Rule #23: Always Leave an Empty Chair

This is another rule pulled directly from my missions training. But more than that it is the reason I am a God-fearing Christian today. The empty chair policy has two primary applications. Always leave room for someone to join your social group (club, click, or family). And always leave room for Jesus at the table.

Imagine for a moment this is a literal rule (and sometimes it should be taken literally). You have a group of 5 fiends that each lunch together every day at work/school/church. The natural tendency would be to find a table that holds 5 people close into your conversation and ignore the world around you. While this is not necessarily wrong and sometimes is the right thing to do it's not ideal as a daily practice. Imagine instead you find a table that holds 6 people. A literal extra chair at the table while you begin your conversation. From the outside everyone seas an empty chair. That speaks of welcoming. That speaks of openness. Christian's get a bad reputation for being closed and cliquish. It's not just a stereotype. Christian want to spend time with other Christians. So they develop a click that can't be joined in order to discuss Christian things. But this is counter-productive and the exact opposite of what it is supposed to be. From the inside of the group the open chair is a constant reminder that someone else is always welcome to join the group. They each individual feels free to welcome someone in and when someone does sit down in that chair everyone is reminded that that chair was open because they are welcome. I learned this principle in full when my missions team leader left a real chair empty as we circled up for debriefing. He pointed to it and "always leave an empty chair to welcome others and Jesus to the conversation". A few moments later one of our missions contacts sat down in the chair and joined us and we made a great connection with them. It may have been one of the most effective moments of the entire trip.

The 2nd application of the rule is less for Christian groups and more about our individual activities. I don't meet with only Christian groups. Nor should I. And when I do meet with my Christian friends it's not always to discuss Christian stuff. I have a book club where we discuss science fiction, fantasy, and creative writing. But our group knows there is always room to turn the conversation to Jesus. That group and it's discussions on the books we read has given me countless revelations in scripture and life. Sometimes from the books we read that reveal subtle truths, sometimes from someone simply sharing an experience or obstacle. Every person in the group knows they are in a safe place where they and Jesus are always welcome. Welcoming Jesus into the group also means welcoming the "least of these." Remember the goats and the sheep from scripture. "I was naked and you clothed me, I was hungry and you fed me." Jesus said just as you have showed compassion to the least of these so you have done it to me. Always leave room in the conversation for Jesus and always welcome Jesus in the form of "the least of these".

The most important aspect of the rule is not the empty chair but the welcome. When someone does join the group they must be truly welcomed into the group as one of the insiders. If they are a friend joining family dinner they are now a member of the family. If they are a non-Christian joining your Christian small group they are the same as the rest of the members. The conversation doesn't suddenly revolve around them. The best thing you can do to evangelize in that venue is to treat them the same as the rest of the group.

The last concept is perhaps rather ambiguous between Rule #23: Always leave an empty chair. and Rule #21: There will always be a remnant. (Go after the one). It may go back and forth a bit. I call this Bill Wilson's Corollary from his sermon titled "Jesus Doesn't Love Everyone the Same". It's a shock title more than a fact but also a powerful principle. After an angel reveals himself to Mary and Martha who came to see Jesus he tells them "Go tell his disciples and Peter" [that Jesus is risen]. Why "and Peter"? As Bill Wilson point's out because Peter is hurting the most. Peter just denied Jesus 3 times. Peter is so ashamed he is going back to being a fisherman. Peter, who when he actually saw Jesus was so excited he jumped off the boat and swam to him. Peter who confessed 3 times "I love you" in response to Jesus question the longest conversation we see with Jesus after his resurrection. Sometimes when one person in our group is hurting it's time to leave the 99 sheep and go after the one that is lost, hurting, and broken. Sometimes that's the person who joins the group only moments before.