Origin Stories Series (2/5): Who Are We?
“Are you a church planting network? A bunch of house churches? Who are you?”
As a Table Network leader, I get asked these type of questions pretty often. While these are fair questions to ask, they probably require more than a yes or no answer.
We do have many church families that gather in homes. We also have some that gather on Sundays in conventional worship services. We do help new church families get planted. We also help established churches reclaim a culture of discipleship where everyone gets to play.
So, if I just answered “yes” that doesn’t really give you much clarity (neither would answering “no.”) People often see what we do and then look to extrapolate who we are from that. For example, if you hear a story of one of our church communities meeting around tables in homes for discipleship, it would be easy to follow with the question, “So, the Table Network is a house church network?” Yet, if that same person heard about the church planters we equip to make disciples and see new churches form, they may ask, “So, you’re a church planting network?”
It’s pretty natural for us to quickly seek to identify people, groups, organizations by what they do. I’ve found that most of us ask questions about what people do rather than why they do it. We are quicker to look for identification rather than motivation. And as I’ve said, it only results in hearing part of the story.
For us, the answer to who we are is less about what or how we do things and more about why (motivation) we do anything. You see, we believe that the church form (the how we do things) follows function (why we do things).
The function we seek to enjoy and extend is freedom and family found at the table Jesus has prepared. A message of radical freedom found in the finished work of Jesus. The gospel. This message is extended through a medium of family -- a people you belong to while you sort out your beliefs. Freedom and family is the function of the church. You could call it love and discipleship (but c’mon, freedom, family, and function sound so good together!).
Since form follows function, the church form (what you do, how it looks, etc.) is fluid based on your context. Ask this question, ‘What would it look like to extend the message of freedom through the medium of family in a way that is conducive to love and discipleship amongst those uninterested in the church around me?”
Perhaps it will look like gathering in a pub and sharing stories over a few pints. Maybe it will be meeting with homeless folks under the overpass. What if the church form was gathering in your home around meals with friends and neighbors for discussions about Jesus?
If we define theses expression by what they do, then we would say we have a pub church, an under the freeway church, and a house church. However, the church need not be defined by where or how she gathers but rather why she gathers and what she hopes to accomplish.
This may seem trivial or like semantics. First, let me apologize. I don’t want to overgeneralize or nitpick. Yet, I am compelled to parse this difference out because I think it could be vital for the multiplication of disciples and church families. Does that sound like hyperbole? Consider this…
If we, as the Table Network, define who we are by what we do, it would logically follow that we would seek to reproduce more of what we are doing. So, if we gather in homes, then we should have more house churches. We train people to create house churches and multiply more house churches. Perhaps, people would see what we are doing and seek to copy it causing a massive and rapid expansion of house churches through the West. How does that sound?
If you answered “awful” then you understand my skepticism. And here’s why. Table Network isn’t about multiplying church forms (i.e., multiplying a particular church way of doing church). Who we are is a network of disciples seeking to extend the message of freedom found in Jesus through the medium of family (also found in Jesus) to all people.
We long to see a movement where the freedom in the gospel is multiplied through church families whose form is conducive to their particular context. In short, we desire to see “the why” reproduced and multiplied over and over and over again, not the how.
Who are we? We are a family of misfits, flying by the seat of our pants and the grace of God, seeking to enjoy and extend the freedom and family of Jesus by equipping and encouraging all who want to do the same. May we be defined by the message and medium we share and live, allowing you to run in the form you desire.