The dinner table is many things in our home. It is the stand on which we load our new daughter into her car seat; it is the sermon prepping desk that collects my books; it is the workbench where projects are completed; it is the planning station for our climbing and hiking adventures. But primarily, our dinner table does what it was designed for—hosting meals.
That might not seem that groundbreaking, but I’m convinced that for many of us in North America the dinner table is the most effective, but also the most neglected tool for making disciples. For many of us, we wipe the dust off and set the table at Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter, but the habit of eating ordinary meals on ordinary nights around the table escapes us. And in conceding the habit of the table to our cultural idols, such as busyness, sports, adventure, or entertainment, we have conceded a primary habit for making disciples and engaging our non-believing friends and neighbors with the gospel.
Because of this, we want to recapture the value of the habit of the table in our home. It takes discipline but as we’ve embraced this ritual, we’ve found Jesus present there with us accomplishing three things:
1. The table has become a place that creates family and grows affection.
We live in a world where people define themselves against others. We are left or right, conservative or liberal, woke or not woke, for or against. But at the table we are all equals. At the table we sit with one another all sharing the common experience of hunger and thirst. We serve and receive from one another because the table ushers us into the humility to know we all are in need. And in this space, love for one another is created. In this space, we experience the fullness of people around our table and not just their labeled identity. We are present with them, hearing their stories of success and of failure, of pleasure and of pain, and we learn to love. Strangers become family around the table.
But at the table we are all equals.
2. The table becomes a place where stories are shared and imagined.
One of my favorite memories of my late grandfather was from around the dinner table. Whenever my family had the pleasure of hosting him he always sat quietly throughout the meal while we talked, asking occasionally to pass the potatoes back his way. But as the meal ended and coffee was served he would begin to tell stories: of his childhood, of his time in Korea, of his late wife. Those moments became treasures. In those moments I knew my grandfather as a young boy, a young mechanic serving overseas, and a blossoming husband. And through those stories I learned virtue, through comic, failure and sweet triumphs. The habit of the table is the place where stories such as this come to life. Storytelling around the table helps us learn about one another, helps us grow in virtue, helps us apply the gospel story to our lives, and helps us become more creative people that take the stories of our communities and infuse gospel imagination and hope into every dark corner of society.
3. The table has become a place where we learn and practice gospel hospitality.
In the beginning of the world, God made a place for humanity to flourish and enjoy one another and himself. The table is a place where we can practice imitating our good Father through hospitality. At the table we learn the art of making spaces for people to thrive by receiving and extending love. As we learn this skill we are ultimately inviting them into something more than a cozy space with good food, we are inviting them into the space God has prepared for them within his family. Our tables become places of anticipation where we invite them to look forward to the table that Jesus has prepared for us where our cups will be overflowing. The habit of the table is our means of practicing this on an ongoing basis.
As we learn this skill we are ultimately inviting them into something more than a cozy space with good food, we are inviting them into the space God has prepared for them within his family.
When these things occur, the table becomes a transformational place where Jesus becomes present as we create family, as we share stories, and as we practice hospitality. It’s the tool for mission that you shouldn’t overlook. It may be many things, but at the very least let it fulfill it’s designed purpose—to be filled with food and surrounded by people.
Below are just a few closing thoughts on how to begin:
Eat around the table. This seems so simple but it’s so easy after a long day for our couches to become the place where we consume our food while we consume entertainment. Instead of looking across the table at a person, we find ourselves numb to the one beside us. So make a plan, make a goal, and use the table!
Fill your empty seats. Many of us have larger tables than we have people in our homes. Fill those empty chairs. Be flexible and make meals that you can share on a whim. When you see your neighbor outside invite them in or bring over that single young person that lives far from their family, and practice the art of hospitality.
Make good food and invite your guests to help. In her book On Reading Well, Karen Swallow Prior says, “Practice makes perfect, but pleasure makes practice more likely.” This most certainly applies to the habit of the table. If you’re committed to making it a practice, make it enjoyable. Be creative, cook good food, take on a challenge, and if you’re having dinner guests, invite them into the whole process of the table. We’ve found that the more of the process our guests partake in, the more delight they (and ourselves) experience!
So, wipe off your table, invite some guests, be on mission, and bon appétit.