The Sending 5: Hospitality

Today, we wrap up this series where we have been discovering that we are missionaries to this world — ones who are sent with a mission, the same mission Jesus had — to preach God’s revolution!

"As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you." (Jesus)

Hospitality is hard to teach. Most churches believe they are friendly and welcoming. But what most churches mean is that they are friendly to one another (the insiders). And, for some churches, that’s not even true!

Bishop Middleton shared with us when she visited us a few weeks ago some "vital signs" of growing churches. One of those vital signs, she said, is: "A welcoming and open church committed to spreading their message of invitation."

Hospitality derives from a Latin word (hospitalitem) meaning, "friendliness to guests." Another definition is: "The friendly and generous treatment of guests or strangers." (Compact Oxford English Dictionary).

In the New Testament, the Greek word for hospitality (philoxenia) means "a love of strangers." In those days, strangers were synonymous with enemies. One way to destroy enemies is to kill them. Another way is to make them our friends. Hospitality does that.

"Some folks make you feel at home. Others make you wish you were." (Arnold H. Glasow)

When we go on vacation, we try to visit different churches to worship God, and to see what ministry is happening in other settings. So we’ve visited a number of churches in recent years. Last fall, we visited a church while on vacation. It was a fairly typical congregation, located in a touristy area, so you’d expect them to have a welcoming environment. However, I don’t recall anyone greeting us when we arrived. At the beginning of the service, though, the person opening the service asked visitors to introduce themselves (we didn’t!). There may have even been a "greeting time," but what I really remember is that outside of those so-called hospitality times, there was no hospitality shown!

We’ve also been in other settings where the people go out of their way to provide a welcoming environment. Depending on the size and context, that may include parking lot attendants, greeters at the entryways, greeters in the hallways, greeters at the entrances into the worship space, etc. Beyond that, several people smile, say "hi" on the way to your seat. You could argue, I suppose, "well, they have a bunch of people, so they can do that," but I’d argue, "they have a bunch of people because they do that, because they have a welcoming environment."

"Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling." (1 Peter 4.9)

Brian McLaren defined hospitality recently as, "Using my presence, and our space, to help ‘the other’ feel welcome in my presence and in the presence of our community."

Luke 10.38-42

This is a great story. Jesus was a guest in the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Mary and Martha had very different ways of showing hospitality: Martha, ironically had the "Martha Stewart" approach (perfect entertaining through hard work). Sure, there’s value in that, but Jesus points out that what is even more important is relationships! Just hanging out and spending time together.

Interestingly, but not coincidentally, this story about Mary and Martha follows another great story about hospitality. Jesus taught us to love our neighbor, to show mercy and to care for our neighbor. So, the religious person, the person who wants to please God, but just enough to get by at a minimum of inconvenience, wants to know "who is my neighbor?"

So Jesus tells a story to help us discover who our neighbor is: Luke 10.30-37

"Hospitality reaches out to people wherever they are and welcomes them as they are." (Swanson and Clement)

Practice Hospitality

"The ‘space-feel’ in a church — that intangible, tough to put your finger on ambiance — is the dominant attraction or repellent of people walking into your church for the first time." (Ron Martoia)

From the recent Hospitality Workshop with Diane Salter …

  • Hospitality is going to great effort to help the guest feel welcome.
  • Hospitality is treating the stranger as a friend.
  • Hospitality opens to us the opportunity for friendship and potential relationship between the host, the guest, and God.
  • The responsibility for hospitality is on the host.
  • The smaller the church, the more important invitation becomes:
  • 73% will come because they are invited by a friend (this number goes
  • up, the smaller a church is), whereas in the best of situation (larger churches) 27% will come on their own.

Treat "outsiders" as "insiders" (Deuteronomy 10.17-19; Ephesians 2.11-12; James 2.1-3)

  • Be friendly
  • Smile naturally
  • Initiate greetings (see yourself as a "hospitality host")
  • Introduce yourself ("Hi, I’m _______. It’s good to have you here today!")
  • Greeting time: greet people you don’t know, especially guests.
  • Offer information and guidance to guests, as necessary.

"Continue to love each other with true Christian love. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!" (Hebrews 13.1-2)

God, you have invited us to be in relationship with you, and for that we are so grateful. As your ambassadors, help us to extend  your invitation to others in our homes, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and throughout our community. And as people gather with us on Sunday mornings, or in small group settings, help us to offer an inviting and welcoming environment, because you love them! Amen.

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