So we have been talking about hospitality for a few weeks now and if you have stuck with me thanks! If you are just now joining, this is going to be a fun one. This week we are going to rock what you can do to be hospitable. Before that let’s do a quick review.
First, we asked where the party is in Christianity? The only law Jesus added was to feast to remember him. The feast is not a funeral feast, but a wedding feast. Check out the article linked here to find out what my wedding looked like. We looked into the prodigal son’s return and the party thrown by the Father in the story. The goal was for us to come home.
Second, we talked about being at home. The quote that captured this week came from Terry Smith. “To offer home, we must be at home.” The idea was to become a part of home. When you become a part of home it hurts. You get to find your true self which is often an uncomfortable process.
Now that you have come home. You have home to offer. Let’s discuss how to offer that home. It is all about the environment: the physical place and the one created by the people at your home. It is not about you. You are already at home, so creating a hospitable environment is not about you. It is about the people you are going to invite in. So, let’s dive in.
Let’s talk about the lesser important one of the two, but depending on who and where you are it can be either an idol or wholly overlooked.
Some people care too much about what other people think of their appearance. They focus so much on the outward appearance that they fail to get to the heart or people level. Outward appearance is important. I will talk about why in the next section. However, if you exist in the idolatry realm, the realm of the museum, then you have missed the point of home. While this can easily be seen by the plastic covered chairs, pristine carpet, and a house passing the white glove test, it also applies to the church.
Sometimes we make things too sacred. You can’t touch that, go there, or look behind the curtain. Off-limits is off-putting. Yes, there should be rules, but the whole experience shouldn’t be off-limits. Many of my denominational friends can attest to the off-limits inhospitality in the scenery or ritual. However, it can extend the other way. This church is to be clean, without blemish, or artwork.
We can champion the sterility of the church, but sterile means unable to give life or without life. Do you really want to sterilize the church? It wouldn’t be a hospitable place to any of us living people. It wouldn’t be hospitable to Jesus, who is alive himself. After all, the Christian God is a god of the living not a god of the dead. In any case, the over-commitment to the appearance of a home or church is a futile effort because it accomplishes the opposite of what you wanted. You clean or scare away the very people you invited in.Off-limits is off-putting. Click To Tweet
Now on the other end of the spectrum, there is the overlooked appearance. Mold is just as off-putting as sterility. I know because I just cleaned out our refrigerator, and I always hate how it smells both before and after. It needs to have that lived in kind of feel for me. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t clean the fridge because I definitely should. There has to be space to sit, eat, and converse comfortably in your home and at church. Piles of junk everywhere send the appearance that the invitation was given haphazardly. That you really don’t care about the people you invited.
Hopefully, the opposite is true. After all, you took the time to invite people. You should care about them. If you don’t, you are being inhospitable. Remember hospitality is not about you, it is about the people you invited.
What should appearance look like then?
Appearance should be pleasing. The goal is to breathe life into your guests. Hospitality does not focus on you. Do you expect your guest to move trash aside so they can be in your home? If Yahweh is the God of order, then our worship places should reflect Him. Yahweh is also the God of nature which contains much disorder. Thus our homes and churches should not be sterile. Our ultimate question then becomes what should appearance say about us and God who is the head of our family.
What does the appearance say?
Appearance tells people who church is for. Dark, brooding, filled with heavy-metal music? Then it might be for people who identify with those traits. Is it sterile, rule-oriented, lacking in art? Then it is not for the grungy artist who is rolling in off of an all-nighter creating a painting of Jesus still smelling of cigarette smoke and booze.
You see our appearance teaches people about what we expect from them. Do we make space for those who are not like us? Having been to churches around the country and the world, I would say churches mostly operate for those within their walls than those outside them. This communicates a simple and damning message. Church, and by extension Jesus, is for those that look like, talk like, and act like us. Jesus is not for you until you meet these requirements. This was the same pride of the Pharisees. So are we making a space that may not be hospitable for us to be hospitable to others? The question digs deeper into the feeling side of hospitality and it answers the question of who hospitality is for and perhaps why we have gotten it backward.Many churches subtly communicate, "Jesus is not for you until you meet these requirements." This was the same pride of the Pharisees. Click To Tweet
Who is it for? Seth Godin, in his book This Is Marketing, teaches that marketing should be the smallest viable audience and everyone else should be excluded. Eventually, when you continually reach the smallest viable audience, you ratchet things up and your influence and ability to make change increases. You must not forget that original audience because they are the audience enabling your influence expansion in the first place. This is a good strategy for a small-time entrepreneur or author/blogger such as myself. However, it is a terrible strategy for a church because we often get stuck with the smallest viable audience.
