Gathering at the Table

What keeps churches and their leaders from reaching the outcasts of society? For far too many, the fear of the unknown keeps them from venturing into a new realm. For others, it is the known sin of the person or group that the church and ministry leader thinks might taint their ministry. 

One Thanksgiving, I could not go home to family, so I opened up the parsonage and invited those who did not have a place to eat. Looking around the table, I could not help but smile; I had gathered with sinners. Seated around the table was a lesbian couple with their children and a single older man who sold drugs out his backdoor. That Thanksgiving looked more like Jesus than when I gathered with my family. 

Go back and reread the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19) and capture in your mind the moment Jesus entered Zacchaeus’ dining room. As Jesus sat at the table of Zacchaeus, he, too, saw past the sinful nature. Instead, he saw a man in need. Put yourself in Zacchaeus’ position, and then Jesus’. You will see that Zacchaeus and Jesus had to humble themselves for the direction of God to be observed in what was about to take place.

Be Willing to Meet

We live in a culture today with a lot to disagree about. Sinful nature seems to run rampant in modern times. But underneath the sin is a life that needs Jesus, your church and your leadership. Are you willing to step out of your comfort zone and into the sin zone to meet someone who needs what you have, a relationship with Jesus? Jesus was ready to meet with a known sinner and was willing to share a meal with him in public view of the community. For some in the neighborhood, Jesus became the talk of the town. For the marginalized, Jesus became hope. 

When you meet with the marginalized, you are providing hope and create an opportunity to lean into the story of the person you speak with at the table. In turn, they will lean into your account of how God redeemed your life. Only then can a relationship of trust begin to be built. As the sin nature did not happen instantly, so too the confidence needed to understand and then submit to your leadership authority to lead someone from sin into the saviors’ arms will take time. Trust the process and keep open to the Spirit’s leading.

Be a Mentor

More than anything, Jesus had set an example for Zacchaeus and the townsfolk to follow. It will be up to them to live out the education Jesus was teaching. So too, in the church today. People are watching your leadership habits. They are observing to see what you do well and what you do not do well. They will judge you for being Jesus and not being a Jesus example. But whose judgment matters the most? The people’s or Jesus’? Jesus used his authority to examine the community’s heart and taught the people how to act when a sinful nature enters their midst. He did not condemn nor condone. He cared and conversed. 

Look around you today. Who is the Zacchaeus that needs your investment of time and talent? Who is the one who needs a mentor and friend who will share life with them? If you are willing to examine your own heart and become the heart of Jesus, God will place you in positions of power to embrace the lost and broken.

Be Focused on What Matters

Jesus must have heard the whispers and certainly the shouts bemoaning his actions of dining with a sinner, but he did it anyways. His example said heart holiness is more important than living holy just one day a week at church. An old saying in leadership circles says, ‘keep the main thing the main thing.’ How many times have you feared stepping on toes because you were afraid it would harm your position of authority inside the church? Jesus, in one dining, flipped the spiritual tables upside down and showed, even centuries later, that love is more powerful than letting someone live in sin.

In the shadows of the steeple, souls are being dammed to hell because the church refuses or even ignores the plight of the sin-filled because they do not fit into the perfect Christian box of one hour on a Sunday. Think about it this way: Ministry matters when the minister shares the Word by living out the Word. 

Break free from the shackles of pharisaical living, and embrace the unloved as Jesus has done for you. Keep Jesus the main thing and ignore the rest.

Desmond Barrett
Desmond Barrett
Desmond Barrett is the lead pastor at Winter Haven First Church of the Nazarene in Winter Haven, Florida. He is the author of several books, most recently, Helping the Small Church Win Guests: Preparing To Increase Attendance (Wipf & Stock Publications) and has done extensive research in the area of church revitalization and serves as church revitalizer, consultant, coach, podcast host and mentor to revitalizing pastors and churches.