Christian Hospitality Series
Welcome to the second to last week of the hospitality series. If you are just joining me, fret not. I will catch you up and provide links as we go. You can find all of the series beginning with these links here, here, and here. If you are looking for the Surviving SAHD (Stay-at-Home-Dad) bits, they are spread over these links here, here, and here. The question we explore today is: Is Christianity Hospitable to Christ?
Last week, we looked at providing hospitality. I gave you some practical steps in the Surviving SAHD article, but I also attempted to provide a mental framework earlier last week here. The key piece to that framework was that hospitality is not about you. When it becomes about you, your preferences, and how you look, it is not hospitality it is aggrandizement.
Also in that article, I noted how churches, over time, focus more on being hospitable to their members than those outside the church. Therefore, Churches have moved away from a piece of their mission of hospitality for the stranger to be exclusively hospitable to its members. This is the method by which churches have become aggrandizing. The focus inward is a response to the hard work it takes to grow the minimum viable audience to support a church, and members just get exhausted. I get it. However, this is not a church hospitable to Christ. The idea of attracting members and retaining them is not the essence of Christianity. It is a subversion of it. Let’s explore that idea.
Is Christianity Hospitable to Christ?
To answer the question of in the title of this article shortly, No. We aren’t being hospitable to God. Now the longer discussion.
I have been reading Letters to the Church by Francis Chan (link below). As I read the book, especially the second chapter, our inhospitality to God, Christ and the Holy Spirit jumped off the page to me. Chan doesn’t use the word inhospitable that was a connection made plain to me through the reading and writing of this series.
The link between our inhospitality to God and Chan’s writing is forged by the Church’s desire to focus on people instead of God. Many Churches, growing and healthy churches, focus on people, not God. As you re-read the first Chapter of Chan’s book, you can see the focus is subtly shifted from God to people, even in the noble, well-meaning, and sincere Cornerstone Church founded by Chan himself. Here is the shortlist of values for Cornerstone as stated by Chan. (Note: I do not know anyone from Cornerstone, and this is not meant to be a criticism of the many good works and hearts at that specific Church. I have experienced similar beginnings and sincere hearts across the country. So, it helps to signify the larger context and experience of the American Church. )
- I wanted all of us to sing directly to God.
- I wanted all of us to really hear the Word of God.
- I wanted all of us to live holy lives.
All of these are good and excellent things. But we can break this down in several ways to expose the true focus as man, not God. I prefer the linguistic approach because it allows for a more methodical breakdown (pst… nerdy). I am not doing this to call names or point fingers at anyone including the author Francis Chan who I have the utmost respect for. If there is any finger pointing, that finger points at me, and perhaps you will find your finger pointing at your own self too.
The Language Nerd Breakdown
The subject of these statements is “I.” It isn’t God. The “I” is Francis Chan. This is a tough beginning because the subject is the thing of greatest importance in each sentence. The sentence revolves around the subject. Now, please understand that I am not calling Francis Chan arrogant. I am attempting to expose what many of us, myself included, do so well intentioned. We make the subject of what we are going to do for God ourselves.
Next, the verb drives at the desire. It is neither command nor reference to God but rather refers to the desires of the subject. It makes a little room for the direct object but allows for the subject to retain the focus.
The direct object is where it really hurts. It shows the focus is not just on the subject. The focus widens to humanity, “us.” It is humanity that garners secondary importance, not God. It is so easy for church leaders to fall into this trap. They make the subject the people they serve, but that’s the funny thing, church leaders don’t serve people. They serve God, and “people service” is a by-product of serving God.Church leaders don’t serve people. They serve God, and “people service” is a by-product of serving God. Click To Tweet
The slightest of twists
Do you see how easily, how subtle, the twisting occurs? The subject, verb and direct object of each wonderfully crafted and sincere statement of faith just forgets to include God. Indeed, God is relegated to an adverbial clause in only the first statement. God’s Word makes an appearance in the second, but God’s Word, Holy and awesome as it is, is like settling for reading or watching an epic tale rather than living it. God doesn’t even make an appearance in the third statement.
Everything done is these statements should happen. They are excellent things. They just have the wrong subject. The subject and even the direct object is humanity. So our focus is on humanity, and this focus is not hospitable to God. Our focus deserves to be and has been earned by God. God is the subject. Let me give you an example of a counterpoint.
Kevin Queen’s Perspective
Kevin Queen, the pastor of Cross Point Church, in a podcast I heard recently spoke the opposite in this way. Before becoming pastor of Cross Point, Queen’s mindset was to do great things for God. Again, Queen was the subject doing the great thing, and God was receiving the great thing as the indirect object. Queen goes on to say that one day it was revealed to him the destructiveness of this mindset. So, he set out to change it. This is what Queen came up with.
Original: I want to do great things for God.
New: I want to do things for a Great God.
This is better because while Queen is still the subject he shifts the focus by the use of a modifier in the prepositional phrase. The clause gains greater weight. Upon reflecting on the statement, I changed it just a little more.
“I want to do things with a Great God.”
This brings God into the subject realm further. Suggesting without God I cannot do these things, or these things would have lesser importance or effect. That is still not enough. God is the subject of this version.“God does great things with me.” Click To Tweet
In this case, I am finally relegated to the indirect object. I am neither the subject nor the primary objective. I am the bystander whom God could and would use if I just got out of God’s way. w
It’s not about us
We are not the subject. When we are not the subject, then we are being hospitable to God. Being the indirect object allows our language to flow around and through us by using maintaining our status in the prepositional phrases. We are still important just not the main thing. We really aren’t even the secondary thing. What if we reviewed church and Christianity to make more of God than Christians? How does that work? What can that look like? Well, let’s revisit Chan’s trio of statements.
