October 29, 2012

Hospitality: Our Joy and Opportunity

There are many things that set Christians apart from their surrounding culture. Not all of these differences are welcomed differences by the culture, but there is one that both sets us apart and is received by the culture with refreshing gladness: hospitality.
I have found hospitality to be the essential ingredient in church planting. Church services? Perhaps they will come, perhaps not. But to our home for dinner? Always, and with surprise and appreciation too.

I cheered when I read a recent blog post at Desiring God on the importance of hospitality. In the article, a respected church planting strategist said that hospitality will be the key to evangelism in the 21st century, and I whole-heartedly agree. Why? Because hospitality breaks through the multi-layered barriers that the Western culture especially erects: physical barriers that keep us apart, almost hibernating in our homes; emotional barriers of isolation, individualism, independence, and loneliness; and spiritual barriers that avoid any heart-felt conversation or disclosure of needs. Hospitality, if done well, promotes physical togetherness, relationships, and spiritual community.

Hospitality is our joy and opportunity. By inviting people into our homes and our hearts, we depict our own spiritual aliveness and togetherness: where we once were alienated from God, now we are reconciled; were once our relationships were broken by sin, now they have been made whole by grace and forgiveness. Hospitality practiced by Christ-followers invites the gospel and its healing components.

I am amazed at the reactions I get when I invite people that I have just met into our home: surprise, delight, gratefulness. One woman said, "I have lived here for many years, and my family has never been invited into someone else's home." This is saddening to me, but it also displays the powerful opportunity we have as believers to impact lives through simple meals and warm conversation.

And it is not reserved for outsiders only. Hospitality also strengthens the church and invites friendship. So many women--I cannot begin to name how many--tell me of their loneliness. But upon further discussion, I discover that they are rarely initiating fellowship with anyone. They are living as if they are alienated when in reality they aren't and don't have to

Why are we not practicing hospitality more? I know why, and so do you. We are afraid, and we wait for others, and we make all varieties of excuses. Our homes, however small or large, can be used for life-altering purposes, yet we only think of our mismatched plates or our marital status.

I'm not saying these things because I am a joyful hostess at all times, because I have all the right decor, or because I am a gourmet cook. I say these things because I have discovered that hospitality is a simple way of blessing others, a simple way of building relationships that lead to spiritual changes. I reflect often on this passage from Walter Henrichsen's Disciples Are Made Not Born:

When you pour out your life into the lives of others, when you share with them the unsearchable riches of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and become involved with them in their concerns, you become God’s co-laborer in a creation far greater than the first one.
Yet people turn down this opportunity day after day. A man who wanted to help some other men begin in Bible study once asked if I would help him get started. Because the men involved all had busy schedules, we decided to meet at 5 am on a weekly basis in my friend’s home.
The evening prior to the first meeting, I stopped by his home with the Bible study materials to see how plans were developing. When I walked into the house, I immediately sensed that something was wrong; I could have cut the air with a knife, it was so thick. His wife was present, and before long she pointed out that she did not want those men coming and sitting on her furniture, spilling coffee and doughnut crumbs on her carpet. Furthermore, 5 am was a ridiculous hour, and why should the rest of the family wake up just so these men could do Bible study. Her voice began to quiver, tears came down her cheeks, and she began to tremble, so deeply involved was she in the issue.
As I listened to her, I prayed silently, “O God, deliver me from the curse of ever believing that my living room furniture is more important than people.”
Are not people’s lives of infinitely more value than the furniture and carpet which God has already promised He is going to burn? 

I say these things because people are the goal of hospitality and God is the recipient. And I say these things because I want the joy of hospitality for you as well.

This is the first in a series of posts on hospitality. At the end of the series, on November 7th, I will host a link-up to share hospitality tips and ideas. If you would like to participate, begin planning your blog post now. I will share more information as the date draws nearer. I can't wait to see and read all your wonderful ideas!