Technological advancements, increased access to information, social distance requirements due to a global pandemic, and divisions from social, political, and religious disparities all contribute to a fluid missional landscape. The church is designed to cultivate Christ-centered communities that engage in their local contexts as participants in the kingdom of God. It is difficult work that requires submission to the leading of the Holy Trinity.
In my new book, Table Life: An Invitation to Everyday Discipleship, I show how discipleship habits that draw people closer to God, to one another, and to the local church begin with meals. Gathering around the table is a sacred event; it creates space for the Spirit to move, in an environment where conversations happen naturally. The table births and deepens relationships. The table is where fundamentally human events take place. A table life actively seeks, welcomes, and celebrates the presence of Christ within those events.
Table Life is a holistic approach to discipleship that fosters an awareness of the presence of Christ. Eating with others is holy work and shape us in profound ways. Jesus regularly shared meals with others, confronting well-established first century dining boundaries revealing the kingdom of God and starting a new community where all are welcome and treated as brothers and sisters. Becoming a community with people from a variety of cultures, backgrounds, and experiences requires intentional work and reflection. Gathering at the table together is the catalyst that breaks down barriers and builds communal fidelity.
The habits of eating together, dwelling in the word, listening, storytelling, and communion create space for the Holy Trinity to work in yourself and the communities gathered around the table. When these disciplines are practiced in the context of church communities and small groups, participants are drawn closer to one another as they are drawn closer to Christ.
Table Life’s foundation is biblically rooted in Christian history and first century meal practices and how they shaped the early church’s understanding of social interactions, family dynamics, and religious boundaries. Jesus and the early church upended the social norms connected to meals to reveal the kingdom of God. Meals today still reveal the kingdom and the active presence of God in our communities.
Table Life practices the five spiritual disciplines of eating together, dwelling in the word, listening, storytelling, and communion to build community while engaging the active presence of God, Son, and Holy Spirit. Learning to recognize and interact with the active presence of God requires understanding the narrative of God’s previous engagement with the world through the resurrected Christ and Holy Spirit found in the Scriptures. Reading scripture together for the purpose of formation in addition to information helps a community discern how to live a Christian life together. Table life gives a summary to how dwell in the word with others to help us grow individually and corporately in our faith.
Learning to hear the narrative of scripture in community prepares us to recognize and tell the story of God’s presence in our own lives. Every good story requires someone to listen. Sharing how God is active in your life is just as important as listening attentively to how God is active the lives of those around us. The dual practices of listening and storytelling are examined through the biblical concept of Shema.
Of all the symbols Jesus could have left his followers, he chose the table. Every time we gather to eat a meal with other followers of Jesus we are told to “eat and remember” the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and what that means for the world. The idea of gathering with others around the table where Christ is host encourages us to do so with grace. Table Life provides basic steps for conducting a communion service in your own home.
Table Life extends into our digital lives. Today, Christian community extends beyond our physical contexts into the digital realms of new media. As communication tools continue to evolve, a healthy community uses every means available to strengthen existing relationships and cultivating new ones. Since our digital spaces are just as real as our physical spaces, identifying the best practices for fostering community by utilizing new media platforms for Table Life is crucial to holistic fellowship in the present and into the future.
The Emmaus Road travelers summarize the Table Life experience. The Emmaus Road journey from Luke 24 helps to examine every aspect of Table Life. The meal, scripture reading, listening, storytelling, and communion help us see how Jesus and the two Emmaus travelers experienced each of them in a single day. It puts the whole Table Life process together and provides space for the reader to see themselves experiencing Table Life in the everyday common spaces of their lives.
Join your brothers and sisters at the Table. We are hard-wired to flourish within the context of community. Table life is a holistic approach to faith and life. It creates space for us to recognize Christ at our tables, in our communities, and in our everyday lives. Join me at the table.
Rev. Dr. Greg Mamula is the Associate Executive Minister for the American Baptist Churches of Nebraska, and a contributing writer for Word&Way. He is author of Table Life: An Invitation to Everyday Discipleship, to be published by Judson Press, available April 14, in print and e-reader versions from online distributers including Amazon. To learn more information visit www.table-life.org.