Churches often operate by capturing the smallest viable market. We capture the smallest viable audience to support a building, a preacher, maybe even an associate or youth pastor and then we coast. The reason we coast is that it is hard work to be hospitable enough to capture the smallest viable audience. Trust me, I have worked at it every day for the past 2 years. I still haven’t gotten there. I haven’t gotten there because I haven’t been hospitable enough to the right people. I haven’t narrowed my audience and then met their needs.
The Church Growth Pattern
Churches begin with great enthusiasm, hard work, and with a lot more people than my solopreneur life. The ratchet of growth turns faster and stronger with that many people excited and moving in the same direction. We achieve the smallest viable market. Then we stop focusing on finding the smallest viable market, and we focus on keeping the smallest viable market. We start being hospitable to ourselves and stop being hospitable to outsiders and it all comes down to feel. You can walk into a church and just feel where the hospitality is being directed. The question of who this is for is easily answered – it is for the members of this church, people who look like, act like, and talk like us. If you already do those things great! We would love to have you. If you don’t then you might be better served elsewhere.
The church world has gotten away with this because there are so many churches, and we were culturally forced to go to church for decades. But the exceptional churches, the growing churches today, take a different approach. They teach different hospitality, outward facing hospitality. Now you may disagree with the outward approach versus the inward hospitality most churches find common and easy. So let’s compare and contrast them. This becomes especially relevant if we look at church viability over the decades and centuries.Churches stop focusing on finding the smallest viable market, and we focus on keeping the smallest viable market. Click To Tweet
You should be hospitable to the people inside the church building. FULL STOP.
People in the church building need to be there. You need them, they need you, everybody needs everybody, so we should take care of and be hospitable to everyone inside the church. (Yes, I know that was a run-on. Deal with it.)
The problem arises when we solely focus on those inside the church. When we focus on our own comfort then we lose. We lose life, vibrancy, relevancy, and Christ. Think about it this way. We follow Christ, doing what he did, and does. Now answer this question. Is heaven more comfortable than earth? Is unity with the Trinity more comfortable than a worked at and disunity in human form? God so loved the world, He sent His son to die on a cross for us. Would it not be more comfortable to die of old age in a bed than flogged and then hung on a cross? Comfort is not our place. Rest might be, but seeking comfort puts up a wall between us and those who make us uncomfortable. A wall is not hospitable. A door can be.
An example of discomfort
Recently, I was having a conversation about what would happen if someone showed up at our church claiming and demonstrating miraculous signs and powers such as prophecy or healing. One of the leaders said, “I hope that doesn’t happen while I am on the board.” What he meant was that would be too difficult or too uncomfortable to handle and he wasn’t willing to lead through that type of challenge or see that kind of growth in the church community. It’s a lazy and comfortable approach. I don’t think I am so different.
Maybe that isn’t practical or long-envisioned enough for you. If you focus on your own comfort, here is what happens. Your kids and their kids become uncomfortable around you. It may not be so bad one generation down, but small annoyances grow over time and become unbearable. Pick the issue if the church isn’t innovating on it then in two generations those grandkids won’t be back.
You (I) weren’t willing to be uncomfortable and change for them. So, our churches die. All that work and effort and learning just disappear. The young ones reject it all because obviously, it leads to death. They just don’t know which parts led to death because no one does church autopsies. We leave before the death bell finally fails to ring. The churches die and collapse under the weight of its members attempting to remain comfortable. Ultimately, your hospitality towards yourself becomes inhospitable for those who aren’t you, even your grandkids.Churches die and collapse under the weight of its members attempting to remain comfortable. Click To Tweet
Outward hospitality is far more difficult and painful. As Christians, we are called to enter into that pain and suffering. FULL STOP.
Who is this church for? It is for its members, but really it’s for those trying to find Jesus. Members just happen to also be seeking Jesus. If they aren’t seeking Jesus, why are they Christians? Jesus lives here. That means that people look, act, and talk different from one another. Jesus isn’t for us. He is for everyone. If everyone isn’t at least represented at your church, then I would be suspicious of your church. Who is everyone? That question has to be answered by you. I like the approach Terry Smith takes in his book The Hospitable Leader. This next paragraph while not directly quoted is heavily influenced by his book The Hospitable Leader.
