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Love has a bigger table (Blessings from an Unsuccessful Church Merger Part 5)

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This is one post in a blog series entitled Unexpected Blessings from an Unsuccessful Church Merger. To read the introductory post to this series, or to find links to every post in the series, please click here to read the first post:

Free Indeed (Unexpected Blessings from an Unsuccessful Church Merger Part 1)

As it has been with several of the posts in this series, certain songs have attached themselves to certain memories that I have of this church merger process. One song stands out the most. Before this blog post turned into a series, I intended to use this song as the title for that post. It is the song by Matt Maher entitled, Bigger Table.

I heard this song around the same time the merger conversation happened. I took this screenshot on March 16, 2023, just five days after the merger conversation was announced, not knowing how important this song would become to my heart.

Love has a bigger table (Blessings from an Unsuccessful Church Merger Part 5)
Click here to listen to this song.

What I love about this song is how it ties together so many of the concepts that God was teaching me in the years leading up to the merger. Particularly surrounding the Lord’s Table, hospitality, and a Lifegiving Table.

I cannot perfectly sum up over 6500 words between those two posts in this space, but if you have not read them, I hope you will take the time to read them:

The Lifegiving Table: A Venture into Hospitality & Table Discipleship

I’m Invited to the Table of the Lord: The Lord’s Table & Hospitality

But to sum it as succinctly as possible, let me use this quote from my Pastor:

You’ve been welcomed at the Lord’s Table. . . .When it talks about hospitality…when it talks about inviting somebody to your table…Today, in today’s world, it’s just “You’re inviting somebody to your table…okay let’s sit down and eat…have some casual conversation.” But in Peter’s day, in the ancient eastern world, when you were invited to somebody’s table, it was an incredible guesture of acceptance. You don’t just invite anybody to your table. To invite somebody to your table was tantamount to you saying to them, “I accept you.” It had that significance.

In that light, understand this again: You have been welcomed at the Lord’s Table. Let that grip you. When you understand two things: who Jesus is and who you are. You have been welcomed at the Lord’s Table. That being true, that you have been welcomed at the Lord’s Table, welcome others to yours. It is a Christian virtue, and I believe it is a virtue that needs to be resurrected and championed in the church of Jesus Christ. If we are to be a beautiful church, we will be a hospitable church.

When the merger conversation began, my brain had spent well over a year ruminating over these concepts, reframing the Lord’s table as Divine welcome and a corporate celebration each time we observed it during the year. While that was happening, we were hosting monthly potlucks of friends from our church, hosting over 100 people from church into our home over the course of 18 months.

So now, we were presented with an opportunity to open our hearts to another congregation. Although, rather then us (my family or our church) welcoming them into our space, we were the ones being welcomed as guests into their space. It made for an interesting dynamic, particularly being on the receiving end of their hospitality.

This was the backdrop in place when I first heard this song, Bigger Table.

Come gather ’round the mystery
Of love in our broken history
Where grace heals the fault lines in me
Time and time again, it welcomes me into a…

A house for the hungry
A well for the thirsty
A welcome for the traveler
New wine for the vineyard
In all things God is able
Love has a bigger table

What I loved about this song was that it captured the vision we had regarding the potential of the merger. When we combined our congregations, our gifts, our talents, our backgrounds, and everything else we had to offer – the result could be beautiful. But not just beautiful – a place where people in our community could be impacted by our hospitality and our living the gospel with our lives.

Where all saints come together
Shoulder to shoulder

This church in a new location had a lot of space. It was more often that in our church we are standing tight…shoulder to shoulder…due to our growing congregation in a limited space. But as we moved into a period of combined services and events, we were actually rubbing shoulder to shoulder, coming together with other saints, in a combined mission, with a combined purpose.

