[The following is a lesson outline for a Sunday School class at McIlwain Presbyterian Church]
Why do you think God so highly values hospitality?
(Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 5:10; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8; Luke 14:12-14; Leviticus 19:33-34; Isaiah 58:1-12)
What does the incarnation teach us about hospitality?
Jesus reaches out to those in need (John 3:16).
Jesus leaves the place of comfort (Phil 2:4-8).
Jesus eats with sinners (Mark 2:14-17).
The King invites people to His table (2 Samuel 9:13, Matthew 22, Rev 19:6-9). Indeed, He invites the lost to join His family.
Jesus dissolves long standing divisions through His death (Jews and Gentiles), thereby creating peace and table fellowship (Ephesians 2).
What is the point of showing hospitality? Why do it?
Rosaria Butterfield in an interview with Christianity today was asked:
“You advocate a kind of hospitality that steers clear of teacups and doilies. How does radically ordinary hospitality differ from what most people think of as “Southern hospitality?”
First of all, it is not entertainment. Hospitality is about meeting the stranger and welcoming that stranger to become a neighbor—and then knowing that neighbor well enough that, if by God’s power he allows for this, that neighbor becomes part of the family of God through repentance and belief. It has absolutely nothing to do with entertainment.
Entertainment is about impressing people and keeping them at arm’s length. Hospitality is about opening up your heart and your home, just as you are, and being willing to invite Jesus into the conversation, not to stop the conversation but to deepen it.
Hospitality is fundamentally an act of missional evangelism. And I wouldn’t know what to do with a doily if you gave it to me. I would probably wipe up cat mess with a doily.”
Do you tend to think of hospitality as an exhausting event where you have to make everything just right (the presentation, the food, the house, etc.)? Ladies, do you struggle with this? Why do you think so, if so?
Realistically, what does hospitality require of you?
Again, another question to Rosaria:
“Does fear play a role in believers avoiding hospitality?
It’s the fear that makes us feel like we’re not useful anymore—that the vocabulary has changed, and we don’t know how to talk to people. Or the fear that we’ll say the wrong thing. Or the fear of dining with sinners. I think the fear really is that we have nothing to offer, and so we might as well hunker down with our church community and draw up that moat and lock the door. But in that case, you will never see the power of the gospel to change the hearts, minds, and lives of the people who appear to be most outside the kingdom of God.
Reaction? Is there more to it than this?
Where does hospitality start at church? And beyond?
Beware the Black Hole of Time:
I’m not thinking about the people who get their keys out during the last song and scurry away immediately after the benediction (or maybe during!). Nor am I thinking about those individuals who only halfheartedly care about church, showing up maybe a couple times a year.
No. I have in mind those families or individuals who are actively looking for a church home. Perhaps they’ve recently moved. Or perhaps they’ve gained new convictions. Whatever the reason, they’re visiting your church, eager to settle down and call the people of the congregation their church family.
Forgive the nasty little phrase, but these folks are church shopping.
Now as you know, there are all kinds of reasons why people don’t stay. Some of the reasons are good. Some not so good. Fastidiousness is a real thing after all.
My fear is that we will lose people in the black hole of time.
Oh, yes, the black hole of time. This is that period of time following the service when the visitor is standing around awkwardly, knowing not a soul. As the church bustles about, clumped together in their familiar groups, catching up and fellowshipping, the new family nervously gathers their stuff, looks about the room and waits.
They’re hoping to be included.
Now here’s the truth. Lots of people do come up and say hello. Most churches are good at this. Oh, sure, there are a fair number of regulars who don’t pay them much attention, as they’re too focused on chatting with friends or getting some matter of church business in order. On the whole, however, the newcomers are warmly greeted.
But that’s not the real black hole of time. The real black hole occurs later. And it usually occurs at two different, but related moments. Do you know when?
People get sucked away and lost forever on the second or third or fourth visit immediately following a church service (and especially during any waiting periods- like before a fellowship meal).
This is the black hole of time. Initial hellos have been said. Handshakes have been exchanged. So everything is supposedly good now. The regulars can do their regular things, and the visitors are supposed to feel at home.
But they don’t feel at home. Not even a little. And when they’re forced to stand around while the regulars talk with perfect ease, or when the visitor consigns themselves to an empty table, not knowing what to expect, watching church life occur all around them, the temptation is to leave. To flee, actually. And never come back.
If you’ve been at the same church for years now, maybe you forget this feeling. But it’s real.
So if I may be so bold, let me encourage you to go out of your way to fill the black hole of time with warmth. Stay with the new people. Actively invite them to your table or sit down next to them. Go out of your comfort zone.
Can I say all that again? It is really quite important.
Stay with the new people. Be a good host. Take the time to hear their story and share yours. Ask good questions. Don’t leave them feeling awkward. And don’t wait too long to invite them to your house for a meal.
Hospitality and friendliness are powerful things. They can single-handedly close black holes.
The Simple, How-To Truth about Hospitality
(With respect to new people at church)
During various black holes of time, spend significant time getting to know new people. Aim to befriend. Aim to quickly hear their heart. Look to hear their story. Figure out their interests. Look for ways to connect with common interests.
If they seem at all happy to be talking with you, invite them over to your house for dinner.
If they are open to the suggestion, get their contact information and follow up that same day. Work out a time.
When they come over, be yourself. Invite them into your life, not a facade of a life.
If you are an introvert, work hard at asking questions. Extended silence is awkward. If you are an extrovert, work hard at asking questions (and listening). Don’t dominate like a Me Monster.
As Christians, you always have Christ in common. So at the most fundamental level, you have a world of common ground. Tap into it.
[Naturally, if you are a selfish, unpleasant, lukewarm Christian, hospitality is going to feel like a needless, unpalatable burden that does not need to happen in your life.]