In this post, #coffeehousejesus, we are going to discuss hospitality as well as our responsibility and obligation to be hospitable. Although we will be talking about hospitality teams in church culture, this goes beyond that even and into the fiber of our very lives themselves. Hospitality is who Christ is, His very nature is to be hospitable, and though some may be more gifted in being naturally hospitable it is a trait that we should all practice; we’ll cover that more later on in this post.
Before we can begin we need to ask ourselves, “What is hospitality?” We all have at least a basic understanding of what it is— being a smiling face to those who enter our church, making sure that guests feel welcomed, sharing a cup of coffee in the sanctuary or the coffee shop, and the like— but there is far more to hospitality than what goes on within the walls of our church, in fact, it extends into our lives outside of the church in a very important way.
My hope is that we are able to more deeply discover what hospitality is in its fullness, how it applies to our time at church, and more importantly what it means to our lives and the lives of others.
So let’s answer that first question, what exactly is hospitality? Well, the definition itself is quite simple:
noun- The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers
adjective- relating to or denoting the business of housing or entertaining visitors
As I said before, however, there is much more to hospitality than this and defining it as a child of God cannot come from a simple Webster’s Dictionary definition. If we look to the bible we can see that the Lord, and those He inspired by the Holy Spirit to write it, did a magnificent job of expressing exactly what hospitality is and what it looks like; going even beyond what we define it as, yet not losing the simplicity of the thing.
We can find a wonderful example of hospitality in the book of Isaiah and, although in this chapter we find Isaiah discussing the Lord’s will for a fast, it paints a beautiful picture of what a hospitable heart looks like. In fact, if we ask ourselves that question, we will find that this particular scripture answers it quite well.
What is hospitality?
“Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from [ignore] your own flesh?” – Isaiah 58:7
Don’t misunderstand me, I do not mean to take away from the importance of this scripture concerning God’s heart for fasting rather to add to it! Personally, I find it no coincidence that the Lord expresses this as an acceptable way to fast; removing the focus from ourselves to “break the chains of wickedness, to untie the ropes of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and to tear off every yoke…” [Isaiah 58:6] To be honest it makes sense that something like a hospitable heart is so important to even fasting, because it mimics the Lord’s heart for us, but I digress. This even extends beyond the concept of fasting and into that of sharing a meal, and there are many times in the Word where we see the importance of that concept.
My point is this: in biblical hospitality there is a pattern of intimacy, fellowship, support, and love. This can be in a fast or surrounding the concept of sharing a meal. Sharing a meal, in the biblical context, represents sharing life. This was a very intimate and personal gesture.
[Side Note: This is why John rebuked some for welcoming heretics into their home (1 John, 2 John), because this was seen as an affirmation of the teachings of the person that they had welcomed into their home; to share a meal with someone is to share life with them, and we must be careful to use that gesture to minister the love of Christ ad not to condone the teachings of heretics] Sharing a meal, again in the biblical context, is much more than just utilitarian. Mealtime customs in Jewish/Eastern culture express social, cultural, deeply symbolic and spiritual ideas.
With this knowledge, we can surmise that the image of biblical hospitality is one in which we welcome and fellowship with believers and non-believers alike out of truth and love for Christ so they may see Him more clearly.
Hospitality in the Early and Modern Church:
The early church took hold of the responsibility given to them and gave widows and orphans homes and support, helped the homeless and the unemployed, brought dinners to those in need, helped to restore those who were broken, and so much more. Hospitality was not just a thing that some were more gifted in than others, it was a culture and a lifestyle that all of them partook in. Everything that they did to and for others was centered around the concept of being hospitable.
In a culture of hospitality everyone serves. God’s two greatest commands are to “love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all your strength, and with all of your mind,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” Hospitality is how we show that love.
Isaiah 58:7 is a perfect example of this, and it should be done without complaining. What love is shown if we complain about our service to others? Rather, we should be “hospitable without grumbling,” [1 Peter 4:8-9] as this is the nature of Christ.
This also applies to strangers, and not only to those we know personally, as Leviticus 19:34 says “you must regard the foreigner who lives with you as the native-born among you. You are to love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt; I am Yahweh your God.” Although this is an OT scripture, we must still approach hospitality in this manner because Christ did the same for us when we were still sinners. We should extend the same love and kindness to strangers as we do to our own family and friends.
[Matthew 25:42-46] addresses this quite simply, it is the joy of the righteous to be hospitable.
Hospitality is more than just smiling and being nice. It is more than waiting for God to bless us so that we can bless others, rather when we give what we have— regardless of whether or not we have enough for ourselves— God is pleased. This is a true showing of the love of Christ, sacrificing what we have for the sake of those in need even if it costs us… Just like Martha gave the best of what she had with no fear of losing it, and despite what it cost. [Luke 10:38-42] In fact, the book of Hebrews addresses this directly, [Hebrews 13:16] saying “do not neglect to do good and share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
A good example of what this looks like can be found in the book of Leviticus which says, “You shall not strip your vineyards bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and the sojourner (someone who resides temporarily in a place). I am the Lord your God.” [Leviticus 19:10]
Christian hospitality is not about glamorous table settings, platters, or picture perfect food. It isn’t about getting the perfect Instagram photo, or likes. It isn’t about being seen or noticed, or even being seen as hospitable. Christian hospitality is about practicing servant-hood, genuinely loving others through Christ, and showing the nature of Christ; which should also be the nature of His followers
3 Factors of Success in Church Hospitality:
1. It is not defined by numbers!
– Focusing on entertaining to increase numbers, or for any other reason, over creating an encounter with the love of Jesus is dangerous. It produces numbers, not disciples.2. It can be defined by sharing stories, or keeping track of the amount of stories that are shared.
