Column: Making space at the table

Many might be tempted to say I come from a broken home, but that really is an incomplete thought.

While it is true that my biological parents divorced when I was a teenager, by the grace of God, what was once broken was made new. Due to a series of circumstances and events that would take more space than I have available, my mother and a close family friend of ours were married in October 1997. While there is brokenness in my family history, I don’t come from a broken family. I come from a blended family.

When people are married before they have children, it requires a certain amount of adjustment and adaptation. Even more flexibility is required when the two people getting married have children, especially teenage children.

In our case, rather than two people learning to live together in a loving and productive manner, there were two adults, eight teenagers between the ages of 17 and 12 and one grandchild on the way. We learned a lot of lessons along the way and continue to do so as that number has tripled in two decades.

To this day, we continue to learn lessons about blending our families. It is not for the faint of heart. It requires a great deal of compassion, understanding, patience and perseverance. It’s also helpful if you have a really big table.

Family dinners hadn’t been a big thing before my parents got married, but I figured they wouldn’t even be an option with 10 of us. How would they seat all of us? You don’t really pay much attention to seats at the table until you might not have one.

Family meals did indeed happen in our house. We never had a chance to worry about the seating issue, though. There was always a seat for each of us at my parents’ table. My parents have one of those expandable tables. When it is pushed together, in its smallest form, it seats four. When you pull on either end, it expands, allowing you to place “leaves” in the middle. I’m not sure exactly how many it can seat.

You see, once my mom and dad started blending their families, they never stopped. In my experience, everyone has a seat at their table because they make room for all who come. Our family wasn’t/isn’t without its issues, but I would argue my parents continue to be extremely successful in blending many into one because they make room at the table.

There is a phrase I often use when talking about intergenerational ministry: “They who own the table must make room for those they hope will join.” This truth is very clearly illustrated in the story of my family. Had my parents decided that the expanded table took up too much space and impeded their ability to function or that the addition of too many chairs caused them discomfort or that having extra people created too much noise, many would have been excluded from the family. Someone would have received a very clear message that there wasn’t space for them and, by extension, that they weren’t welcome or wanted.

This is the message we send to emerging generations when we fail to make space for them in our churches. If we want them to join us, not just as visitors passing through, but as fully functioning members of the family, we have to make space for them at our table.

Make no mistake, it will feel crowded and uncomfortable to start, but over time, it will begin to feel cozy. It will seem loud and chaotic at times, but gradually, it will become constructive communication and sounds of celebration. Eventually, the slight inconvenience of a large, full table will start to feel like home, both for you and for them.

If we want to see our churches growing and full of life, it’s up to us to make space at the table. The table isn’t truly ours, after all. It’s Jesus’s table, and from what I’ve read, he had a habit of finding seats for all who wanted to come. It worked for Jesus. It worked for my parents. I have a sneaking suspicion it will work for us, too.

Let’s put some leaves in the table, pull up some chairs and see how the family grows.

The Rev. Dr. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at Send comments to [email protected].