Check out part one to this blog post here.
Our practice of Family Tables is certainly nothing new, but simply an expression of missional community for our context. Shared meals have been an important part of missional communities for years. In Jesus’ day the cultural practice of the Greco-Roman evening meal was influential. The meal typically lasted between two and a half to four hours and consisted of two parts. First was the deipnon, the actual meal. Following the meal was the symposion, which, literally translated, means “drinking together.” The symposion was a time of conversation and discussion over wine.
This feasting pattern blended beautifully into the Jewish sense of family and abundant hospitality, particularly as Jesus followers took meals to a new level by stepping over cultural, social, and ethnic barriers. Opening one’s home and sharing food with others took on new dimensions as well as providing a space in which to naturally share the good news of Jesus.
Our training for Family Tables is an adaptation of the Saturate training for Missional Communities. Our goal in the training is to develop gospel-centered people who live as a family on mission together. We are doing the training in a host home in the context of a practicing Family Table. The training revolves around the DNA of MC’s, namely Gospel, Community, and Mission.
Concerning gospel, we are teaching the principles of gospel truth, gospel identity, and gospel fluency. For community we are demonstrating the value of sharing our stories and becoming more intentional in our connections with one another through the week. In mission we are seeking to develop and deepen relationships with those not yet following Jesus where we live, work, learn, and play. Inviting these friends to Family Table is a high invitation/low challenge opportunity.
We have set three standard rules for all Tables: 1) Everyone pitches in to set up, clean up, and straighten up, 2) We all take responsibility to monitor the kids outside any structured time, and 3) What’s shared at the table stayed at the table. Each host home can have other House Rules for their specific setting. For example, we have a Boston Terrier named Stella, so one of our house rules is ‘No feeding Stella.’ Additional House Rules vary from home to home depending on circumstances or logistics.
Everyone contributes in some way to the evening meal. There are other ways people can contribute to Family Table other than bringing food; bring ice, plates, cups, or utensils. To help take care of the host home, some can provide trash bags, paper towels, or toilet paper. Show people where cleaning supplies and trash bags are kept in case there’s a spill or the trash container is full. Someone can offer to take a bag of trash with them, because the amount of trash will increase for the host home due to increased traffic in the home.
A lady in our Family Table sends out the menu for meals on a monthly basis. The meals are usually themed, such as “Off the Grill,” “Blast from the Past” (favorite food items from childhood), and breakfast (always a family favorite). It is always appreciated to consider the dietary needs or restrictions of individuals. One child is allergic to peanuts, eggs, dairy, and soy. Another cannot eat raspberries. Some diabetics are in the mix as well as some who are eating low-carb and vegan. Usually people will bring what they can eat and have plenty to share.
All these practices highlight our identity as family, helping create a sense of ownership. The host home is our home, too, so we all take some responsibility for doing the ordinary tasks of what a household requires. It is a beautiful thing to see others demonstrating their comfort in your home by taking initiative to handle things.
The evening is led by a Table Host, which may or not be the individual or couple who opens their home for the Table. Conversation around the table during the meal is encouraged. It usually consists of the normal “small talk” and banter that occurs among friends, but asking questions of others, especially any new individuals is encouraged. Sharing about an event or circumstance in your week is also helpful to spark good conversation.
For the after-meal conversation, the Table Host could let people know ahead of time what the topic will be so they can be thinking about it for themselves, maybe coming up with questions or comments. The Host should prepare some questions and comments ahead of time to guide the conversation, keeping in mind the goal is to keep it oriented toward Jesus and the good news. At other times, the conversation may be more spontaneous, being directed by the Spirit, addressing a concern, or something brought up at the table.
The conversation is just that—conversation. It is not a Bible study, a monologue, or a formal discussion. Just as it takes intentionality to lead in those exchanges, it may actually take more intentionality to guide a conversation and prevent it from defaulting into one of the things just mentioned, or to keep it from going off the rails entirely.
So, what can we talk about? Well, the conversation might be a carry-over from something that came up during the meal, or it could be one of the following suggestions:
- Talk about one of the 4G’s (God is great, glorious, good, gracious)
- How does the gospel speak to_______? (Depression/anxiety, finances, parenting, addiction, so many avenues here)
- Something from a recent sermon
- How did you see Jesus showing up/God at work this week?
- Talk about ways to be good news to people where you live, work, learn, or play
- Brainstorm your resources as a family and discuss how you can bless others with them
- Open topic evening
As we move forward with Family Tables being our expression of missional communities, we will learn more as we go. We are excited to see our tables fill, lengthen, and multiply as we center our life together on Jesus and his amazing good news.
We love hearing ways missional communities are innovating to reach their neighbors with the gospel. What are some ways your communities have creatively engaged missional community life?
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