I have, over the past week, been involved with interviews of young women who are interested in joining our ministry staff. We have interviewed five and I found it quite interesting, and encouraging, that three of them specifically mentioned hospitality as something they believe is integral to ministry.
It is encouraging because, while hospitality was a major focus in the early Church, it is much less so among American Christians. Our fellowship typically occurs in church buildings, restaurants, and coffee shops. Our homes are more akin to our private getaways, or even fortresses to which we seek our privacy. Even very generous believers will be willing to put people up in a hotel or Airbnb, but are reluctant to open their homes. We are a culture that values alone time and convenience, thus, we often believe that it suits everyone better if our homes are kept off-limits.
A number of years ago when my wife and I were looking for a new home in town, we found one we really thought we would like. It had three bedrooms, a large living room, a sunroom, a large kitchen and dining area, and a nice deck. When we walked through it with our realtor, also a friend, he thought it was way too much house for a couple with no children. He even wrote me a long email the next day attempting to talk us out of considering it. Long story short, we bought it because it was perfect for us. No, we didn’t have any children or grandchildren to come visit, but we did have 30-40 college students that we considered our “kids.”
It was the perfect house to host them, and host we did. Every week, these students came to our house for a meal and authentic Christian fellowship, where we ate, sang praises, read Scripture, and prayed. So many said this was one, if not the, favorite part of being involved in our ministry. They loved being in a home as opposed to a dorm room or student apartment. They loved being treated as part of our family, including helping with cooking and cleaning up. Of course, the pandemic brought this hospitality to an abrupt end in March 2020, and we have yet to resume it.
We also had a student each year live with us. They rented a room, but the house was theirs to use, including the kitchen and laundry room. They also joined us for some meals and we often sat in our living room and just talked. We have also invited students and both believing and unbelieving friends and neighbors to our home for holiday meals, particularly Thanksgiving and Easter when many have no place to go, particularly internationals who are unfamiliar with these holidays. We have had students spend some of the academic breaks with us because their home life is not good or they live too far away to go home.
Our hearts have ached often that we have had so few people in our home over the past year. And I know the students and our friends have missed coming over as well. This “down time” has made us realize how much we value hospitality and want to resume showing it. And we truly believe it is a ministry that American believers need to resuscitate as common practice for both a witness to unbelievers and an encouragement to believers. Take a look at the following Scriptures to see how important hospitality was for Jesus, the Apostles, and the early Church as a whole: Matthew 9:9-13; Luke 19:1-10; John 12:1-3; Luke 24:33-49; Acts 2:46-47; Acts 10.
These are wonderful examples of hospitality being at the heart of ministry. And then there is the command: “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:13) It was first given to the Roman believers, but I believe it is to us as well. For good reason. Lives were literally changed by hospitality in the 1st Century.
Like so many things Jesus calls us to, hospitality can be costly in monetary terms as well as an inconvenience, but it is such a blessing to both the giver and the receiver. I remember many times in my travels abroad of believers showing generous hospitality. Refreshing drinks on a hot day in Haiti and Costa Rica; sleeping in a bed in rural Hungary while the family slept on straw in their barn; eating a freshly roasted goat in a Maasai village in Kenya, and, just before the pandemic, being invited to stay in the home of the Austrian parents of an international student we had met on campus. By the way, this was the week of his wedding and other family members were at the house as well. What a blessing to experience these demonstrations of hospitality.
Restaurants, coffee shops, and hotels/Airbnb’s are fine and, up until the pandemic, I made great use of them, but I hope that as we come out of this pandemic we will reassess the lack of practicing true hospitality in the American Church. I do not believe it was merely a matter of the culture for the early Christians. I think they realized from their Lord that it was an essential part of ministry and practiced it passionately. This is why I am so encouraged to hear potential members of our staff speak and live in similar ways. It is exactly what we need following a year of isolation and loneliness if we want to do effective and transforming ministry.
© Jim Musser 2021 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.