The following is a guest piece by Meredith Cooper on the challenge and necessity of hospitality in gospel ministry. Its practical and I think most of us can relate to the scenarios she discusses below.
Hospitality is a word I hear a lot in conjunction with ministry training. It is now a common subject in my seminary classes, church sermons, conferences or books I read, and with good reason. Hospitality is an important part of both obeying the “one another” commands we see in Scripture regarding fellow believers and doing gospel ministry with those outside the church. Take Rosaria Butterfield for example, who became a believer largely due to a pastor and his wife hosting her in their home regularly and sharing the gospel with her.
In order to understand what hospitality is, we need to see what hospitality is not. People commonly associate hospitality with inviting people into our homes, but there are some pre-conceived notions that must be dismissed.
Hospitality is not the same as entertaining.
I did not come up with this one myself. I have heard this stated from a couple different people, but Kathy Litton has written a couple of things on the difference between hospitality and entertaining. These posts are really helpful, so I encourage you to go and read them. You can find the posts here and here.
Hospitality is not convenient.
For a routine-oriented, introvert like me, hospitality can add some stress if not viewed with the right perspective. It is often inconvenient to host your closest friends or people from your church, much less the non-believers around you who may have nothing in common with you. This gets even crazier when you add an entirely new culture to the mix. Hospitality, and I am speaking to myself on this, is about laying aside preferences or irrational concerns and focusing on the people in your home. Your laundry may not be put away, people will spill stuff, and they’ll stay longer than you may like. But these are minor details compared to the value of spending time with people who need a display of Christ’s love.
Hospitality is not just for married couples.
In some circles there seems to be an expectation that married couples are more responsible for showing hospitality than singles. I think it is easy for single people to believe they cannot show hospitality because they share an apartment with roommates, or they do not have enough furniture, or they cannot cook, and the list goes on. Now, this is a bit of an overgeneralization as I know both singles and married couples who are great at showing hospitality. There are some who are lacking in both camps as well. Simply put, hospitality is not convenient for anyone. Yes, it may seem like more work for those of us who share a place with roommates or only have camping chairs for furniture. And by work, I don’t mean frantically cleaning your house to prepare for people (except the bathroom… always clean the bathroom!) or preparing a feast. By work, I mean it takes effort to align schedules with busy people. And for singles, coordinating with roommates adds an extra layer to that, but that’s no excuse to neglect hospitality.
Hospitality is more than giving.
The hospitality conversation usually deals with inviting others into our homes, but I think there is another aspect. We not only give hospitality; we receive it — especially when ministering to diverse people groups. When it comes to many cultures, the highest expression of honor you can show people is to enter their home. We totally miss this in our culture, and this topic is worth a post all on its own. In fact, be on the lookout for that post, because it is coming.
So what to do?
First, actually invite someone over to your home. I have talked with several people who express a desire to show hospitality but are afraid they may inconvenience someone by asking them over. Personally, I think this stems from a fear of rejection that a lot of people experience. Let’s be clear— I have never known anyone to get mad because someone wants to hang out. People are busy, and it may take a little extra work to get something on the calendar, and that is ok. Ask, and then figure out the details.
Second, observe others who are really good at hospitality, especially those from places like the Middle East and West Africa where hospitality is a major part of their culture. Get to know a family in your city who may be from one of these cultures.Visit them, and observe how they serve you. Then do the same for them in your home. Many immigrants go years without being invited into an American home. Many are never invited. Showing hospitality to them can open up many doors to the gospel.
Finally, invite people over that you do not normally hang out with. This includes fellow church members, but it also includes the people in your community who need a gospel witness. That means actually knowing the nonbelievers that live around you (which is something I really struggle with). You can do this at the same time, by the way. Inviting people from your church and nonbelievers to your home at the same time allows you to both show hospitality to a “stranger” and work together in ministry with members of your church.
Photo By Andrew Kitzmiller