One of my favorite publications is Tabletalk, a monthly journal of articles and devotions published by Ligonier, R. C. Sproul’s ministry. Dr. Sproul adapted the title from a series of notes taken from Martin Luther’s table discussions with his students and other visitors.
This type of table conversation was also the preferred method of discussing truth and its application for Francis and Edith Schaeffer. The Schaeffers established a retreat in Switzerland which they called “L’Bri,” French for “Shelter.” People came from all over the world to engage with the Schaeffers and others as they explored the truth of Christianity around a meal at the table.
We have the wonderful privilege of living literally “around the corner” from several of our grandchildren. The four oldest happen to be all boys. Their ages, 13 to 16, worked perfectly for our first attempt at hosting Table Talk. The boys seemed excited to come over to discuss topics on their teenage minds. Our offer of chili and ice cream closed the deal.
A conversation about identity was on our minds and is a big topic for kids this age. How does identity create expectation? How does expectation drive behavior? We had the perfect opener.
A few days before, I had picked up a copy of the Perry Daily Journal, my hometown newspaper. It contained some big news that was not unexpected. The Perry High School wrestling team had just won their third straight and 43rd State Championship, a national record.
I showed the boys the headlines and asked them how they thought this remarkable record could have been accomplished by a small, rural community. One suggested the obvious – the athletes were farm boys who grew up wrestling cattle and hay bales. The youngest wondered if it was the uniform. He offered his answer with a grin, hoping to get a laugh, but we came back to his answer and found that it made for some rich discussion.
We finally landed on the important ingredient of “expectation.” The history and the tradition created by a long line of individual wrestling records creates a continual expectation of excellence. We also noted that expectations don’t always just line up with athletic performance but, more importantly, with character performance. We discussed this in light of our own family, touching on the meaning of tradition, accountability, legacy, reputation, and what it means to “put on the uniform”.
Identification with the group creates an expectation for performance and character.
I am glad to report that our Table Talk was lively and provocative and, from what we observed, meaningful for the boys. We could tell they liked being able to join in on big ideas and explore significant concepts. All of the boys left our home looking forward to the next time we could meet.
Why did this work? Why were the boys ready to engage in real topics?
- We created an opportunity for conversation in a non-threatening environment.
This was our time together. We offered them a safe place where they could feast on some solid food and ideas.
2. We brought a good question. Then, we let them talk.
Our minds are often lazy. Most conversation, unless prompted by a question, tends to flow to the easy and familiar. So, bring a good question, one that you know will inspire them to bigger ideas.
3. We worked to solve a story problem together.
This is how Jesus taught His disciples and this is how we teach our young disciples, utilizing the skills we have acquired to further explain the truth.
It is quite exciting to think Cheryl and I have four grandsons who are looking forward to being with us soon for another Table Talk. Already, we have a file folder collecting ideas and questions to pursue in the future. What is worldview? How does our worldview inform our behavior? What is peer pressure and how can teens stand up to it? What is the meaning of masculinity? Of femininity?
Parents, it is not lost on me that our situation is unique and this idea for parents will need some adjustment. But, you can start your own Table Talk tradition. Different from “family meetings.” Different from “Sit down, your parents want to talk to you.” Make sure this is their time.
- Ask your teen to invite a couple friends over for a meal and Table Talk.
- Be prepared with some good questions for discussion.
- Be flexible and be patient.
- Let them talk.
- Enjoy the moments and have fun!
When your teen says, “Hey, when can we do Table Talk again?” you will know you are on to something significant.
“Children should view the home as not simply the place where they eat and sleep, but where they are taught and shaped. They should view home as the center of their world. They should see it as their primary culture- and always view the larger culture in the light of what they have learned at home.”
– Douglas Wilson