Table Leadership

The Last Supper by Fritz Eichenberg

            Maintaining, evaluating, and guiding culture is essential for the health of any organization. For a faith-based organization, this is particularly important as the guiding principle of culture ought to be rooted in Gospel values. As we manage an organization from a Gospel lens, we must think critically about how Jesus engaged the world. In this essay, I will examine the “table fellowship” of Jesus and describe how implementing those values into an organization reflects a Gospel-based mission.

            The term “table fellowship” is attributed to the frequent meals that Jesus exchanged with others. In the Gospels, Jesus ate with sinners,[1] strangers,[2] and friends.[3] These meals provided an open space for dialogue and conversion,[4] as well as exchanging values and traditions.[5] Table fellowship was a cornerstone of Jesus’ ministry and touchpoint for critical engagement. These moments revealed Jesus’ vulnerability, availability, and mission. Jesus did not limit his access to an exclusive minority. Instead, Jesus created spaces for the unwelcomed to feel welcomed and entered into communities that were often forgotten or excluded.

            Table fellowship allowed Jesus to walk alongside others as a companion, experiencing the journey with them, rather than as a distant guide sending memos and alerts. Jesus walked with people, highlighting moments along the journey to pause and gaze at the beautiful scenery and assist them when the journey became difficult. Rather than a passive “open-door policy,” Jesus actively engaged people, invited people, and met people where they were without expecting them to come to him. Table fellowship was neither “top-down” nor “bottom-up” leadership, but rather “on the ground” and “at the table” leadership where each person had a stake in the mission.

            Table fellowship allowed Jesus to walk alongside others as a companion, experiencing the journey with them, rather than as a distant guide sending memos and alerts. Jesus walked with people, highlighting moments along the journey to pause and gaze at the beautiful scenery and assist them when the journey became difficult. Rather than a passive “open-door policy,” Jesus actively engaged people, invited people, and met people where they were without expecting them to come to him. Table fellowship was neither “top-down” nor “bottom-up” leadership, but rather “on the ground” and “at the table” leadership where each person had a stake in the mission.

            Table fellowship established a precedent of radical hospitality, vulnerability, and mutual leadership. Apostles, disciples, and spectators each had the opportunity to grow with, learn from, and influence Christ’s mission.

            How might a manager, director, teacher, CEO, receptionist, coach, priest, parishioners, or individual, embody the characteristics of table fellowship?

            What might an organization resemble if its mission, identity, and culture were reflective of Jesus’ table fellowship?

            The culture of table fellowship is antithetical to the cultural values we encounter today. CEOs, presidents, and directors sit in penthouse suites, behind waiting rooms, and floors above others. Teachers, coaches, and priests huddle in offices secluded from the general public with limited hours of availability. Parishioners, clients, and individuals sit in cubicles and pews, isolated and unreachable to the general assembly. Effectively walled off and elevated above one another, mutual cooperation, sharing, and inclusion have become impossible feats. One cannot companion when their primary form of communication is impersonal emails, memos, and announcements in the bulletin. One cannot mutually share when they remain inaccessible in isolated pews and offices leaving at the bell, before the final note, or instantly at self-checkout. One cannot welcome outsiders if they are radically opposed to welcoming people within the assembly. One cannot be vulnerable if they fail to meet people eye to eye.

            More often than not, in Catholic organizations, communities may sing “All Are Welcome,” while actively making divorced, LGBTQ, young people, women, people of color, and other neglected Catholics feeling excluded.[6] They fail to establish strong bonds beyond divisions where all feel welcome. Insulated from the realities that surround them, they remain actively unaware of perspectives other than their own.

            Embodying table fellowship requires dialogic conversion. Individuals in positions of leadership and power must humble themselves and honestly share their stories. Individuals on the outside must recognize their worth, and gracefully share their experience. This dialogic stance creates a space where people can mutually encounter one another beyond their titles, door-tags, and degrees.

            Should an organization embody table fellowship characteristics, it might resemble the following: 

  • CEOs assisting with and participating in the day-to-day responsibilities of an organization.
  • Managers holding doors for and eating lunch in the common room with everyone else. 
  • Teachers engaging their students outside the classroom at sporting events, extracurricular activities, and common areas. 
  • Tuition-based schools creating equitable scholarships and engaging prospective students in their neighborhoods.
  • Churches creating parish councils that resemble those in the pews and those who have yet to walk in the doors. 
  • Parishioners actively meeting with and creating inclusive spaces for those living near the Church and not just driving in-and-out of the zip code of their destination parish. 
  • Priests creating leadership positions for women, LGBTQ, people of color, and young people.
  • Program directors providing listening sessions that encourage people to voice opinions and challenges within the organization. 

            Table fellowship is not an exclusive model nor an extensive list. It is an ever-developing relationship that invites a critical examination of an organizational mission from every possible perspective. If an organization is to embody the characteristics of table fellowship, it must be willing to humbly sit with open ears, discerning hearts, and willing minds to the Gospel truth of Christ’s all-inclusive mission.

            As we move forward, may we find our hearts burning with the desire to recognize that Christ is walking along the road with us, in every person that we encounter, so that when we sit and recline at the table with our companions, may the truth of the kingdom of heaven be revealed in the breaking of the bread.[7]


[1] Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32.

[2] Luke 7:36-50.

[3] Luke 10:38-42.

[4] Luke 24:28-43.

[5] Luke 22:7–23.

[6] Haugen, Marty. All Are Welcome. GIA Publications, Inc., 1994.

[7] Luke 24:13-35.

4 Comments

    1. What do you mean by “4 core American values”? As for including non-Christian and secular traditions, my response to that is always. The more we can be inclusive and welcoming of all perspectives the more we resemble the truth that Heaven is reflected in the people around us.

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  1. A beautiful reminder for me, thank you, Bobby. I’d love to read this in the Record.

    Karen White
    St. Xavier High School/ Teacher

    The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.’ –Pablo Picasso

    Like

  2. Tables are a level surface where food both spiritual and tangible is both given and received. All of our altars should invite that give and take.

    Like

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