Perhaps you’ve noticed, our culture is often evaluating church in a negative fashion. Church people are perceived as being hypocritical, looking very different in life expression than the claims from faith identity. And, in a related way, the church message is received as irrelevant, out of touch with the reality of how faith intersects our complex daily lives. What to do?
I say we start with hospitality. To do that, we have to agree on what hospitality is. God defines Himself as Love. For me, hospitality is showing God’s love to all people; not the least of which the stranger – in church, that would mean the first time visitor. I like how biblereasons.com defines hospitality; that it’s love in action, when someone feels at home in your presence.
The Bible is driven by this ministry to the stranger. From openbible.info, I easily and readily find examples. Here are just a few.
Hebrews 13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
1 Peter 4:9Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.
Matthew 25:34-46 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
Romans 12:13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Leviticus 19:34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
Luke 14:12-14 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Titus 1:8 Be hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.
The Bible is the story of God’s hospitality to us, undeserved as it is. We, in turn, offer the same ministry to others. We very quickly can move to Jesus’ emphasis on serving others, the first shall be last, turn the other cheek, even love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Every congregation says it’s “friendly.” But the vast majority are only friendly to their friends. Visitors walk in and out without a greeting or assistance in traversing the halls and worship. Our claim to friendly hospitality is the ultimate lie; a hypocrisy which must be addressed.
In the turnaround we did in the congregation where I’m a pastor, hospitality was the primary change. Don’t underestimate the power of this nor its required depth of transformation as a church culture. This is a fundamental change from the customer mentality of receiving services in exchange for personal support to a ministry which says the needs (and preferences!) of the first time visitor trump that of the church member.
I remember the profound day when it felt like we tipped the scales to where 51% of the congregation had made this discipleship transformation. I cherish the moment when one person who mightily struggled with this change commented to others around him that the most important thing to do on a Sunday morning at church was to greet a person he didn’t know.
We talk a lot about hospitality. Every church leader (and almost all members) will agree that hospitality is important with a Biblical foundation. But until we make a fearless inventory of our congregations concerning hospitality, we have nothing to build a ministry off of and no moral or faithful standing.
God is Love. Hospitality is Love in action, where people feel at home in your presence