– Success stories, or wins, are not created without first cultivating an environment of close and personal relationship. You can’t share the stories of people you don’t know.
3. There is success even if they don’t return.
– Even if they choose a different church, hospitality can be what keeps someone going at all. Feeling welcomed and included could inspire someone who hasn’t been to church in years, or has never been, to keep going– even if it is at a different church– and this is a win.
Do we truly welcome people or do we simply open doors, point to parking spaces, hand a coffee, etc.?
Hospitality teams serve more than just a utilitarian purpose, in fact if not handled properly utilitarianism tends to overlook the one for the sake of the many which is not the heart of Christ; who leaves the 99 for the one.
Though system and process, usefulness and practicality are important there is much more to hospitality than just standing at the door and saying hello. Although some facets of hospitality teams are designed to be utilitarian to some degree, offering useful and practical methods rather than attractive methods, we cannot overemphasize the usefulness or practicality of certain aspects to the point that we lose the factor of attraction; we won’t draw people in if it does not appeal to them. We know that the love of Christ is very appealing, but we cannot neglect to show that to those who do not know for the sake of practicality and usefulness. Systems and processes are important but they can’t replace genuine love and kindness, though they can add value to these things.
As Danny Franks said, “Hospitality is a signpost to the Gospel… It should ultimately point to the kindness of Jesus.”
Hospitality teams, of any kind, are the first “face” of our church that anyone interacts with. We should be making sure that it is one that embodies the kindness, generosity, affection, and love of Christ.
Having a culture of hospitality is vital to any organization but, as the church, we should be leading the charge in defining what hospitality truly is and what it looks like. If the success of a business can be improved or demolished simply based upon how customers are treated, how is the church any different? People won’t return to a business that treats them poorly or makes them feel unwelcome, unimportant, or as though they are not valued; if this is true, then why would they return to a church that doesn’t? I mean, it is after all in the very nature of Christ to treat others with love and kindness, welcome them in, and show them their value.
Dee Ann Turner, Vice President of Sustainability for Chik-fil-A, says it wonderfully in her book It’s My Pleasure: The Impact of Extraordinary Talent and a Compelling Culture, stating that “Culture is the soul of the organization. It is the way that we envision, engage, and experience others… living life together… Creating a strong, compelling culture requires intentionality and vision.”
Creating a strong and compelling culture requires intentionality and vision. Are we intentional and do we have vision? If so, how do they apply to the culture that we are trying to create? Remember, hospitality is an important and invaluable part of the culture of the church and we would be remiss to treat it as though it is not.
Taking the time to sit down as a team and cover this topic— sitting down with your teams and/or creating a team to cover this topic is essential— and asking vital questions is imperative to any organization and especially to the church. We can’t be afraid of hard questions, especially those that help us to narrow down and eventually define what our purpose is and how to achieve it.
Questions to Ask Ourselves and Teams:
– WHY are we doing this?
– WHAT, as a Team, are our Core Values?
– WHAT principles guide us a Team?
We should take the time to determine whether we are simply here to shake hands, hug necks, hand off beverages, point to the restrooms, take up money, direct to parking spaces, and open doors, or if we are here to create a culture that expresses the love of God; one that extends beyond the doors of our church.
There are, of course, some things that it may appear as though could hinder the development of a culture of hospitality but this should not keep us in fear of practicing it! For instance, say that you attend a church that uses a Spiritual Gifts test to help people discover their gifts and a very small number score highly in the gift of hospitality. How can you have a successful culture of hospitality if only a few even score reasonably on that particular gift?
We have to be careful here because treating hospitality as though it is only a spiritual gift robs those who may not score highly of the opportunity to develop in it. Likewise, limiting our teams because some “are not as gifted” in hospitality is, I would say, equally as dangerous as neglecting to discuss it altogether. Some are naturally gifted in hospitality but hospitality itself is in the nature of all of us because it is the nature of Christ. Though some are more gifted in it than others, as Christians we all have a predisposition to hospitality. [Romans 12:13] encourages us all to practice hospitality, whether or not it is our spiritual gift.
Hospitality itself comes from the Greek word philozenia which implies affection toward strangers.
– zenos, meaning stranger
Although some may be more inclined to hospitality, we are all called and commanded to be affectionate; a literal showing of the love of God, acted out toward others. Going back to the depth of meaning and symbolism involved in sharing a meal, Christian hospitality is quite literally a sharing of life and affection toward anyone that we meet. I firmly believe that instead of telling someone they may not be gifted in hospitality, but rather encouraging them to simply live the love of Christ will help them to develop in hospitality. After all, the two greatest commands that Christ gave revolved around this concept.We can say that hospitality is the love and affection of Christ expressed outwardly, living it, but to place a definition on hospitality alone without learning to apply it takes away from the thing itself. We should be a people that not only welcome in the lost, hurt, broken, poor, hungry, naked, homeless, and jobless but we should be a people whose very lives reflect the heart of Christ toward all others and that is hospitality in its purest form.
Beloved, I pray that this has blessed you and encouraged you in some way! I truly look forward to discussing this topic more in the future! God bless you all, and grace and peace to each of you!