The Lost Art of Hospitality
I went to college and seminary in Kansas. One thing I loved about living in Kansas was the hospitality I experienced there. As a college student in a small town, people in my church and in the community would invite me into their home. I had a family that hosted me through a hospitality program initiated through the football team I played on. I was a part of a church that invited me to sit with them for dinner on Sunday, and a group of about 7 of us that took me out for supper on Tuesday nights. Seminary hospitality wasn’t quite as structured, but it was present as well. Invitations to Thanksgiving dinners when I was away from family. People offering to let me house sit while they were gone for a week. All this was not awfully unusual because I spent my high school years in Alaska, where everyone has a hospitality story of moving north, living with a friend (sometimes someone they just met or hardly knew), and then getting settled in their new home.
After I left school, I moved to Montana. I loved Montana, and have missed it terribly since I left it. However, after living in the Last Frontier and the rural plains, I began to experience hospitality withdraw. I sat down with the denominational leader that helped place me in the church. I shared with her that I was concerned I wasn’t being welcomed. My senior pastor was hospitable, but outside of visits where I invited myself into people’s homes, they did not seem very welcoming. I thought it was maybe something I was doing. I received a little advice, and some encouragement from my friend and mentor. She told me that folks in the Rockies were not generally as hospitable as folks in the Plains, and that I should take my time. She encouraged me that things might change. They did. I found myself around folks at the right time, and I became more welcome in people’s homes without having to feel like I was pushing my way through the door for a visit.
I was a single guy in my twenties then. I am a married father of two young children in my mid-forties now. Regarding hospitality I have grown to learn two things. First, our culture mitigates more and more against welcoming our neighbors and friends into our lives through acts of hospitality. This lack of hospitality with one another and with strangers is, I believe, harming our churches and our society as a whole.
Secondly, I have grown to understand that offering welcome and hospitality is central to discipleship in Christian lives individually as well as in community. The Bible teaches us not to “neglect showing hospitality to strangers” (Hebrews 13:2), and to “show hospitality to each other without grumbling” (I Peter 4:9). The Bible teaches that when we show hospitality to others we show hospitality to Christ (Matthew 25: 34-46), and lists hospitality as an essential character quality for church leaders (Titus 1:8, I Timothy 3:2).
Learning to practice hospitality for our family has been awkward at first, but fun. We are not as tidy as we would like to be, and we are busier than most, but we make room in our hearts and homes to welcome folks in. It has been a great opportunity for us. Missionaries needed a place to stay between stops on furlough, and they crashed at our place for a while. And last Sunday, a friend and colleague was on their honeymoon and coming through town, and we were able to throw some burgers on the grill and share some time together before the continued their journey to the mountains of Colorado. We are growing in this area, but here are some tips for growing in hospitality
1. If you wait until you have things all together to be welcoming, you won’t do it. So become comfortable with people seeing the messy parts of your life as well as the tidy parts
Come visit us, especially if you do so in a more spontaneous fashion, and you may find dishes in the sink, and dolls on the floor in the living room. Because we don’t have a laundry room, our laundry baskets will often be on the floor by the back door, where the washer is at. If everything looks picked up, it may be because we have thrown our mess in bedrooms and closets. If we wait until everything is perfect before you get into the door, you will never come in. We have learned that if we are going to be hospitable, we have to be willing to be vulnerable enough to let you see that we don’t always have stuff together.
2. Because hospitality is countercultural, don’t expect your welcome to always be reciprocated
When I was younger, I was the recipient of hospitality, but I could not reciprocate as easy. I was a single guy in a small apartment that I basically slept and watched late-night television in. Other folks have home maintenance issues, or don’t have the means to welcome you into their homes. They can find other ways to be welcoming, but it will take time.
3. Step beyond your comfort zone in welcoming people into your homes, lives, and churches
A lot of times it is easy to welcome folks just like us, but it is harder to welcome folks who live a different lifestyle than you do. I still remember the moment where we hosted a small group in our home, and the wives/girlfriends had run upstairs. As we kept visiting, I realized I was the only guy in the room without a criminal record and had not spent time in jail. I felt honored that each of the families felt comfortable enough to be at our place, eating our food, and seeking to learn about walking with Jesus.
4. Being hospitable doesn’t mean not having boundaries
We got to know a family in one of our previous churches, and became friendly with them. We talked with the parent about their kid coming over for about an hour after worship. When the parent wouldn’t answer phone calls and showed up three hours later, we began to rethink how we shared hospitality with that family.
5. When we offer hospitality, especially in our homes, we are better able to deal with hostility and conflict
I had a friend who hosted leadership meetings around his kitchen table. It was amazing how folks had better manners and were more willing to listen to each other, even in vigorous debate, when they sat around a table instead of in a boardroom. One time we experienced a difficult conflict with people in our congregation. They invited us over, and shared their concerns. Reconciliation was much easier in that context.
My friends, God commands us to be hospitable. We are blessed when we receive it, and when we offer it. As we welcome others, we welcome the Lord as well. Find ways to welcome others into your homes, yards, lives, churches, and community. You will find your world becoming a better place.