, committing to a set of institutional rules, or even gathering for worship (even though we think that last one is pretty important). It means that we are following Jesus, seeking to emulate His actions and attitudes, and obeying His commands. And we are encouraging others to do the same – at home, at work, at school, in our neighborhood – everywhere we go. It also means that we are intentional about the places we live, work , play, and serve – we are looking for opportunities to interact with those who are not following Jesus, in the hope that they will see our example and consider becoming His disciple.
We believe “ministry” is something that we’re all a part of, not a set of meetings and mini-organizations curated by a small group of paid professionals. We are all called by Jesus to live a life of love, offering the promise of grace and forgiveness to everyone we encounter. We are taught by Jesus and His Apostles to gather in His name for the purposes of corporate worship, prayer, sacramental Communion, and teaching. As Paul told the Ephesians:
“Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift…He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.” (Ephesians 4:7-13 MSG)
Gatherings or “church services”, then, serve as a important point of contact, equipping, and training for the actual work we are sent to engage in – the ministry of reconciliation, which means encouraging others to follow Jesus. For some reason, the American church has often come to see church buildings, church meetings, and church culture as the destination for working out our faith, not the launch pad. For our community, we want to change that.
This also means that pastors, teachers, etc. are not the only ones called to this work. We all are. Some of us have been given the ability to teach others, to provide care and counsel, even to proclaim the message of Jesus publicly in an effective and persuasive manner, but their primary purpose is to build up the rest of the members of the community so that they can become mature in their faith and serve the world God has placed them in.
Because of this, our gatherings must take on a sharper focus. We are not gathering to watch “ministers” perform their “ministry.” We are joining together to encourage, strengthen, teach, and challenge each other as we prepare for another week of our ministry. We are led by player-coaches who are engaged in reaching our community right alongside us. We are not hoping, at the outset at least, to convince others to accept our invitation to come to “church” – we are hoping they will accept our invitation to follow us in following Christ.
A student and follower of the actions, attitudes, and commands of Jesus.
Because these understandings serve as the foundation and core of our community, we’ve had to make some different choices about priorities. We are organizing around the principle of “fierce reduction” – striving for the simplest structure possible that achieves our goals. We have identified the following priorities:
Both sacramental communion and communion with one another are vital to our community. Sacrametal communion is remembering the body and blood of Jesus until He returns as He modeled for us the night He was betrayed. This practice will be observed at all of our worship gatherings. Deep, meaningful connections with one another are linked to this practice – we are all members of one body, and we will elevate the importance of supporting, encouraging, and holding one another accountable to our mission.
Jesus has shown us immeasurable grace and compassion, and teaches us to extend the same to everyone in our reach. We will actively participate in acts of mercy and compassion. These will be both local and global, and will include actions we can take individually and as a group. A majority of the financial support we receive will be dedicated to these initiatives.
We are disciples, actively engaged in making more disciples using a personal, relational model. This means we aren’t interested in mass-production – we believe becoming a disciple of Jesus involves a transfer of personhood. We will actively encourage each other to be personally involved in both mentoring and being mentored in our faith in Jesus. How? We will spend time together. This time will be strategically focused on: talking about Jesus (His actions, attitudes, and commands), sharing insights from Scripture, praying for one another, and challenging one another to live a life that honors Jesus.
Mission and vision statements are important – they are short, purposeful statements that allow a community to organize around the same basic principles. Here is what we’ve come up with for The Table:
The Table is a community of disciples of Jesus who are leading others to be disciples of Jesus.
Many gatherings, one community. The Table will begin with one gathering and expand to encompass gatherings other geographical areas. These gatherings will remain under one umbrella of community and meet all together from time to time.
Many leaders, one voice. The Table will encourage men and women with leadership gifts (pastors / teachers) to take lead roles at The Table communities. The Table communities will share a common mission, vision, and core values.
Growth through discipleship. The Table will grow in numbers by virtue of its mission – to be a community of disciples making disciples.