Jesus said, "Bring extra chairs!"



Bring extra chairs.” That was the message after my wife, Linda, got off the phone. She had been going over some of the details for the Thanksgiving meal that we will be attending at her sister’s home not far from ours. 

I remember my first Thanksgiving meal with Linda. We were just dating. There were six of us that sat around her family’s dining room table. Later that day two other family members arrived. That meant eight for dessert. If we all were able to be present this year it would mean spaces for 33 persons.

But we won’t all be in one place at the same time for a variety of reasons. We are all still family. We will just be having a “multi-site” Thanksgiving dinner.

I remember a Thanksgiving 50 years ago at my grandparent’s home. There were eleven of us sandwiched in the dining room. My Uncle Varner and Uncle Bill and Aunt Ruth would squeeze into the corner against the wall and buffet along with Aunt Mildred. Then along the “north side” of the table (It just seemed like my dad and grandpa labeled everything by the directions of the four winds!) would be my sister, my mom, me and my dad on (you guessed it) the NW corner. My sister and I were separated for obvious reasons. Yes, I was the teasing younger brother.

My grandfather always sat at the head of the table (west end). Bless his heart. His chair was dangerously close to the front of the pot belly coal furnace that heated the place well to bake the pies as they sat on the sewing machine top next to it. My grandmother and Aunt Anna managed to make space for the two of them, where there was barely room for one, at the table corner that overlapped the kitchen door. That seemed to work out well as one or the other was up and down taking turns bringing in dish after dish of food piled high.
Yes, even as the five year old, I was given a couple of jobs.  One was to gather enough National Geographic magazines to be used as protection and leveling when the extra oak leaves were put in. (Grandma only had a table cover for the table not the six leaves. The table is in our dining room now and new set of protectors covers the entire 110”.) Once the table was together, Grandma would say, “Benton, go with your dad across the road to Aunt Mildred’s and bring over some extra chairs.” (I think she also needed me gone awhile so the real work could get done!)
The black and white rabbit ear TV rarely had a show you could get in focus, so no Lions game. But who cared. There was carom to play and colorful marbles for games of Chinese Checkers; a ball rolling game that let you score points if it landed out in the cupped holes, a peg board with hand whittled sticks; and then there was all the time just sitting around eating pie and listening to the stories being told and poems recited from memory. Even though all this is a memory now, and the games get less use, it was still good we needed more chairs. It meant there were extra people at the table.
This past week and several other times, I have gathered with leaders from across our conference and with two particular leaders who are part of the United Methodist National Hispanic Plan. Together we are discovering ways we can work together in intentional ministry shared with our Hispanic and Latino brothers and sisters. Nearly all of these persons were bilingual in English and Spanish. Their countries of origin or missionary service experience covered Chile, Costa Rica, Santa Domingo, Mexico, Uruguay, Bolivia and Nicaragua. Friends, we are going to need more chairs.
I remember my high school youth fellowship meetings every Sunday evening. I don’t remember the discussion topics. I do remember being together with my friends, making fruitcakes, selling Christmas trees, playing ping pong, singing songs around a campfire and going on work camps (“Church at another site”). On one of those work camp trips we pulled one small house 100 yards and attached it to another home. This growing family “needed more chairs” but would not have been able to do it alone. This was the Church in action and I felt blessed. They blessed us with a most incredible meal at the end of that week. It was Thanksgiving in July. Young adults today want to be part of the Church in action.

The other night Linda and I gathered with about 600 others to hear a young adult in a Christian music concert. The young adult doctor who treats me was there with some of the friends he had brought along. We sat with members of our small group, watching with joy the excitement and engagement in this worship experience by their children and their friends. This congregation is already thinking creatively about how to address the need for more chairs.
Many growing congregations or congregations that desire to grow are discovering that people don’t come to church like they used to. The Church needs to go to the people. The Church needs to be in multiple places at the same time. It is still the same “Church Family”, we are just worshiping God in different locations at the same time. Going to other places and setting up chairs is what Jesus commanded us to do in Matthew 28. It is all about reaching the next generation with God’s message of grace and love.

Of the eleven persons that sat in that Indiana farm house around the coal furnace swapping stories and eating pie, only three remain, my mom, age 92, and my sister and me. I still tease her! But the rest of that extended family numbers over 50 now and will be in eight or more states. “Go into all the world and make disciples…” Jesus said to us. Go across the street and mention to the new neighbors, the clerk at the store, the parents and children you encounter along the way, that “You are loved by God, and we have plenty of chairs to share. Let me tell you how we can serve and love and pray and worship together for the purpose of transforming the world.”
Rev. Benton R. Heisler
Director of Connectional Ministries


1. Ruth Jones wrote on 11/14/2012 4:45:30 PM
Benton, I also remember well the house being pulled over "rollers" that were small saplings. Before that the family didn't even have room to sleep in the same house. There were a dozen kids and they all went through college, with the oldest paying the way for the next younger sibling, etc. Mrs. Chisholm prepared quite a feast from whatever seafood the tide swept in each day. Great folks!
2. Dale D> Brown wrote on 11/14/2012 5:50:02 PM
Some christians practice Bo Peep evangelism- "Leave 'em alone and they'll come home." But they don't come. We have to go get 'em.
3. Jan (Heisler) Hoover wrote on 11/15/2012 2:03:42 PM
I hope you never stop teasing me! Thanks for being such an amazing brother and pastor. You stirred up some good memmories . Thanks for your good insights and leadership to keep the Good News .....ongoing .
4. Rebecca Carrington wrote on 11/19/2012 9:50:46 PM
Hello cousin. I was also one of the 12 disciples around that Thanksgiving table at our grandparents home. I sat on the SOUTH side and since I am 14 yrs. older than you, I remember when you sat in Grandma's old wooden high chair on the SW side of the table. One of my jobs before the big meal was to scrunch down behind the table and somehow wiggle out the "good" serving dishes from the buffet. Then after dinner I was appointed the honors of washing the dishes while the younger two cousins got to go and play!! When I thought I was finished with the task, Grandma would decide to clear out the refrigerator and the washing commenced again. The evening was special because the big old metal potato chip can was pulled out from underneath the kitchen table. But instead of potato chips, the tin was filled with Grandpa's popcorn. Nobody could make popcorn soooooooo good. And by the way, it is wonderful that you needed more chairs. Thank you for serving at His table .. your flock is so fortunate to have your love and leadership.
5. Billie R. Dalton wrote on 11/20/2012 11:12:10 AM
The "real work" includes the bringing of the chairs to the table with inclusion of so many. "Bo Peep" evangelism does not exist where no one is forgotten at the table. I hope you will not mind me using the imagery of "bring extra chairs to the table" during the next couple of months. Thanks for lifting the memories of all of us.
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