Last Sunday morning, one of the tables in Fellowship Hall was about ten feet out of place. Before worship as I walked by, I heard the people sitting at the table talking about it. They weren’t really griping, just having a good time. “Somebody moved our table!” they moaned.
In that “hardee har har” style of Sunday morning conversation that happens so often, they were discussing the possible reasons their table may have been moved, who may have moved it, and the inconvenience caused by the mysterious shifting furniture.
I couldn’t stop myself from chiming in, “You know, you could just sit there and complain about it; or you could hush up and move it back!”
It was light hearted and all in good fun, but I’ve been thinking about it for the past couple of days, and it has become something of a metaphor. I wonder: how often do people in the church think they need someone’s explicit permission to “move the table?” And moreover, how often do people in the church sit there and complain about the fact that “the table has been moved” instead of just getting up and moving it back? Metaphorically speaking, of course.
Once I was talking with the evangelism team of one of the churches I have served. I told them that I’d like to hear some ideas from them about ways they could equip the congregation to reach out into the community. “Like what?” they asked. I suggested something simple and common, like printing business-type cards for people to hand out to others.
There was a dramatic pause. And then the response, “We can DO that?”
Yes, church. You can do that. Move the table. Print the cards. Share the love. Do the stuff the church does. You do not need explicit permission to do the stuff that you should be doing anyway.
Occasionally I have noticed Communion servers standing there in the front after their section has all been served, and I’d swear they are looking directly at that person sitting in the wheelchair waiting for the bread and juice, but they absolutely will not go serve them until someone says specifically, “Will you please go serve them?” They know the person needs to be served, and they know that it is their job to serve them, but they need it stated explicitly. They need to be given permission.
Now, I understand where that comes from, to a point. People mostly like to know what the rules are, and mostly like to follow them. People don’t like to think they are doing something “wrong.” And so we can overcompensate, and not do anything at all. And then complain about how nothing is being done.
On the other hand, it is an absolutely JOY to see people who are doing church with focus, energy, and a sense of calling. Such people do not need the pastor to give them permission to do something, because the mission of the church has already given them permission. When ecclesiology shifts from maintenance of institutional structure to the people on God’s mission, it is a thing of beauty to behold. The Holy Spirit has given them the vision and energy, and the church itself has equipped them to engage in ministry that is powerful, fruitful, and meaningful.
There’s nothing a pastor likes more than to stand up and cheer for the church being the church. If you are a pastor who is doing it right, you discover things being done by your congregation rather than having to initiate everything yourself. What I would love is for every single person in the church to know with certainty that, if it supports the mission of the church, they have permission to do it. I would much rather have to help people dial it back a bit instead of having to crank it up in the first place, you know what I mean?
Think about the guys in Luke 5 who brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing. Finding the doorway blocked with a crowd of people, they carried him up onto the roof and lowered him down through the ceiling, right in the middle of the crowd.
Notice, they did not ask anyone’s permission to do so. Their “mission” was to get that guy close to Jesus, and they were going to do whatever it took to accomplish that mission, even if that meant a highly … shall we say “unconventional” approach.
I wonder, if I was their pastor, would I have cheered for those men or would I have cringed at their approach?
Standing in that crowd, craning my neck for a glimpse of Jesus, would I have thought, “What the heck are those guys doing up there? They’re probably going to get in trouble for this! I’m sure the Board of Trustees has not approved this course of action!”
Or maybe, “Crud, I wish I had thought of that! Now let’s see, how could I finagle it so that I get the credit for this idea?”
Or, if I was those guys’ pastor, would I have been able to cheer for them, encouraging their commitment to the mission, affirming their unwavering focus on their friend’s need, and highlighting them so that others in the congregation would be edified by their example?
I want to be a pastor who doesn’t have to say, “Yes, church you may ‘move the table.’” Every single time. Just go ahead! You may. A thousand times you may.
Church, you have permission to be the church, and let me tell you, it doesn’t come from me.