Dinner Tables Grow Disciples

Bill Mowry

Hunting for discipleship in the Old Testament – Part Three

Peggy and I love being grandparents. Unfortunately, our grandparenting these days is limited by distance and a pandemic. As relatively new grandparents, the best advice we’ve received is that grandparents are expected to spoil their grandchildren. We’re looking forward to enjoying the ministry of spoiling!

Grandchildren and disciplemaking are naturally linked. I love how the Bible conveys spiritual truths in physical realities. Jesus compared the providence of God to flowers and birds. The Kingdom is like a mustard seed. The Son of God can be tasted like a loaf of bread. 

The touch and taste of everyday life is a vehicle for God’s revelation. That’s why disciplemaking and grandchildren are naturally linked. Psalm 128 points the way towards this relationship and provides additional insight to the question explored in this series, “Disciples for what?”

Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
who walks in His ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
You shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.

You will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
Your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed. . . .
May you see your children’s children!

Psalm 128

How does this Psalm answer the “disciples for what?” question? Our previous reflections on this Psalm described disciples spreading God’s blessing to everything and everyone within their circle of influence. This blessing shows the world the ways of God. Disciples make love local by helping neighbors and neighborhoods flourish. Disciples take the Kingdom to work with them, blessing their places of employment. Disciples do all this and something more – they birth children. Like the blessed and fruitful parent in this Psalm, disciplemaking is generative.

I like this word “generative.” It’s a different picture than the typical words of “reproduce” or “multiply.” Generative means someone is capable of production or reproduction. Its most basic Latin meaning is to create, to generate something. Adults and disciples are designed to be “fruitful vines” (128:3) birthing future generations.

Over and over, the writer of Psalm 128 takes the concept of blessing and turns it into a touchable, real-life example. A mark of a disciple’s blessed life is fruit (128:3-4)— we “grow” children! The blessed man has “his quiver full of them” (Psalm 127:5). Children are likened to “olive shoots” (128:3) who “are strong and in due time will continue the work that their father has begun. ”Blessing, then, has inherent in it the power to increase. Blessing has generative power.

In this Psalm, children are pictured as “olive shoots” around a family’s table. Children as “shoots” picture people not fully grown but possessing the potential to reproduce. This generative influence begins with the local, the family sitting around the home’s table. But the healthy family will always be bigger than the immediate table family because the blessed person multiplies him or herself through their children. Successive generations of grandchildren yet unborn sit around that table. Fruit always contains the seeds of future generations.

Now we’re in familiar disciplemaking territory. This real-world example of a family gathered around a table teaches some spiritual lessons about disciplemaking; just as children contain the seeds of future generations so our spiritual children contain the seeds for future generations. 

As a Navigator, I resonate with successive generations of disciples. However, this Psalm adds some new twists to our traditional thinking of generations. First, it plants disciplemaking in the local – the family home. The obvious application is that we should be discipling our children. But let me stretch the analogy a bit to spiritual parenting.

Disciplemaking that births future generations starts in simple ways, around a kitchen table with people in relation to one another. This family table pictures a community – mother and father living with their children – a group of people engaged in growing as disciples (Deuteronomy 6:6-8). Rather than a singles’ match disciplemaking is a team sport. 

Around a local family table, parents teach and talk with their children while older siblings tease and tell stories with the younger. There’s a controlled pandemonium around a kitchen table. So it should be with disciplemaking in a local church or ministry gathering. In a multi-generation community setting, generations of children and disciples grow in communities in a physical and local place. The picture of the dinner table becomes a picture for disciplemaking.

Generative thinking was important to the Jewish culture and is best displayed in the use of the land. The promised land was a collection of tribal states with specific boundaries (Numbers 33:50-56; 34:1-12). This land was a gift of God (Exodus 20:12) and designed to be passed-on to one’s children who would pass it on to the next generation and so on. How one cared for the land in the present affected how the grandchildren would profit from the land in the future. 

Author Wendell Berry described this care as a “kindly use” of the land. A kindly use views the land as a gift to be nourished and protected. The next generation was always in mind; one did not abuse the land only for current gain because subsequent generations are affected by one’s selfishness. Care, a kindly use, was practiced in the present generation because future generations would be affected.

This is why building depth in people’s lives in the current generation affects the generations to come. A hands-on approach to a kindly use of the land teaches us a lesson in disciplemaking: concern for and depth in our current disciples ensures health in the next generation.

What does the blessing of God found in the common routine of a family around a dining table teach us about disciplemaking?

  • The blessing of God has generative power.
  • Children always contain the seeds of future generations/spiritual children contain spiritual generations.
  • Disciplemaking is a local, everyday event done in community with others.
  • Present care for people (and land) ensures health in the next generation.

What has our Old Testament disciplemaking hunt taught us? How do we answer the question, “Disciples making disciples . . . for what?” Psalm 128 teaches four ways to answer the “what.” Disciples are made to . . .

Walk – I walk with God making His ways my ways. 
Live local – I make my neighborhood a better place to live.
Work – I bring the Kingdom to work with me.
Be fruitful – I intentionally grow generations through my family and the family of God.

These four qualities mark a flourishing life, the blessed life enjoyed by a disciple. A disciple is a blessed person who happily inhabits the blessing of God and chooses to be a blessing to people and places. This is what disciples do – this is what disciples are made for.

2 Comments

  1. This piece reminds me of some of the different groups who have sought to live in community with one another. The Amish are one obvious example. Our general culture is so individualistic by contrast. We desperately need this perspective. A pastor friend of mine use to say that a believer who wasn’t part, a member, of a local church was an illegal Christian. The Apostle Paul, we are part of a body, we need each other. We can’t be truly blessed apart from giving and receiving as a member of a local church. Thanks for sharing these truths. We need to be reminded.

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