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Communities, Mission, and a Shared Table

Growing up, the table was always a big deal in my house. We rarely missed dinner together around the table. My parents, usually my mom, cooked a meal while the rest of us set the table and prepared for the food about to be shared.

Communities-Mission-And-A-Shared-Table

My friends got to experience this sacred time as we had an open table. If my friends were around, they joined in the festivities. They helped set the table, prayed with us, ate my mom’s food, shared stories, and usually read Scripture with us. Most of these friends didn’t know Jesus. They came for the food and the kindness of a family in the neighborhood. Jesus was just a part of the deal.

The Welcome of the Table

One kid in particular came to my home almost every night. His name was Mikey. He wore baseball caps everyday and liked to fight with me. I don’t mean he liked to argue. He liked to physically fight with me. He was small but I was smaller. I was probably the only kid he could wrestle to the ground.

As youth leaders, we must begin to practice hospitality. We must open up our homes and prepare or buy a meal for our students. We need to commit to take time to share the table and take the posture of one who listens and not the one who has all the answers.

Mikey spent a few years growing up around our table. He would wait on our porch until we got home just so he could break bread with us. He was with my parents so much that he eventually started referring to my dad as his dad. He wouldn’t call him Mr. Penn or Brad. He simply called him Dad. Mikey became family around the table. He became a son and a sibling and he got a mom and a dad.

Jesus was part of the table at our home. When Mikey and others ate with us they didn’t just see how a healthy family functions. They experienced the presence of Christ and the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Around the table in our home, forgiveness and grace were offered. Family was made and expanded as kids were adopted into a new kind of family belonging to a different kind of kingdom.

I shouldn’t be as surprised by the power of the shared table as I am. Sharing the table was the way of Jesus and the way he sends his disciples into the world on mission. We read in Luke 10 that Jesus sends out His disciples two by two. They are to enter a town and find a place to eat and remain there, doing ministry there. The mission the disciples are sent on is a mission around the table.

Presence Around The Table

I believe that around the table we experience the presence of Jesus in ways we don’t fully understand.

In Luke 24, two disciples walk to Emmaus with the risen Jesus. In their grief, the disciples don’t recognize Jesus—that is, until he shares a meal with them. When Jesus shares the table with these two disciples, their eyes are opened and they experience the presence of the risen Lord. Before his death, Jesus had ben present with his followers at the table countless times. At this moment around the table, his disciples experienced his presence again.

Inviting Students to the Table

When we share meals with our students we aren’t simply sharing food. We are opening space for our students to experience the presence of Christ with us. As we break bread, we are sharing in eucharistic moments that remind us of the body broken and blood shed for us. The community being formed around the table is a community formed around the person and work of Jesus. He is present with us. We must discern that presence and draw students into his presence.

The shared table isn’t static. It is a dynamic event that begins with the sacrament of communion and extends into shared tables wherever Christians gather. Theologian David Fitch writes of extending the table in this way: “around the Lord’s Table, we learn to tend to the real presence of Christ at the Table. We learn the right postures which enable us to get out of our own way, tend to what Christ is doing, and cooperate. Then, what happens here around the Lord’s Table at worship on Sunday, carries over into all our other meals in our homes, neighborhoods, third places, etc.”1

In this act of discerning and extending Christ’s presence, the table becomes a place of mission. Those who know Jesus and those who do not—both experience his presence in and through the community formed around the table. The presence of Jesus is extended into new locations as we share tables in our homes, neighborhoods, and cities.

Practice Hospitality: Share the Table

As youth leaders, we must begin to practice hospitality. We must open up our homes and prepare or buy a meal for our students. We need to commit to take time to share the table and take the posture of one who listens and not the one who has all the answers.

From this posture we can pay attention to what Jesus is up to and then encourage our students and families to extend this presence and practice into every table they find themselves at. In doing this, we take the mundane table and transform it into a location for forming communities that join God on his mission in the world.

May we be a people of the table, welcoming students and parents to shared meals, and offering the peace and reconciliation found only in God’s kingdom.


