Does your ministry have a back table? Does your team or circle of friends? If you don’t, you might consider getting one.
To explain the purpose of the back table, let me take you in the “Way Back” machine to the early 2000s. Back when we were young, cool (?), and full of energy, my wife Joanne and I worked as a school teacher and a youth minister respectively, and I volunteered as the campus minister for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at our alma mater, the University of Richmond. For five years, I volunteered as a guide to the leaders, a regular speaker to the large group worship, and a support to teams and coaches who were interested. On Sunday nights, we would often leave the church we attended where I was the youth minister at seven p.m. and drive over to the college, staying there until eleven or twelve at night. We enjoyed our time getting to know students who came, and enjoyed watching them grow as leaders, students, and people of faith.
Many of the student-athletes who came were leaders of their teams, and encouraged others to come. But there were walkons, third stringers, and even fans. As the FCA chapter grew, it came to encompass people of all races, genders, and backgrounds — there was even a Jewish student who came because he said he liked the music and no one told him he couldn’t be there! FCA was one of a kind back then. But there’s one aspect that I think of periodically that’s not about the music, the speakers, the outreach, or the students I remember by name. Yes, it’s the back table.
When you walked into FCA each night, into a concert hall that we had to set up with chairs, band equipment, and refreshments each week because we were more traveling carnival than fixed establishment, there was always a table with nametags and Sharpies, handouts and refreshments, index cards for prayer and the like. People would gather at the table to sign up for things, grab a snack, and fill out their nametag, and then disperse to sit in groups with friends throughout the room of a hundred or so. Not everyone would disperse though.
There were always a few students, usually only one or two at a time, who stayed at the back table. Maybe it was because the table was at the back, or butted up to the wall behind it, but something consistently, week after week drew students to the table. Some of them were drawn to it for a few weeks, or for a month; some stayed for a whole year. And my wife, Joanne, was the one who received the people who came there. She was the one who provided them a safe place, a gentle landing spot, a kind word or two. She was the not-quite-old-enough mother hen to students only a few years younger, the reminder that even at the back table, you were not alone.
Several of the “back tablers” moved on to leadership roles, at the front of large group, or leading small groups. Some of them became the people who rallied the group into mission, or invited more and more shy, anxious students in. The back table was a ministry of its own, unnamed and quietly. With a smile, a nametag, and the gentle reminder that not every ministry has to be crazy, and loud, and in your face. That’s just not my wife’s wife — nor the way of the back table.
Who needs you to quietly walk alongside them, or to gently reach out from six feet away? Everyone doesn’t need the same thing, but some people need the back table.
But let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (I Peter 3:8)