Reading the Table

I saw an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about the ways that high-end restaurants, and even chain establishments, are training waiters to “read a table” of dinners and understand how to best serve them. Wait staff is being trained to make note of such things as body language, eye contact, and casual remarks – seeking to personalize the experience.

Apparently now, as waiters walk up to the table, they are reading a host of cues. If you look up and make eye contact, it signals that you are likely to engage in some conversation about the menu. If the table is filled with quiet and tense people, the welcome to be given is a quick statement of allowing time to look over the menu. If you are dressed in business attire at lunch, the assumption will be that you’ve come from your cubicle and need to get back there quickly – hence, faster service. The same is true for early dinners wearing fancy attire – this signals that dinner is but the precursor to another event that evening.

Restaurants are moving away from the standard, oft-repeated line of “my name is Ferdinand, and I’ll be taking care of you today.”  So, a lot of work and effort is being applied to understand the situation at hand, and to respond in the best and most helpful way.

Here is what the article made me think about:  If people of the world will go through this much trouble to gain understanding of personalized needs for a simple event like a single dining experience, should not those who know Christ desire to have an ability to read the world around them with a view toward personalizing the Gospel presentation to the presenting needs? The old opening line of a Gospel conversation was, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” While that is true, the immediate need may not be so “macro” as a life plan, but rather a concern about how to make it through some immediate crisis.

Though the central truth of the Gospel is a singular and unchanging truth about being made right with God through the removal of the debt of sin by Christ’s sacrifice, the way to contextualize the Gospel message is varied by the felt needs of the one who is not vitally connected to God. For some, the obstacle may be the addictive pattern of some substance or behavior. For others, the issues of primary concern may involve worries about how to provide successfully for material obligations in coming months and years. Yet others may have relational trials boiling on the front burner. We know that a vital relationship with Christ supplies sufficient resources for navigating these troubles, and they may also be the very channels through which the Gospel presentation can flow successfully.

The Apostle Paul essentially noted that there are varied ways of presenting the singular truth of the saving work of Christ when he said: Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.  (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

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