Origin Stories Series (1/5): Why was the Table Network formed?

In early 2014 I was one of the pastors of MissioDei Chicago. At that time we gave leadership as a “plurality of elders”, no “Senior Pastor.” The structure was quite beautiful as it allowed us to make decisions together through the various ministries of Jesus at work in each of us, and from there lead out as individuals in our various strengths. My role was the multiplication of disciples, leaders, and missional communities that became new church families throughout the city. God was good, and we saw a lot of great things happen from 2010-2014. But in that, there was always a few national statistics I just couldn’t unsee:

  • 37% of those 15-30 years old claim no spiritual interest (largest % in U.S. history)

  • Over 200 million people are not part of a church family

  • 43,000 people leave the church every week

And after all the efforts and all the money spent from all the denominations, churches and organizations who are about reaching people:

  • 96% of church growth is from people moving from one church to another.

Knowing this, I began listening less to what all the church "insiders" thought and more to what people outside the church were actually saying. Two things surfaced:

  1. For most, Christianity wasn’t news about God’s unconditional love for a world in love with itself.

  2. For many, 70-80% of the population depending on location, there was no interest in attending a church service of any kind.

In this it became clear about our need for another way forward as the church if our hope was to meet people, millions of people, in their disconnect due to the message and medium of Jesus they were handed. I found a look back was the best way to move forward. There, two things became clear about the message and medium I wanted others to experience.

The Message of FREEDOM

Aware of His listeners’ perpetual love affair with the law, Jesus made a habit of employing the most shocking stories of unadulterated grace to send their personal empires of morality tumbling down, brick by brick. The religious zealot who went to pray found his tower of self-righteousness was as good as toppled while the community outcast simply knelt in the ruin of his own life. Zealots and outcasts alike, we are all flawed, frail, and foolish in one way or another. That’s why Jesus is good news. He does what no one else can—reconnecting us to God and rescuing us from ourselves. This dependence on him defines us and frees us to stop pretending we are impressive. We call it grace, an invitation out of the exhausting madness of both trying to hide the junk of our lives and trying to fix the lives of others. We are free to be nothing in Christ, and there, find enough healing and strength to truly love.

The Medium of FAMILY

The mystery of the kingdom of God is like a dragnet being hauled to shore, indiscriminately catching everything in its path. It rejects nothing, Jesus said. One day this net will arrive on the beach. Meanwhile, the One who’s actually invited us into the fishing business doesn’t think tossing out what we deem undesirable is any way to further his work in the world. Since he said the sorting of what's what is strictly his department, we are free to be what we only are: a random sampling of the broken world God has united Himself to in Christ. Capon was right, “to be the church and paint a picture of anything else would be false advertisement.” To believe in this present mystery, is to create a culture of belonging throughout the world that sees everyone as valued guest at the table Jesus prepared. To live in this present mystery is to one day be able to say, “All are loved. There are none left who are in need.”

With this understanding in mind, a vision was born for a network that places this message and medium of Jesus in the hands of everyday people so everyone can experience the freedom and family found at Jesus’ table. To that end the tribe known as the Table Network was formed and the mission became clear: help others find rest, slow down, and make disciples around the simplicity of good food, Good News and good conversation.

Nothing less. Nothing more.

OriginsRuss Johnson