The practice of hospitality was a pillar of the early church, but in the last 200 years it has become a foreign concept. In being one of the main practices seen throughout the Old and New Testament Scriptures, hospitality had a special place in the movement of God and His work. For example, in Genesis, the people of Israel are aliens in a foreign land and embodied the stranger/guest role, while God resembled the host.
In addition, we read how Abraham and Sarah welcomed in a stranger, offering them water and fine food. However, the stranger that they welcomed ended up being an angel sent by God (Genesis 18:1-10). In the New Testament, one of the most humbling examples of the practice of hospitality is when Jesus, as host, supplies breakfast for his guests (the disciples). In this act, along the shore after his resurrection, Jesus prepares fish (breakfast) over a fire (John 21).
For the first 400 years of Church history, believers of Christ tended to welcome those who knocked at their doors, for they thought it could be Jesus who was knocking. However, during the Medieval period, hospitality was increasingly used for selfish gain, rather than self-giving. It focused more on entertaining those with status; excluding rather than embracing. Therefore, while the church began losing its influence on this rich Christian Practice, governments and civil groups took more of lead in the area of hospitality.
Hospitality is about inclusion, a welcoming into one’s space, which moves past the ‘strangeness’ of the stranger. As a result, it breaks down the biological family, for it is a theology that sees things from a Kingdom perspective, rather than a local or privatized perspective.
The misconceptions of the practice of Hospitality
1. Consists of tea, appetizers and house warming parties…things my grandma would do.
2. Lay Leaders who are given leadership over greeting and welcoming folks at the front door of a church…passing out bulletins, shaking hands, saying ‘welcome’, and so forth.
3. Something that women do…it has a feminine slant. Men do not perceive hospitality as a practice or a means of grace, because men preach and evangelize. This is a big misnomer.
4. Scripture does not speak much about hospitality, nor the importance of it…therefore, it is not something that is really important to the Christian Faith.
So, what are the gestures of Hospitality?
1. Anticipating needs, being aware of those around you, being sensitive to their needs…often times they are small acts
2. Marks one’s entrance and departure (accompanying them on their arrival or exit)…even if it interrupts the conversation or event.
3. Offering people food, a shared meal
4. Makes sure that when you are welcoming someone they do not feel like an interruption.
5. Does not expect blessing…it is selfless, but Christ-like
6. The practice of discernment is important, for one cannot truly welcome everyone
7. One must cultivate an attitude of gratitude (see 1 Peter 4)…if not, hospitality cannot be sustained
What would the Church resemble if it seriously adopted the practice of Hospitality?
1. At its core, it would be diverse
2. There might be a level of ‘rich’ chaos in our congregations (translating different languages during the services, disruptions—such as testimonies, common prayer, etc.)
3. Homes and Churches would weave together hospitality…a holistic approach.
4. Congregations would centrally embrace the importance of social ministries and see their community through the lens of God’s Kingdom.
5. The Church’s theology of the practice of hospitality would be reflected in the architecture, design of the services, and the like.
6. A philosophy of hospitality, removes the ‘task’ mentality and the tendency to measure success by results, etc.
7. Hospitality would include family, friends, and those of the ‘least of these’—strangers, oppressed, outcasts of ‘your’ society (e.g. alienated teens, elderly, or the obvious-refugees, homeless, etc.).
8. Christian hospitality would not be mistaken for just a salutation or kind words…but bringing one ‘into’ our world…the Kingdom of God.
9. As Wesley taught, hospitality is a means of Grace. Thus, there is mystery in the practice of Hospitality (both publicly and privately)…which may be why it is so difficult, yet so rewarding
So, what do you think?
1. What comes to mind when you first hear of the word hospitality? Does it reflect the Christian tradition of this ancient practice?
2. How do you practice hospitality? How does your church practice hospitality?
3. It’s one thing to practice hospitality with people that we like or people that we want around. But how do we practice hospitality with people that are difficult to include?
4. The church growth movement has studied how much more successful it is for churches to reach out to people that are ‘like them’ (homogenous unit principle). Is this trend (and human tendency) Biblical?
5. Do you think the Christian practice of hospitality is easier or realized more fully in cultures that aren’t as individualized as western culture?