In his fourth book, The Table I Long For, Pastor Shawn Brace makes a compelling case for renewing the mission of the church. As he considered his vision for a unique church plant in one of the most secular places in the United States, Brace found himself presented with the opportunity to do something different. Not something new, but something renewing, an actual return to the fundamentals of Christian mission.
Brace distinguishes between attractional approaches to ministry—those that rely on programs and events to bring people to the church; and missional approaches—less structured endeavors that seek to meet people where they are. This insight led Brace to move his workspace to the local bagel shop in the center of town. It took him to city councils and recovery groups, in addition to their church’s small group—or missional community, as he calls it. More than this, it caused him to wrestle with what church is: are we really fulfilling the calling we’ve been given? How can we strike out toward a fresh, relationship-centric approach to ministry?
The book is filled with stories of the pastor himself and his wife, Camille; stories of team experiences; stories that introduce you to such people as Jim, Trisha, Howard, Sandra, and Tony. Some of the stories are heart-warming and encouraging, illustrating what is possible when we partner with Jesus. Others are heart-wrenching and raw, giving us a glimpse into the author’s wrestling with God over situations that took unexpected turns or—more seriously— into what happens when we fail to follow through on the Holy Spirit’s impressions.
The book is almost prescient in the light of the current pandemic that has put more distance between many of us than we have desired. Churches have been temporarily closed because of either government mandates or a desire to keep members safe during periods of high transmission rates. This has left many of us longing for more authentic spiritual fellowship and communal worship. Brace’s story caused me to realize my own dissatisfaction with the status quo. I don’t want to be content with a superficial church experience when God has something richer in store.
At the same time, one shouldn’t look upon these ideas too romantically. The kind of ministry Brace portrays is messy. Engaging with and investing deeply in people always carries some inherent risk. But there is no other option than to follow the example of Jesus, who did that for all of us. This book affirms that sacrificial approach.
Quoting a number of Christian missiologists, Brace presents challenges to traditional methods of outreach that might leave some unsettled. At the same time, students of Ellen White will recognize some of her terminology in the background, as well as direct quotes from her writings. Whether or not you agree with Brace’s perspective, his approach is commendable, and his book offers a fresh perspective on approaching ministry to today’s post-Christian society.