In an excellent sermon, New York City pastor Alan Sherouse suggested that a most appropriate stewardship metaphor for a New Testament church is that of a table.
Sherouse specifically referred to the round tables that his church uses seven days a week for a variety of worship, ministry and fellowship opportunities.
Battered and worn from constant use, those tables symbolize an abundance mentality that encourages the giving away of self and possessions.
Sherouse’s contention was that good tables, used regularly to give and gather, capture the essence of Jesus’ teaching about possessions and money.
In the 21st century, such selfless behavior may well be what defines authentic Christ-followers.
In contrast, he pointed to another stewardship model taken from the Luke 12 text featuring the overconfident farmer who, on the heels of a bumper crop, constructed bigger barns to hold his burgeoning possessions.
Sherouse’s point was that recent church stewardship practice has tended to idolize bigger and bigger barns as our most desirable metaphor, rather than those battered tables.
Much of our congregational behavior around our money feels like we are hoarding our possessions and resources. Such self-serving behavior reveals a scarcity mentality that is foreign to the gospel of Jesus.
Thinking about the metaphor, I let my mind wander across the pages of Scripture and began to see tables at every turn.
The altar Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Isaac upon was a sort of table. There, he was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to this mysterious God who had made great promises about spiritual blessings to all people.
The Passover meal in Egypt was eaten around a dinner table. There, the children of Israel began to appreciate just how powerful and all-providing their God actually was.
The grand stories of royalty and drama in ancient Israel often took place around tables. The disciples gathered at table for their last meal with Jesus. Cleopas had his eyes opened at a meal table in Emmaeus.
Jesus’ parables are filled with images of celestial banquets at a table to end all tables.
For more than 2,000 years, the Christian church has gathered regularly around a communion table to remind ourselves whose we are and how we came to be the Church.
In eating the bread and taking the cup, we re-enact the selfless gift of life from the One who inspires us to do the same.
We teach our children around tables. We enjoy fellowship and meals around tables. We use tables to distribute goods to those in need.
Some of the most important things that have happened to God’s people have taken place at a table.
We would do well to constantly evaluate our table work. Tables in congregations are used for a variety of purposes: serving, distribution, fellowship, conversation and support. Do these words define the day-to-day life of a healthy congregation? I think so.
Healthy churches serve others. Healthy churches have heard and internalized the teaching that we find our lives when we give ourselves away. Healthy churches systematically use tables to share what they have with others.
Healthy churches gather around tables for real conversation and deeper fellowship than can be found in our ordered rows of pews.
Around tables, there is nowhere to hide from one another. Around tables, we look into each other’s faces and encounter real people with real life challenges. Around tables, we talk about the deepest issues of life and invite people to make life-changing decisions.
Healthy churches gather at tables for support. We bring our loads of anxiety, stress, doubt and concerns and lay them down. Others help us bear our loads as they sense that shouldering the burdens of one another somehow makes us more of what Christ intends us to be.
Thanks, Alan Sherouse, for the invitation to do some table work. Healthy churches will find themselves taking seriously their tables, and not just their barns.
When they do, they will find that Christ continues to bring meaning and purpose to us as we practice sacrificial stewardship toward a world in need.
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, N.C.