What piece of furniture is the focal point of the average American home? It used to be the table. But now, it’s the TV.
In this sad exchange, we’ve gained lots of entertainment options, but lost the glue that has held families together. The importance of the table to family integrity has been so recognized, that our school district had a campaign to get families to eat together for at least one meal a week. Just one. In their eyes, that would be a huge success, since many families never eat meals together.
When we look at the scriptures, the story of redemption is book-ended with meals — a meal stolen in a garden and the great marriage feast of the Lamb hosted by God himself. And in between these two eatings, many more figure centrally in the story of God — from manna in the desert, to Jesus taking bread and wine and saying that he himself is the meal that gives us real, eternal life.
Eating and drinking: If we don’t do this, our bodies die. Without the table at the center of our lives, our communities die. Because of this, our church plant has put the "table" at the center of all we do. In fact, we’re in the process of changing our name from Crux to The Table. (Although we loved the name Crux, with its emphasis on the cross as the crux/center-point of our lives, the fact that there is a brewery in town also called Crux has led to enough confusion that we need to make a change.)
We must be nourished, not just by three square meals a day, but by the Word of God, for we cannot live by bread alone. Because of this, like all Christian communities, we gather around God’s word, seeking to hear what He has to say to us. Just as Jesus commissioned us to do, we teach one another to obey everything He has commanded us.
We go from our table, to those of others, serving and feeding others, body and soul. Others are hungry for God, so we seek to introduce them to Jesus. Others are just plain hungry, so we’ve partnered with a local transitional housing ministry and have cooked and served meals to people coming out of homelessness.
We gather at the Lord’s Table to eat and drink of Him. Rather than just an occasional observance, we are putting the Lord’s Table in a central place in our worship together. If, as the Westminster Confession (29:7) suggests, Jesus is “really, but spiritually, present” in the bread and the cup, then why wouldn’t we eat at drink of him as often as possible?
After all of the “good” verdicts of the creation story, we read that it is “not good” for man to be alone. Too often, the way we do church is too quick and too programmed for real community to take place. As Alan Hirsch says, the recipe for community is not just frequency and proximity, but spontaneity as well. Without spontaneity, we run the risk of “treating people like a fast-food meal over which [we’re] too busy to pray” (Ps. 14:4, The Message). So, we eat a leisurely meal together every time we gather in our missional communities.
For 16 months, my wife Charlene and I have been laying the groundwork for a new church in Bend, Oregon. Not starting out with a team from a sending church, we moved our family to the high desert of central Oregon with the barest of relational networks. In one regard, it was madness! But in another, it has been a wonderful experience of learning how to be missionaries in America.
Because of that, initial growth came at a snail’s pace. Very few, especially those with small kids, are willing to dive into a new church plant when there isn't critical mass. But bit-by-bit, people have joined us. Now, we’ve passed that important metric of 20+ adults, enabling us to start our second missional community (launching Jan. 21) and prepare for regular worship gatherings (starting monthly on Feb. 8 and going weekly after Easter).
Because we live in a city that is an outdoor recreation destination, we won’t have our worship gatherings on Sunday mornings. If we’re trying to reach people who don’t attend church, we shouldn’t worship during one of the prime times of the weekend for skiing, hiking, mountain biking, etc. In fact, we want our group to be out there doing those things with our non-Christian friends, and being spontaneous with them. So, we will worship on Sunday evenings.
There are several ways, including the obvious and much-needed financial support. Rather than having one main sponsoring church, we have about a dozen ECO churches in Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, and Colorado who have partnered with us. Some support us at $20/month. Others at $10,000/year. I think there’s a new paradigm emerging here for many of our churches in ECO. We’re realizing that we don’t have to plant a church all by ourselves. In fact, we’ll probably be more effective if we partner together in planting.
Truly, there’s a beauty in planting together that goes beyond financing models. By having a wide range of partners, we’ve been able to ask them to refer to us anyone they know who lives in Bend. It was through this wide web of relationships that we were able to pull together our initial team.
So, that’s a second way you can partner with us. If you know someone in Bend or who is moving to Bend, please let us know. Not everyone will become a part of what we’re doing, but some will and some will become friends and allies who worship elsewhere and yet work alongside us for the kingdom of God. In either case, the people of God are built up and the kingdom of God extended.
Recently, we’ve had one couple connect with us because they had been members of The Village Church on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. And we’ve had a family join us because they’d been members of a Presbyterian church near Santa Cruz, California. This is true Presbyterian connectionalism!
And the third way you can partner with us is in prayer. There is an excitement to being new and fresh. But there’s a fragility as well, which you see when you hold a newborn child. So, please do be praying for us that we grow up healthy and well so that when the time comes, we’ll be ready to give birth to new churches ourselves.