Building a Table for Those Who Need It
Some years ago, I was working for Marriott and assisting with setup prior to opening a new hotel in Abingdon. A small crew of men from Honduras were tasked with facing the front of the building with rock. They brought with them a massive load of thin, flat rocks which they planned to affix on a layer of mortar. The four men worked at a blistering pace, picking up a single rock at a time, briefly examining it in their hands before breaking it with a tiny hammer as they saw fit and placing the rock on the moistened mortar. With amazing speed, they continued this process all day. By sunset, the rock wall was coming together nicely, but the builders left rejected stones and broken pieces all along the front of the building. The next morning a single builder came back and used the stones the others did not choose, picking up all the broken pieces of the past and finding a perfect fit for them in the wall the men set out to finish. At the job’s conclusion, I took note of the incredible way each of those broken pieces fit together to produce something beautiful. Each piece had value, no matter how small or broken or seemingly useless it might have seemed.
For years of my life, I felt like the broken stone without a place. Shattered and lying on the ground, I lost all hope for redemption. A beautiful work was being done all around me and I felt powerless to join in with it. In the midst of darkness and despair, another builder came along and saw me, just as I was, and cast a vision for flourishing once more. My story is not unique. There is a sea of shattered people who feel that they are without purpose or value. At The Table, all the broken stones find a place. Our ministry began humbly with three or four of us meeting in the cafeteria of an old nursing hospital reopening as an inpatient recovery center. We had no clue what we were doing or starting, simply a confident conviction that God was calling us to create something that would meet addicts in the darkness of the abyss and shine light on their path to freedom. With that in our hearts, we stepped into the thick darkness and trusted that God would show us the way.
Slowly at first, one at a time, we discipled our way into a community of Christ followers seeking to embody the early Jesus movement of Acts. From inception, we have devoted ourselves to the apostles’ teaching, breaking of bread, fellowship, and prayer (Acts 2:42). These four pillars provide the framework for ministry and serve as the guardrails in a seemingly unorganized cluster of chaos. Our philosophy from the beginning has been to create just enough structure to let the good things run wild. A few weeks passed and COVID forced our growing little group off campus once the recovery center opened, and we found ourselves renting an outdoor shelter at Steele’s Creek park in Bristol. After about a month outside, right when the time change hit and darkness swept over our Sunday night gathering, we had to pivot once again. This time we landed in our present location at the Bristol Boys and Girls Club. When I pulled up to tour the building, a homeless woman pushed a buggy up the sidewalk. Strange as it may sound, this was the moment I knew we were home.
“We had no clue what we were doing or starting, simply a confident conviction that God was calling us to create something that would meet addicts in the darkness of the abyss and shine light on their path to freedom.”
We observe the Lord’s Supper each Sunday night, perhaps my favorite moment of all. Even though we serve a warm meal for our family, we call ourselves The Table because all we do is oriented around the table of grace whereby we remember the deep love of Jesus for his friends. It is the beauty of the gospel and the limitless love of Jesus which sustains us in dry places, a source of nourishment which we call to remembrance each time we partake of the bread and cup. The moment of intinction when all of God’s children come forward, with their baggage and pain and tattoos and gratitude, stepping reverently into the rhythm of Christ’s redeeming love. Tears are our food in these moments as we celebrate this moment of all moments with awe.
Our future is both uncertain and exciting. We have multiplied groups in various third spaces across the city of Bristol and are stepping into the launch (this week) of a twelve-month residential incubator designed to shape addicts into apostolic leaders. We are exploring the simplification of The Table into a scalable format which can be reproduced by others who gather together with their friends. We are seeing multiple generations of disciple-making, baptisms, and have amazing testimonies of life change. Though we are not a huge “church,” we are aggressively striving to saturate our city with the Good News and invite the inauguration of God’s rule until Bristol looks like the ultimate portrait of reconciliation in Revelation 21.
God has set our souls on fire for the marginalized. God has broken our hearts for the broken. God stirs in us a desire to include the excluded. In a world where many steer around brokenness, we speed towards it. Our fellowship is built by scarred hands and stained hearts, full of people who each have a story to be told. Our commitment to building the kingdom in the Rice Terrace complex of the Bristol Housing Authority has not been easy. We are active in the rhythms of the community and frequent the downtown parks to minister to our forgotten friends. God has broken our hearts for the brokenness of others, particularly the rejected, marginalized, and excluded. In the grand story of God’s redeeming work in the world, we take Paul’s exhortation to be ambassadors for Christ quite seriously. We see ourselves as the agents of God’s grace, sent into the “streets and alleys… the roads and country lanes” to connect with the broken stones rejected by the world. This commitment to reconciliation has sparked a diverse movement of God, with representatives from each slice of society coming together in the name of Jesus, collaborating together with the incarnational impulse of God. Alan Hirsch calls this communitas, the unity we find when rallying together around a common ordeal. The Spirit is at work in the formation of deep bonds between the homeless alcoholic, the ex-convict, black folks, white folks, individuals with special needs and mental illness, gay folks, straight folks, lifelong followers of Jesus and those who do not yet believe in him. Some evenings I stand in the back as we worship and tears flood my eyes as I witness the closest thing to the Kingdom I have ever found. I am so incredibly blessed to be part of an authentic community who, despite our limitations and brokenness, have come together like that beautiful rock wall where everyone finds a place and a purpose.
If readers would like to know more about our vision or to inquire about how others may partner with us in our God-sized mission, please reach out via email. We would love to have a conversation about what that might look like.
One Promise of Bi-Vocational Ministry is an Integrated Life.
For the past fifteen years, I have been involved in bi-vocational ministry. I work full-time as a ministry professor at Milligan University. I also work as a “part-time” minister at Crossroads Christian Church in Gray, TN. For the past five years, I have been the lead minister at the church.