Updated: Nov 14, 2019
By: Tony Sorci
For those who have been following Table Network for a while, know that we write, speak, and train from the perspective of reaching those who are outside and uninterested in the church. After the Scriptures (the person, promises, and ways of Jesus), those who have zero interest in western-normative and creative church expressions alike are our number one filter.
We try our best to avoid meddling in areas of missional theory and theologizing –– which, in my experience, leads only to talking in circles –– but more so the practical lessons from being in the thick of conversations and friendships. We’re not a tribe of professionals. We’re a tribe of everyday table setters, house party hosts, and neighborhood conversationalists.
The majority of our network is comprised of people whose lives are busy with careers, families, and loving those around them. Most of whom came to us with a heart to reach their friends, but found that conventional church models offered very little to encourage those efforts –– most, in fact, hindered it.
Those in our network who are truly experiencing movement aren’t preoccupied with constant debate or angst regarding church expressions, but rather the consistency of being the Church where they live. Because of this, they are indifferent to conventional church expressions. They see the value it adds to a specific portion of society (30%) and celebrate the ways God moves there. Still, they know these are not the environments where their uninterested neighbors (70%) will hear of God’s boundless love, believe, and begin to do as they did among their neighbors.
The people in the middle of the movement we’ve observed have discovered the freedom to live Jesus-esque. They have embraced a fluid, flexible, mobile, people-focussed, conversational, table-centered approach to gathering and scattering as a legitimate way of being the church.
But this guilt-free place is difficult to find. It was for me. Even more so for my wife — and she wouldn’t mind me telling you that. One leader in our network jokingly said he used to wake up on Sundays mornings and repeated to himself, “I’m not a heretic! I’m not a heretic! I’m not a heretic!”
Some can joke now, but this deconstruction is essential for two reasons: (1) In overcoming the initial struggle of leaving behind traditional church rhythms (the heretic complex), they now give themselves wholly to being the church where they live. Which is good, because (2) people only have so much time per week and discipling people in post-church, post-Christian world requires A LOT of time.
Something that isn’t discussed enough is how long discipleship-filled relationships can take to form in our day. Discipleship requires robust relationships filled with trust, ease, and regularity –– we need to come to grips with the fact that this takes time. It takes so much time, in fact, that it will be complicated, if not impossible, to be committed to both a conventional church calendar and the intentionality required to reach our neighbors in this day and age.
How many of us remember our churches pushing some sort of summer missional cook-out campaign? You’d get 4 sermons on evangelism and a step-by-step PDF on how to throw a block party or backyard cook-out. The church staff was relieved to check the “missional” box while a tiny percentage of the church got a taste of living Jesus-esque on a single evening in July. How many of you remember being really let down by not only how difficult it was to actually get neighbors to come, but also by the fact that nothing really ever came of it?
The reason for the let down would require a book’s worth of thoughts and analysis, but one thing we can point out right away is that building relationships among those who carry the post-Christian spirit of cynicism and skepticism takes time.
Consider this quote by Alan Fadling: “Relationships can be messy and not very efficient, but loving relationships are at the heart of the gospel. In the language of efficiency, love is willing to waste time.” Only those who have found freedom from the heretic complex are willing to waste time with their neighbors. And from our experience, there’s a lot of cool things happening amidst these unwise time stewards.
NOTE: To learn more about some of the insights we gained in this discovery, check out our podcast at: https://www.thetablenetwork.com/resources / (P.S. if you aren’t in the mood to laugh, skip forward to about 5 minutes into the podcast)