- God commands us to sing directly with Him. (cf. Bible, Eph 5:18-21, Col 3:16)
- God wants to teach us His Word. (Matt 4:4)
- God is holy, so we must be holy. (1 Peter 1:16)
It was difficult to reword it. It is unnatural, which might be the best argument for it. God repeatedly attempts to dissuade us from using our own judgment, or natural thought. He tries to get us to think unnaturally, using “God logic.” Don’t be confused because God wants us to think and to delve and explore all the mysteries of the world and the mysteries of God himself. It just isn’t the best idea to trust ourselves to get there. If humans are the focus, something is off in our Christian mission.
It is interesting to me that many, if not all of the types of churches you might hear get thrown around have this human-centeredness. Perhaps, that is why the church is declining. Our focus has been on people for so long that we don’t even know how to focus on God anymore.
Church Model Breakdown
Think about the major church archetypes, attractional, missional, charismatic, or other.
Attractional is all about making Jesus more plain or attractive to non-believers. The goal of the model is to attract people to church. Perhaps they have better music, or perhaps they have better preaching. Regardless, their goal is to attract non- or new believers to church and make Jesus as plain and palatable for their lives. The problem is Jesus isn’t attractive. God definitely isn’t attractive to many, and so that leaves attractional churches left trying to wow people with lights, effects, and other talents. God doesn’t need us to lure people to him. In fact, the only way to lure people to put Him at the center and just worship. Scheming doesn’t help God. Trust me, I spend way too much time scheming.The problem is, Jesus isn't attractive. God definitely isn’t attractive to many, and so that leaves attractional churches left trying to wow people with lights, effects, and other talents. cf. Isa 53:1-3 Click To Tweet
Missional is all about going to the lost. “We don’t expect you to come to us. We are coming to you!” This is the same problem as the attractional as it ultimately doesn’t focus on God. It focuses on the lost and activating the faithful, which is hopefully out of reverence for the Lord but can easily get sidetracked.
Charismatic is an interesting case because the focus is supposed to be on God, but at least the churches I have read about or visited, they seem to be closer to the self-aggrandizement trap that we can all fall into. They make much of those with the power of the Holy Spirit rather than making much of the Holy Spirit.
The heading of other covers everyone else. Other churches tend to be a mix and match of attractional, missional, and charismatic. Thus they exhibit the struggles and successes of the other models in unique ways. Still, the focus on God would appear to be lacking despite the best of intentions and sincerest of hearts.
What’s the answer?
So what are we to do? Throw out all the models and stop trying to reach people? What is the next step? How do we become hospitable to God? How do we place the Almighty Lord of Heavenly Hosts at the center of our churches?
An answer comes from Chan in his book Letters To The Church. Not content to simply reflect on the problems of his past Chan offers us a call to return to the Bible. Chan answers from the place of smaller gatherings in homes where people know and love each other far more intimately. Now, don’t misunderstand him. Chan condemns no one from the megachurch rather he returns to the New Testament where Christians behaved much more like a family rather than a corporation or industry.
The breakdown comes from culture. Our society breaks families. It encourages the entrepreneurial daughter to travel to college far away and start a new life. It is good for capitalism because her somewhat foreign ideas enter a new marketplace and she is successful and can therefore never return home. Our society undermines the importance of mom and Dad as often as possible for the sake of individualism. We can even look as far back into our history as slavery to see this breakdown because slavers would routinely separate black families. They ensured compliance and compatibility by breaking up the most basic unit of culture. All this familial destruction has seeped into the church.The breakdown of hospitality is directly related to the breakdown of the family unit. Click To Tweet
My Family, My Home
I know there are women who diapered me at my church, but I don’t know who or which ones or more importantly how they are related to me now. They served me when I was a whining fussy baby; however, because we don’t tell those stories because we don’t have the opportunity for that type of fellowship, and I miss it. They miss it. Those who come in later miss it.
We all take that service for granted, and now instead of family, we have people who do religion together on Sundays and occasionally Wednesday night. We aren’t gathered around the dinner table regaling people of how I used to gallop around the church like a horse, or how everyone hid from me for over an hour playing sardines (hiding in the window sills). The fun and family is lost because we go our separate ways, people grow up, they move on or out, and we are left without the most important family of all our Christian family.
The Wide-Reaching Effects
The lack of family in Christianity affects everything we do. For example, evangelism gets a lot harder when we don’t tell stories about how Mike reached out to AT under the luminescent red Radioshack sign, and it was so awkward that it actually worked. Now, AT preaches at another church, but could you believe that the way he asked him to church actually worked?! It had to God working that night.
Family storytelling makes the gifts of the spirit far more accessible when we actually talk about using them and failing. Living a holy life changes from being something you do to something being done to you and through you by God. God becomes the focal point when we get the chance to focus on one another, not on the transmission of information or worshipping of the music. It comes from family. The focus on family pushes against our very culture and internal beings. Fortunately, God provided more than just a place to oppose our culture of production, but a time to do it. For now, think about how to engage your church family, like a family reunion, every week.God becomes the focal point when we get the chance to focus on one another, not on the transmission of information or worshipping of the music. Click To Tweet
Tune In Next Week
So, I know that might not be practical enough for you, so you will have to tune in next week. I am going to give you one of God’s key devices to build family, and it subverts everything most of us believe in. Sign up here for email notifications. If you are more interested in my journey to Survive being a Stay-at-Home Dad, I write up a shorter post for every Thursday. See you next time.
Think about being Hospitable to God.
P.S. Francis Chan’s book, Letters to the Church provides an excellent, humble critique and continuation of this subject matter. He also seeks to extend the invitation to return to Biblical Christianity which is far more exciting than what many churches do currently. Here is the link again.