About the Author: Jeremy Penn

Jeremy PennJeremy Penn serves as the college and young adult minister at Northland, A Church Distributed in Longwood, FL. He earned an MA in Theological Studies from Talbot School of Theology. He is currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Fuller Theological Seminary that focuses on The Church and Post-Christendom. Jeremy and his wife, Crystal, have a daughter, Riley, and a son, Phoenix.

Bugattis

Bugattis, Disability, and Youth Ministry

Happiness from Things

“A million dollars will not make you happy.”

“Zach, a million dollars will buy me a Bugatti, and that will make me happy,” the youth quipped.

“A Bugatti will not make you happy.”

“Have you ever driven a Bugatti?”

Bugattis

I had not. There goes my credibility. Not an auspicious beginning to my start as part time youth pastor. I was struggling to persuade the youth of even the most basic and hackneyed lessons: Jesus > Money. Thanks for nothing undergraduate degree in philosophy and religion. Thanks for nothing M.Div. from a prestigious seminary. I felt despondent. I looked up where I could test drive a Bugatti.

Happiness from Relationships

Thank God for Chris. Chris is a young man with Down’s syndrome that I knew well from my other job with Young Life Capernaum, the wing of Young Life’s ministry dedicated to reaching adolescents with disabilities.

Chris started coming to our church at my invitation. Chris met the youth. They go to the same school. Then some weeks later:

“I’m thinking about joining Best Buddies (an organization that partners neurotypical youth and peers with disabilities).

“Oh?” I asked with thinly veiled surprise.

Yeah, I only want Chris to be my buddy. I won’t be buddies with anyone but Chris.

“Sure,” I mumbled profoundly, mystified yet grateful.

They began a friendship which marked a period of spiritual growth and development for the youth that I can take little credit for. By his senior year he was president of his schools Best Buddies program, and his younger brother had started up a chapter at his middle school. Chris had taught them much more effectively than I had been able to.

You Cannot Serve Two Gods

Youth pastors can be more like our youth than we would like to believe. If I asked youth pastors what would spell success for their youth groups, they might not say a million dollars or a Bugatti (although even I would give it a try if someone offered), but they may have on their mind people or things the world values rather than what Jesus values.

There are kids that walk into your youth group and you can’t help but notice their gifts. They are funny, athletic, and popular. They are the kids other kids want to be around. If you put enough of them in a room, add pizza, games, and a lesson you will be set.

Then there are the kids I work with in Young Life Capernaum. If you put enough of them in a room, you’ll have many youth pastors stammering sagely about boundaries and prudent stewardship of time. Not that those things go out the window, but there are always noble reasons to avoid the bewildering and uncomfortable values of Jesus.

We usually don’t take Jesus seriously when he tells us he values the invisible, marginalized, and needy.

What Do You Value?

We usually don’t take Jesus seriously when he tells us he values the invisible, marginalized, and needy. However, if money could help our youth groups live into God’s Kingdom, these poor ones would be reckoned as spiritual millionaires. The students with disabilities I work with may be socially awkward, or have more accessibility needs than our pre-ADA church can accommodate, but without them my youth group and I see a much dimmer picture of the Kingdom. If we want our youth to grow up with a vivid picture of God’s Kingdom, then we need to start valuing these students like they are handing out million dollar bills.

Where in your youth group would young people with disabilities be welcomed? This week, how can you begin widening the circle of young people who would be welcomed? Challenge yourself, your leaders, and your young people to love whoever might walk through your doors, embodying the welcome we hope to receive in God’s Kingdom.


About the Author: Zach Grant

Zach Grant

Zacharias Grant works as the Youth Pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in St. Augustine, FL and as coordinator for Young Life’s disability ministry in St. Augustine. Zacharias got his undergraduate degree from Flagler College studying philosophy, religion and youth ministry. He received his M. Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is most passionate about increasing the contact and conversation between the church and folks with disabilities for their mutual transformation.