Show me who is my neighbor
The Christ hidden in the beggar
‘Cause love doesn’t meet a stranger
Love calls them friend, and welcomes them…

Our time together involved a church picnic, music services, Sunday morning services, and prayer meetings. And through all that time, both of our congregations worked to make this a reality. We were not strangers. Rather, we were welcoming each other as friends, beloved in Christ.

I want to share something our son (who was almost 13 at the time) wrote for a school assignment. I wanted him to journal his feelings about the merger:

Some things I like about {their church} are that it’s a much bigger sanctuary, and when we have a combined service, it isn’t even all the way full! That means we have room for our congregation to grow. Also, they have a comfortable atmosphere. They’re very friendly, extra helpful, and I believe that they are willing to fully join us in ministry and help us when we need it most. Also, if this merger goes through, we will be able to meet new people and make new friends. I’m not just talking about me. My hope is that all of our members will be able to meet new people, make new friends, and create entire relationships with the people of the other church.  

The bridge to the song continues this way:

There’s an empty seat waitin’ next to me
We gotta make some room for each other
Let my enemy be my family
Fill my cup ’til it’s runnin’ over

At no point did I ever consider someone from their church an enemy. That said, our human hearts love dividing lines don’t they? It was so easy to have a mindset of us versus them, or to dwell on the ways in which our philosophies and practices diverged. I found myself praying over those six months that these strangers would become our family. That we would treat them as family. That we would make room for each other and fill the empty seats of their auditorium.

It wasn’t just about making room in a building. It was about making room in our hearts. Room to listen. Room to try new things. Room to change. Room to share. Room to see the good in others. Room to see the value in others and what they had to offer. Room to give…or give up.

There’s a place for you…
Love has a bigger table

During this process, our potluck ministry hit some bumps. I kept trying to schedule potlucks (including members of their congregation in our invitations), only to have to reschedule due to music rehearsals or other church events. Eventually, I felt that God was telling me that – best intentions aside – I’m only one person and was already doing enough. So we suspended the montly potlucks for a while. That said, in April of 2023 we had one potluck dinner, sharing our table with members from both our church and their church. It was a full house. While the group dynamics weren’t as warm or effortless as I had hoped for (it was a gathering of strangers, really), it was yet another step of shared hospitality. They were welcoming us into their church, onto their platform, into their pulpit; we welcomed them around our table.

Love has a bigger table.

All of these concepts came together in a beautiful way at the very end of the last combined service we had with them. It was a Sunday morning service that ended with our combined congregations participating in the Lord’s Table…together. The Lord’s Table…a bigger table…

I had the immense privilege of playing the piano for this service. While the elements were being distributed, I was skipped by those distributing the elements. (It was not on purpose, just a logistical oversight.) As I sat there, I sadly realized that I would not be able to participate in this moment I had truly been anticipating for months. So, I just quietly bowed my head. One of their members noticed, and she brought me the first element. It was an act of hospitality I will forever cherish.

For the next element, my husband stepped forward and placed the cup on the piano bench next to me. This was the first time that he had ever served me this way, as usually only members of the church leadership board take part in the distribution of the elements.

When the distribution was about to be finished, our pastors took turns serving each other the elements.

Screenshots from the livestream of that service:

Love has a bigger table (Blessings from an Unsuccessful Church Merger Part 5)

Participating in this observance with these believers we had come to know and serve alongside filled me with awe and gratitude. Not only was I being welcomed at the Lord’s Table – a Divine welcome – I was being welcomed in a new church by new people. I was being welcomed not just into their space, but to serve by playing their piano.

There we were, shoulder to shoulder, not two churches but one – preaching the gospel to ourselves and to each other. We were saying…

Love has a bigger table.

Click here to read the final post:
Part 6: Christ’s Church & Gospel Truth

Blessings from an Unsuccessful Church Merger | I will be speaking about how events during the church merger conversation intersected with things God was teaching me and my family at the time. I hope to encourage every believer in the areas of unity within the body of Christ, personal and corporate worship, Christian hospitality, and - above all - the glory of God and the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
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