Everyone includes the stranger. Everyone can be a stranger to you: your son, daughter, the black man in a suit, the Hispanic in a hoodie, the liberal, the conservative, the Canadian, the Asian, the northerner, the southerner, the Midwesterner, the west coast person. You have to reflect and decide who is the stranger to you. Maybe it is the liberal southerner or the Hispanic conservative west coast person. I don’t know you, fill in the blank. Then be hospitable to them. Why? Because the Bible tells us they might be angels. Check out Hebrews 13:2. What does that practically mean? Let’s dive into Genesis.
Case Study: The Hospitality of Abraham
First, off if a practice survives from the Old Testament and makes it to the New Testament we should pay some extra attention to it. Hospitality is one such practice mentioned in Hebrews 13:2 but that scripture is referencing a story far older found in Genesis 18.
In the story, Abraham is just chilling under a tree one day and he happens to see some strangers headed his way. He immediately drops everything, almost coerces them to stay, then gets his wife the almost ancient Sarah, to start making some fresh bread while he heads out to slaughter and prepare a feast. He feeds the strangers and they head off, but not before leaving one of the most important messages of Abraham’s life. This time next year, when one of them returns, you will have a son.
So let’s imagine what happens if Abraham doesn’t hang out inside the tent; instead, he was resting on his pillows with his wife. He never sees the strangers, and he doesn’t feed them. He doesn’t get his message. Maybe, he waits years longer to receive that message again. Maybe he never receives that message. The opportunity loss is the nation of Israel.
But, Abraham was outside, prepared to offer hospitality and readily available to receive the stranger. He was focusing outside, not on inward comfort. How many churches never receive the message of new life and growth because we are focused inside the church, on our own comfort? A sobering question that might motivate us to start looking beyond our walls instead of inside them.How many churches never receive the message of new life and growth because we are focused inside the church, often on our own comfort? Click To Tweet
The Feeling of Inward Focus
Here is the feeling you give when you focus on yourself. You make everything about yourself. You even make hospitality for yourself. It becomes a way to show off how great you are. Increasing your power, status, and wealth is aggrandizement, not hospitality. Indeed, aggrandizement is only hospitable to you.
The clean church, with the correct product, with the people appropriately dressed and spoken, is an aggrandizement of its members. Because it isn’t for the people who are not their members. It makes much of us in the hopes that you would come be like us. But, Christ wasn’t like the Pharisees. Jesus wasn’t like the good church-folk. He did things differently and was criticized for partying with the non-church folk. He was hospitable to the people outside the kingdom of heaven, outside the church walls. Aggrandizement smells funny. Like fruit on the verge of being rotten or moldy bread. It disgusts us when we see it for what it is.
The Feeling of Outward Focus
The feeling of hospitality is of welcome. It is the hug of the father when he sees the prodigal returning home. Hospitality reeks of home. It tastes like church potluck with unhealthy buckets of fried chicken, delicious casseroles and freshly baked bread. It sounds like laughter. You know that laughter that is sometimes mixed with an ounce of pain, but it brings us home. The only way we can feed people and welcome them home is to be looking for them. It is to make space for them to be there. How you make space for them is up to who is the stranger to you. Maybe that is having a Spanish translator or changing music styles. Maybe that is inviting people into leadership that look radically different than you, but love Jesus with the same fervor. I leave you with this quote from Henri Nouwen,"It is possible for men and women and obligatory for Christians to offer an open and hospitable space where strangers can cast off their strangeness and become our fellow human beings." @henrinouwen Click To Tweet
Do you allow people to become fellow human beings? Hospitality is their space. You simply create it for them by giving up some of your space. Just like God created the Earth for us.
Tune in next week
Tune in on Thursday for some practical steps I take to create home for my son. There are things I do for my wife too, but I don’t feel very good at them because our house is currently under renovation. If you can’t check in Thursday, check in next week. There are two directions for me to take this and I am not sure which one will win out for next week. You can always join my email community and I will happily update you in your inbox. This month I sent out a pdf of my entire Grace Series, almost a short Ebook for free. I think my hospitality content has even more meat. You don’t want to miss any of it.
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Christian, stay-at-home dad, author, blogger, poet, and lay-theologian, Stick around for some fun dad stories and trying to answer the question, 'Why (not)?' and I love good stories.