Practices trump values
Why do we articulate our practices at The Table? Because what we actually do reveals and cultivates who we are becoming, what we value, and how we believe.
One of our practices is called mutual submission.
What is mutual submission?
As disciples of Jesus in community and on mission together, we are committed to submitting to one another. This is because of the way we see God’s authority working in the church.
Think about how we make decisions in different areas of our lives. Often our only imagination for this is to think in terms of:
- Hierarchy (one person decides – control is exercised by a few), or
- Democracy (everyone decides – control by the majority).
But the New Testament reveals a different way for authority to be expressed in a community. Instead of hierarchy or democracy, Paul commands us to “Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ”(Eph 5:21).
- Mutual submission is how we live in the empowering authority of the Holy Spirit, not under the tyranny of the few or the majority.
- Mutual submission is what happens when we seek to outdo one another in showing love, honoring others above ourselves (Rom 12:10).
- Mutual submission is a communal practice that shows we actually believe that the God is in charge of our community, and his authority is one of empowerment and love for the members of Christ’s Body.
Mutual submission is how we discern God’s will in our community. Leaders hold open the relational and conversational space for us to listen to God and one another, and discern together how best to live faithfully as a church.
Mutual submission has Up (encounter), In (embody), and Out (extend) dimensions for The Table.
Encountering mutual submission
Mutual submission is a posture of empowering others to step into their God-given identity and authority as children of God. We believe this is how God leads us. He doesn’t overpower us, making us do what he wants. He respects our agency.
We see this in Jesus’ earthly ministry: he gives people real choices, allows them to “go away sad,” looks them in the eye and says, “what you must do, do quickly” (John 13:37).
Although Jesus has all the power of heaven and earth he does not exploit it to make things happen the way he wants, but he empties himself and relies on the Father, who fills and empowers Jesus to the point of being resurrected from the dead (Phil 2:6-11).
This is not God taking a passive posture. It’s not weak in the sense that it “gives away” power to others. God does not create a democracy. Mutual submission doesn’t mean God is disempowered. Rather, it is how God empowers his people to choose love over self-interest and death.
Embodying mutual submission
The mutual submission we encounter from God is then embodied in the church.
Jesus makes it clear to his disciples that he had completely redefined leadership as different from the power structures of the world. “The world’s leaders lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves” (Luke 22:25-26).
Jesus models a new way of leading, a new way of carrying authority. This is why mutually submitting to one to another “reveres Christ” (Eph 5:22), because we are imitating him! We submit to each other in conflict (Matt 18:15-17; Rom 14), for conflict is often ground-zero for the in-breaking of the kingdom of God.
So how does leadership work in mutual submission? Recognized leaders at The Table have the responsibility of being among the community as “those who serve.” Leaders die first; leaders are entrusted with building up the body of Christ by following the pattern of Christ: laying down their life so that others may flourish and be empowered.
Democracy keeps the majority happy, and hierarchies keep the few in control, but mutual submission holds open the space for God to lead his church with a submitted, listening, learning leadership ready to die for the sake of others.
Extending mutual submission
The mutual submission we encounter from God and learn to embody in community is then extended into the world.
This means that mutual submission describes our posture in mission. It means that as we go toward those we wish to reach, we submit to them in Jesus’ name. We make ourselves weak in mission, we listen to them, we rely on them.
We do this because this is how we see Jesus engaging in mission and teaching his disciples to do so. Simply, we enter God’s mission in submission to others because that’s how Jesus did it.
In John 4 Jesus sits down by a water well after a long, hot hike. He had sent his disciples into town (with their water bucket). Thirsty, he sits and waits for someone to come to the well. A Samaritan woman approaches, and the first words he speaks aren’t words of sufficiency, or a proclamation of what he can offer her, but a request for help: “Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:7).
An entire Samaritan village hears the good news because Jesus started in weakness and mutual submission.
Later Jesus sent his disciples out on mission “as lambs among wolves” without a “purse or bag or sandals.” They were to eat whatever their host offered them and stay in one home, submitting to the hospitality they were offered (Luke 10:2-8). We see Paul operating in mutual submission in the book of Acts and hear him talk about this posture in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.
It is common for Christians to “power up” as we head into mission. We highlight all the benefits we offer and seek to help people. But the practice of mutual submission reminds us that the kingdom of God is extended in vulnerability and mutuality. We go in weakness so that those we seek to reach can encounter the hospitality of God, the invitation to eat and drink at his table.
Mutual Submission in everyday life
How do decisions get made? The normal modes of operation we can imagine are hierarchy (one/few decide) or democracy (the majority decides and we all fight for our way before we vote).
Against these options, we choose to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Instead of fighting for our way, we submit our observations and feelings to one another, refusing to lord power over others as well as refusing to abdicate the responsibility of leadership.
This is the space we choose to hold open at The Table, practicing mutual submission.