A well-served table

How grace, communion, and feasting may transform a congregation

Juilio Tabuenca, Ph.D., is pastor for outreach and nurture, La Mesa Seventh-day Adventist Church, La Mesa, California.

La Mesa means "the table." Three main activities characterize the Christian dinner table: grace, communion, and feasting.

La Mesa Adventist Church, a 750- member predominantly Caucasian congregation in Southern California, is deliberately and relentlessly searching for God's grace as they enjoy rich fellowship at a banquet table.

How do we enrich our fellowship?

First, Christ is central. David said, "You prepare a table for me." The table is the gift of Christ! Christ is central at the La Mesa table. His grace-oriented message is preached and taught from the pulpit, through the media, on a one-to-one basis, electronically, "in season and out of season."

Second, prayer gives power. Our awesome God, as He is often referred to in word and in song, is the undisputed power base for the remarkable 100-plus-member prayer partners' ministry. This ministry began over six years ago. It was initiated to find and provide healing and reconciliation in people's lives. It has grown and expanded beyond local church, denomination, and geographical boundaries. Literally, hundreds of prayers have been answered. However, the ministry's greatest blessing has been the spiritual empowerment experienced by the intercessors them selves and the invigorating confidence that God does answer prayer today.

Third, our worship emphasizes grace. Christ's amazing grace is the recurrent theme in Sabbath worship services. Four different singing groups, ages 15 to 30, alternatively lead the congregation in joyful adoration as they sing a mix of praise songs and traditional hymns. Quite often, interviews and personal testimonies replace announcements. We enhance prayer in a variety of ways conducive to an atmosphere of meditation and spiritual beauty. We acknowledge the importance of children with drama and well-prepared stories. Preaching is biblical, evangelical, and redemptive. A youthful and talented team of film makers and computer technicians videotape the service for the benefit of shut-ins and others. A keen awareness of God's quickening presence permeates the 90- minute Sabbath worship experience.

Fourth, we emphasize Christ's love and joy. Our church conducts Happiness Seminars that unveil twelve fundamental joy principles, involving a consistent, personal, and loving relationship with God. The five-week series consists of four meetings the first week and then two each week through the remaining four. Two identical sessions are offered on the first Sabbath. Those attending the 11:00 a.m. meeting stay for a vegetarian meal. The evening class provides children's activities, such as free Suzuki violin classes, crafts, Vacation Bible School, etc. Morning sessions are usually well-attended and very friendly. When it comes to baptismal results, the evening meetings are more fruitful than the morning meetings. On four occasions, a vegetarian cooking class precedes or is conducted along with the series. Each seminar is advertised by an attractively designed four-page, full-color flier distributed by two major local newspapers. Preregistration is required. Those attending 80 percent of the lectures become proud owners of the beautiful Bible they used during the five-week series.

Fifth, the Bible is featured. The Explore the Book seminar is a once-a-month meeting, year-long project intended to motivate the participant to "hear" the Word of God. Those who register are asked to commit themselves to take twelve minutes a day to listen to the assigned tapes from the dramatized New International Version, 54-cassette, Faith Comes by Hearing series. A once-a- month identical morning and evening session is conducted. The youth version goes along with the adult. Each class is divided in two parts; one pastor presents an outline of the books to be "heard" or read for the month ahead, and another pastor provides the spiritual application. No distinctive doctrines are presented. A well-designed four-page, full-color flier is used to promote the seminar.

Sixth, we focus on Christ's deeds. Sabbath School has been used very effectively as an outreach agency, highlighting God's deeds with a variety of creative approaches. Major events have been advertised in the media. Some of the most successful three-month series have been on the subject of Creation, conducted entirely by non- Adventist instructors from the Institute of Creation Research; and the subject of archeology is conducted by renowned Adventist and non-Adventist archaeologists. Church history, prayer, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit are a few of the subjects presented in both traditional and nontraditional formats.

Midweek activities are available for the church family and community to enjoy. There are presentations on parenting and family finances (budgeting, wills, living trusts, etc.). Then we offer college credit classes (through La Sierra University) in crafts, gardening, aerobics, how to give Bible studies, and family relations.

We seek to be representative of Christ's compassion. Last year alone, an army of member and nonmember volunteers donated 9,600 hours of service in running one of the most effective community services in the area. These services were instrumental in helping 94,368 people with 200,000 pounds of bread and food worth $316,000. Six hundred seventy boxes of clothing were donated to Adventist Development Relief Agency for overseas disasters. The program enjoys such respect in the community that Protestant, Catholic, and secular agencies have joined efforts under the La Mesa church's leadership.

Grace, communion, and feasting. After crediting God for preparing the table, David declared that his cup overflowed. La Mesa church has been the recipient of grace upon grace to the point of overflowing. God's Spirit prevails, and the people seated at the table have more than doubled in the last six years. A significant percentage of those joining the ranks are former members and young couples. God's grace has touched people's lives in truly remarkable ways. There has not been one divorce among the 29 couples who reached out to God through the intercessory ministry of the prayer partners and feasted with the One who is Love. Finances are solid, and support for outreach is generous. A half-million-dollar endowment fund has been established for future ministries.

La Mesa church members look for ward with great anticipation to the day when they will have the unsurpassed joy of being with the redeemed of all time, feasting at the heavenly table headed by Jesus Himself.

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Juilio Tabuenca, Ph.D., is pastor for outreach and nurture, La Mesa Seventh-day Adventist Church, La Mesa, California.

July 1999

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