Thinking Out Loud

December 11, 2012

The Gifts We Bring

On October 30th, I was a guest blogger over at The Master’s Table, the blog of Clark Bunch. I decided to pick up on the ‘table’ theme and used that as a springboard to look at what it means to add value or substance to a situation where we find ourselves; the issue of conflict and unity in Christian community; and creating ministry environments and community where everyone is given a voice. You can read by clicking here, but I’ve also reproduced it below.

What Do I Have to Bring to the Table?

I don’t do a lot of formal meetings in the course of a year, but when they come up, I like to arrive prepared. If there are multiple people involved, sometimes I will say nothing for the first twenty minutes, looking for the idea that’s being missed, the implication that’s not being considered, the parallel to another situation that’s not being remembered. Then I will interject something that I feel is helpful. I want to make a contribution, not simply nod in agreement or call for the vote.

When moderating comments at my blog, I often tell people I’m looking for “value added” remarks. Something that furthers the discussion. If you attend one of those churches where the pastor still goes to the back door as you’re leaving, you’ve probably heard people say, “Good sermon;” the way the kids on the midget soccer team bump fists with the opposing team and say, “Good game.” It’s all very pleasant but it doesn’t say anything. Try something like, “As you were dealing with that chapter of Romans, it reminded me of this passage in Hebrews where…” Your pastor will probably collapse in shock. Adding value is a way of letting everyone know that you “get it.” That you’re willing to take it to the next level.

In a circle of Christ-followers, people will speak of “the gift of encouragement,” but true encouragement is more than saying “Good game;” it’s about building people up. When I was a weekly worship leader in a local church, I once asked our congregation, “What do you have to remember to bring with you on Sunday mornings?” Some people teach children and have to bring their lesson plan. Most bring their tithes and offerings. Some bring a casserole dish (full) for the church potluck or a similar container (empty) that they’re returning to someone who brought them a meal when they were ill. However, sometimes I think we need to bring a word, a thought, a concept, a scripture verse that will encourage someone, or the overflow of a book we’ve read or a sermon we downloaded that we can’t help but want to share with someone receptive.

Bringing something to the table is intentional. It’s part of a type of table fellowship where everyone gives and everyone receives. It’s about making the people who come in contact with you leave richer because you connected.

The problem that we have as Christ-followers sometimes is that nobody wants to make waves, or be the one who is simply rocking the boat. We want to avoid the friction created by challenging traditions and norms, so we tend to make contributions that we feel lead toward consensus. We’re basically asking the question,

Are We All on the Same Side of the Table?

One of the features of the Christian blogosphere is the way things tend to get very polarized. Issues become black-and-white, and people who postulate a different interpretation or a different take on one individual element of doctrine are immediately written-off.

The point is here is that we should be able to disagree without being disagreeable. We should be able to entertain differences while at the same time affirming our overarching unity in Christ. I can read something on Clark’s blog that I feel is totally wrong — and he on mine, though I can’t possibly imagine what it would be — and perhaps even suggest in a comment that not everyone shares his view. But I click back to see what subject he’s covering the next day.

Too many times in the body of Christ we shoot our wounded. The bottom line is that we all “see through a glass darkly.” We’re not going to be on the same side of the issue on every item on the agenda, but the person with whom I disagree the most at this moment may prove my greatest ally ten minutes from now. I think that’s also why it’s important to ask ourselves,

Is There Room at the Table for Others?

I love the equal opportunity that the blogosphere offers. People can, in fact paint graffiti all over my walls if they so desire. I see people coming and going all the time and in many respects, this ought to be the model of all Christian community, with what we call church (i.e. weekend services and midweek events) being but one expression of that community.

That’s why I love the vulnerability of pastors who have Q&A times at the end of their sermons. It invites even the first-time visitor to have a seat at the table and there’s nothing at all that they can state or ask that God’s Word isn’t capable of responding to. No comment or opinion cannot be deflected with the same ease that Jesus, when they were ready to stone him, demonstrated by disappearing into the crowd.

We don’t have to defend the body of doctrine by excluding people from the discussion; because ultimately, it’s His church, not ours; it is the master’s table.

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