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Crowded Table: A Lesson for the Church

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

I recently heard a song by the Highwomen, a rather new country supergroup that is reminiscent of the classic Highwaymen from the 80s and 90s. The song is called “Crowded Table,” and I stopped in my tracks when I heard it the first time. It is beautiful. It has an old country music feel to it that I love.

Have you ever heard a song that was talking about one thing, but it seemed to have an underlying message to it? I’ve heard so many songs that weren’t played on the Christian radio station but were deeply theological whether they meant to be or not.

This is one of those songs.

It has a depth to it that goes far beyond the lyrics at first glance. In a lot of ways, I believe it is a message that the 21st century Church needs to hear.

It starts: “You can hold my hand/When you need to let go/I can be your mountain/When you're feeling valley-low/I can be your streetlight/Showing you the way home/You can hold my hand/When you need to let go.”

Isn’t that what the Church is supposed to do? Isn’t that what Jesus has done for us? “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). The Good Shepherd is our strength in times of weakness. He is our Rock and our Salvation.

As the Church, we are called to shine His light and love to all that we meet, even in the darkest places.

The greatest thing we can do for someone is to be a streetlight/flashlight pointing them the way home-showing them The Way. The Old Testament prophets time and again call the Israelites to return home, to return to their Beloved. They keep showing people the way to God. John the Baptist’s one job was to point people to Jesus.

He yelled out to all who would hear him as Jesus walked by, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). John can't help but point people to Jesus.

The song continues: “If we want a garden/We're gonna have to sow the seed/Plant a little happiness/Let the roots run deep/If it's love that we give/Then it's love that we reap/If we want a garden/We're gonna have to sow the seed.”

As the Church, we are called to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). We sow the seed through evangelism and discipleship. If we want this garden to grow not only numerically, but also grow in Christian maturity then we must take the role of discipleship seriously. For a garden to grow it must be tended, cared for, and even pruned at times. Over and over again, Jesus uses agricultural images to show the ways of the Kingdom.

In John 15, Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener… I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (verses 1&6).

For the roots to run deep we have to care for the people who actually show up! We lust after newcomers to our own detriment at times. We have to make disciples, but we also must take the time to form disciples.

If we are going to try to grow our numbers we must be mindful of what we are welcoming them into. Is this garden healthy? How are we watering and caring for the soil in our own community?

If we want a garden, a healthy garden at that, we must be willing to sow the seed. The Good News isn't just for those outside our church walls, but also for the faithful members come week after week. And truth be told, they experience the Good News in new and meaningful ways all the time. The seed continues to grow after it has been planted.

The last stanza is: “The door is always open/Your picture's on my wall/Everyone's a little broken/And everyone belongs/Yeah, everyone belongs.”

I wonder how many visitors, or even long-time church members, feel like this stanza accurately describes their experience on any given Sunday morning? Churches are naturally filled with cliques. We gravitate towards people who are similar to us. We do this in almost every setting, and Sunday morning isn’t any different. Even small churches struggle with inviting others into their community. Outsiders, even friendly outsiders, are still...outsiders.

We know our doors are always open to people. We know we’re all a little broken and we all belong, but we struggle in living this out. Many churches have shifted their focus from believing to now belonging.

In the past, you’d need to believe a certain church’s core principles to belong to that community, but now more churches are wanting to create a sense of belonging with the hope of shaping and forming an individual's beliefs. If you look at any number of church mission statements you’ll notice that belonging is a core value.

Though this addresses the need for people to feel welcomed without having all the answers, this has also gone too far at times. For some churches, all that matters is that you belong. Who cares what you believe? We have to strike a balance between the need to be warm and inviting, while not throwing away our beliefs.

The best part of the song is the chorus: “I want a house with a crowded table/And a place by the fire for everyone/Let us take on the world while we're young and able/And bring us back together when the day is done.”

Like a great family meal, we want a crowded table around our altar where people are fed with the Body and Blood of Christ to then go into our community and be the Body of Christ. The Church’s mission is to transform people’s lives for Jesus’ Kingdom, and that transformation happens first and foremost within the community. We love and support each other, and even challenge one another at times. That’s just what a family does. At this family table, there is room for everyone because we believe everyone needs to experience God’s transforming love and forgiveness.

We cannot do this alone. There is no such thing as a solitary Christian.

Jesus time and again talks about the Kingdom of God in terms of a meal or even a feast. I think that is so beautiful.

There is a great lesson for the Church that can be found in this song. We must "take on the world while we're able" whether we feel young or not. This song embodies the language the the Church is using more and more to connect with a disconnected population. How we say things will change with the time and culture, but the core message we have will never change.

The door is always open, your picture is on the wall, we’re all a little broken, yeah and you always belong.

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