Christians are expected to extend hospitality to each other. Followers of Jesus are commanded to “bear one another’s burdens” and to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Fulfilling those commands requires a level of relationship that hospitality helps to foster. It’s no wonder that I Peter 4:9 gives the explicit command to “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
During his earthly ministry, Jesus selflessly demonstrated acts of hospitality, most notably the washing of his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. The washing of their feet was more than a pragmatic act of hygiene. It was a visible demonstration of King Jesus’ love for those whom the Father had given him. That love is what took him to the cross to suffer the punishment for our sins. And it’s that love that will bring him back to fully and finally claim his inheritance. Beyond just caring for the needs of each other, which is important, the selfless hospitality that we demonstrate toward our church family is a visible sign to the world that we are Jesus’ inheritance.
Most Christians recognize the important role of hospitality in the life of the church. In fact, I don’t know a single brother or sister in Christ who would argue otherwise. However, I do know many Christians who bemoan the lack of hospitality in their church. At the onset, I want to point out that if you believe your church is lacking in the hospitality department, you should do something to change that.
Whatever problems your church has, and all churches have problems, those problems are your problems, too. Within the life of the church, there should be no us versus them. It’s not “they don’t demonstrate hospitality.” Instead, it’s “we don’t demonstrate hospitality as well as we should.” And if that’s true of your church, lead the way in changing it.
Whenever I encourage those who complain about their church’s lack of hospitality to lead the way in changing it, I’m frequently told, “that’s easier said than done.” To that, I reply, “Not really.” In fact, it’s quite easy to change the culture of your church by leading the way in demonstrating hospitality. All it takes is to begin inviting people over to your house on a regular basis.
My wife and I often host large groups of people at our house. And by “often” I mean a couple times a week most weeks. The thing is, we do not possess some extra helping of the hospitality gene that makes us extra hospitable (to be frank, not being a scientist means that I can’t claim with any amount of certainty that such a thing as a hospitality gene even exists). Like most people, we enjoy hanging out with friends, talking, laughing, and eating delicious food. However, we’ve learned that enjoying hanging out with friends on a regular basis requires us to open up our home. For many, the opening up of their home is seemingly the hard part. Except, it isn’t even close to being hard at all.
To help make opening up your home easier, first, go through your house and discard any books written by Emily Post. Likewise, if you attended finishing school, ignore almost everything that you were taught about etiquette. You see, much of what’s considered proper manners and social etiquette is a holdover from the Victorian Era.
For Victorians, appearance was all important. What people thought of you ruled your ethics, including your etiquette. An individual’s manners indicated a person’s social standing and wealth. In other words, etiquette and manners were self-serving. The rules and manners expected of a proper host were not intended to create an enjoyable experience for the guest; they were created so that the host could show off.
But to be considered truly hospitable, the needs and desires of the guests should come first. Emily Post’s rules of etiquette are not going to help you be considered a hospitable person.
Following Jesus’ lead, putting others first should be the first rule of hospitality. That means what your friends and church family think about your cleaning and decorating skills is not important. Obviously, some level of cleanliness is needed so as not to gross people out. That being said, the vast majority of people are not going to notice that your furniture is dusty, and they won’t care if they do notice.
Likewise, no one cares if your place setting is matching or not, much less where you place the fork. In fact, you can serve the food on paper plates and have your guests select a plastic fork out of a tin can and most people aren’t going to care.
One important way to ensure that you are hospitable in a way that puts your guests first is to make sure you’re serving food they like. Proving your prowess as a chef is not the point of being hospitable. So if the majority of your guests prefer hotdogs over organic seaweed spaghetti, then serve hotdogs. Along those lines, my wife and I generally ask if our guests have any food allergies or foods that they dislike before deciding what to serve. If, for some reason, we serve something that someone doesn’t like, we will not be offended if that person orders a pizza to be delivered to our house. We want our guests to enjoy themselves; the food served should help accomplish that.
Reflecting Jesus, serving others should be the overriding principle for hospitality. The great thing is that putting others first —over what they think about your house, cooking skills, etc. — actually takes most of the pressure off when demonstrating hospitality, which, it turns out, is not difficult.