A value at The Table is relationships. Not just surface-level "hi, how are you?" relationships but the sort of connections that make you feel valued and known. We're building a church family made up of people from all walks of life and seeking to be united in Christ. This is no easy task, so here are a few ways to deepen relationships around The Table.
Be Intentional. Something we've heard in the past (a few times) is that visitors tend to meet more people during their first and second visit at The Table than they did in months of visiting other places. The reason for this is that it's hard to go unnoticed at The Table. We're a small church, but we're also a conversational church. One way to form relationships organically is to be intentional while participating around the tables. You can do this in a few ways.
First, make sure no one is sitting alone, or at least invite them to join you (or ask to join them). We don't want to force people to sit together, but we also don't want their solo-sitting to be because they weren't invited. Be sure to ask their name and give them your's as well. At this point, it's also a good idea to introduce them to others you know around The Table. “No one goes unnoticed.” This should be a priority for our Sunday gatherings. If you call The Table “home,” help us ensure people are invited in and received with joyful hospitality.
Second, as you’re comfortable and feel led, exchange contact information with others (i.e. phone number and email) and try to set up a coffee, lunch, dinner, play dates with kids, etc. Most people are looking for relational connections, and it has to start somewhere. The “exchange” happens naturally, not forcefully, as people get to know each other, but I think it’s important to address because sometimes it is just easy to forget to ask.
Lastly, being intentional means being a good listener. In the book of James, we find that it's usually (always?) wiser to listen more and speak less (Jas. 1:19). Around the tables, ask questions and then genuinely listen to what is being said, even if you're challenged, disagree with what's said, or are offended. A mark of spiritual maturity is being a good listener, especially when it’s not easy. The Table isn’t the space for intense debates, so we should take a light-hearted posture towards difficult topics and learn to give the benefit of the doubt towards those you struggle to understand. Asking questions also instills value into others. It shows them you care and want to hear their experiences and beliefs. Listen to others as you would want them to listen to you.
Be Patient. This one is hard. Our culture is shaped by urgency and immediacy; it’s the air we breathe. For example, if we send a text and the receiver doesn’t respond quickly, we begin wonder what’s wrong or if they are ignoring us! If we have to wait more than five minutes in a food line, we get irritable. If only three checkers are working the lines at the grocery store, we are angry because it slows us down from the next task. It goes on and on. One of the most counter-cultural (and productive) things we can do as Christians is to practice patience. In fact, patience is a key indication that the Spirit is at work within you (Gal. 5:22). A couple of ways we can practice patience might include…
First, patience with other people’s beliefs. No doubt, as you interact with people on Sundays or during the week, you’ll realize that you may have disagreements on important issues. Please underline this in your mind: it’s going to be okay. All of us develop our beliefs based on a mixture of experiences and learning over a long period of time in our unique life contexts (the cities we've lived in, churches we've attended, places we’ve worked, tragedies that have befallen us, etc.) Of course, not all ideas or beliefs are equally valid or true, but we should celebrate where we agree and extend patience and grace where we don’t.
I don’t know about you, but when I became a follower of Jesus, my views on theological, social, political, cultural, and ethical issues didn’t change over night. Even now, they are still evolving! Each follower of Jesus is on a journey of learning and relearning (perhaps this is part of being born again). Becoming more like Jesus is a lifelong process of bringing our entire being under his rule and reign. We need to be okay with allowing people to be where they are in life - they won't stay there but we must meet them there and trust the Spirit's presence and work in their lives. As the relationship grows and trust is established (which takes time), it will become easier to dialogue about those differences and issues about how to live a life pleasing to God, good theology, ethics, etc. It's not that we're ignoring differences but that we are trying to create a relational context where those difference can be discussed with grace, truth, and tact.
Relatedly, we also cannot assume that we have it all figured out and that the other person does not. This creates the relational cancer of pride. Pride destroys everything. Patience, on the the other hand, is birthed out of humility, which recognizes that “I don’t know everything.” I think David Brooks is right when he said:
“Humility is the freedom from the need to prove you are superior all the time...Humility is infused with lovely emotions like admiration, companionship, and gratitude. Humility is the awareness that there’s a lot you don’t know and that a lot of what you think you know is distorted or wrong. It’s the moral quality of knowing what you don’t know and figuring out a way to handle your ignorance, uncertainty, and limitation.” (David Brooks, The Road to Character)
Patience is a fruit of humility. It's God’s patience and kindness that leads us to repentance; thus, we ought to be an incarnational extension of that patience and kindness around the tables (Rom. 2:4).
Second, we can be patient with people’s schedules. Let’s say you've exchanged information and sent emails or text messages, but it’s been hard to get people together. Try not to take it personally. This is a great time to extend grace and patience by simply allowing the invite to stand and revisiting it as appropriate. People have a lot going on and we're often owned by our calendars rather than owning our calendars. Sometimes the busyness is out of our control, other times we do need to better discipline our time. Developing relationships is hard and takes time and energy. There is no instant-pot for making friendships. Around the table, keep inviting others with a spirit of patience. The important thing to remember is to create margin for relationships and to be patient with the process. Don’t be so busy that you can befriend others.
Be Involved. On my refrigerator, I have a picture with four people from our church who I didn’t know three years ago. In the picture, we are all standing in front of our church trailer that we just unloaded together as we finished setting up for a Sunday service in a local high school. Now, one of them is an elder and the others are people I can trust with friendship and church life. Those relationships formed in the context of being involved with the functioning life of the church. Serving shouldn’t be a task to complete but rather an opportunity to grow relationally as we help others grow spiritually. I won’t detail every area where you can be involved because my aim is to show that involvement is just as much about building strong relationships as it is serving areas of need in the church. Get involved, take a picture, and put it on your refrigerator!
Much more could be said, but these might serve as good starting points for deepening relationships around The Table. What are your thoughts? What might you add?
Pastor | The Table