SIGNALS / 04: Setting An Ongoing Table

By: Ryan Mayfield

I wish people would consider the time and money that potentially could be wasted on going to seminary.  Let me explain:

I'm not saying that there aren't any good reasons to get a seminary degree, but what I am saying is that I'm often discouraged by the reasons I hear for why people are going to seminary. Most of the people I talk to are seeking a degree so that they can go into vocational ministry. While there may be some admirable ambitions there, there is also a devastating lie that has served to greatly muffle the message of Jesus. 

The lie we have believed is this: you have to have/be _____ to do ministry.

A million things could fill that blank: money, time, seminary degrees, church buildings, a cool logo, a growing social media presence, etc.

Most of us would never admit to believing those things, but our choices (and leadership pipelines, ministry tracks, and professional church positions) often betray our true beliefs.

What we see in the life of Jesus is much different. Author Robert Karris insightfully describes Jesus in the book of Luke as someone who is, "either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal." (Eating Your Way Through Luke's Gospel) 

In his book, A Meal With Jesus, author Tim Chester points out that the phrase "the Son of Man came..." occurs three times in the Gospels:

  1. "the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10:45)

  2. "the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost" (Lu 19:10)

  3. "the Son of Man came eating and drinking" (Lu 7:34)

Chester says, "The first two are statements of purpose. Why did Jesus come? He came to serve, to give his life as a ransom, to seek and save the lost. The third is a statement of method. How did Jesus come? He came eating and drinking."

Gathering around the table wasn't a pit stop for Jesus on his way to revealing himself to people; it was the way he did it! In fact, the idea of meeting God through a meal was baked right into the origin story of the Jewish people.

In the creation narrative, God created man and woman and placed them in a garden. In that garden, he had already prepared a banquet for them (Gen 1:29). However, humanity chose to have a meal without God, which led to their downfall (Gen 3:6).

Fast forward several hundred years, and God is playing out what will become the most iconic story in the history of the Jewish people: the Passover. He gives them special instructions for a meal and then releases them from their slavery in Egypt. Once free, the people go to meet with God on a mountainside (famous 10 Commandments scene). After Moses climbed down the mountain to share what God had said, it says "Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel climbed up the mountain. there they saw the God of Israel...And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in his presence!"

To dine with God was the ultimate expression of Divine acceptance. So when Jesus came "eating and drinking" with "sinners and tax collectors," he was doing much more than carbo-loading for his next trek up to the temple... he was being the temple! 

With Jesus, the meal is the message. After all, the final scene of all of biblical scripture is that of a great feast between God and humanity, as originally intended. 

As we look at Jesus, it doesn’t seem He is looking for people who are willing to spend time and money on seminary degrees so they can "do ministry." He's inviting us to a seat at a table that he has already prepared, a seat that anyone can sit at, regardless of their level of education or degree of righteousness. 

And that’s the point.

What is so great about the table (and why it is at the heart of Table Network) is not because there's anything magical about it, but precisely because there isn't. The table is not the magic bullet to save the world. The table is simply a common space found in every culture. It is radically normal, and therefore accessible to everyone, much like the sinners and tax collectors of Jesus' day. Anyone can gather people around a table, and that’s exactly what people are doing where we are seeing the Good News spread among those uninterested in church. 

Yes. In every place where we are seeing love and Good News spread, we are seeing everyday people set tables where all our welcome to come dine with their neighbors. The agenda: to build new friendships. The result: new friends. 

The key, we found, is to not let these simple meals turn into anything else.

NOTE: To learn more about some of the insights we gained in this discovery, check out our podcast at:   / (P.S. if you aren’t in the mood to laugh, skip forward to about 10 minutes into the podcast)