I thought I knew what hospitality was.
What I really knew was dinner parties and game nights. Of course, these things are a form of hospitality, but they aren’t the bread and butter of it. They meet a need of relaxation and fellowship, but I have learned that they aren’t the heart of hospitality.
I love hosting people. I love gathering people around food and conversation. I intentionally rent an apartment with an additional bedroom in order to have an open door to those in any need.
As I survey my upbringing, hospitality was a pretty normal part early on, but as we kids grew older, it faded into the background. I remember hosting missionaries on furlough, pastors, friends, and other informal gatherings. Further, given the proximity of family, we were frequently at each other’s houses – the richest time of those gatherings was when we gathered around the piano to sing from the hymnal.
One of my chief goals for next year is to increase my ordinary hospitality. The day-to-day nurturing of people and relationships. I desire that this practice be endemic to my life.
The purpose of hospitality is not simply to fill the home with people and eat together. Nor is it a sneaky evangelism tactic. Rather, it is an open invitation to gather, fellowship, work through the highs and lows of life, and seek the Lord through Scripture and prayer. Further, as the Lord occasions, unbelievers come in contact with believers in an unusual way. Conversation around the table is far more dynamic than arguing on the street. Here, in a personal, warm, and inviting way, the love of Christ can be made manifest.
In addition to experience and various articles on the matter, a book was recently published by Rosaria Butterfield on this very area. If you have not read her previous writings regarding how God saved her out of lesbianism, I highly recommend that you do so; I won’t rob you of the joy that comes from reading her works. (The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Openness Unhindered) Through the regular hospitality of a pastor and his wife, Rosaria studied Scripture, at first to critique it, then over time she believed it. After all this time, Rosaria points out that what drew her in most was how the pastor and his wife treated her as a fellow human being and not as another convert. (It was months before they invited Rosaria to church)
In The Gospel Comes with a House Key, Rosaria penned some statements that have really opened my eyes to the opportunities that lie before me in the coming year.
Invest in your neighbors for the long haul, the hundreds of conversations that make up a neighborhood, and stop thinking of conversations with neighbors as sneaky evangelistic raids into their sinful lives. Maybe our own lives are actually more sinful. Is it not more sinful to openly sin while claiming Christ’s lordship than to sin while claiming false rights to self-autonomy? Stop treating your neighbor as a caricature of an alien worldview.
Practicing hospitality in our post-Christian world means that you develop thick skin. The hospitable meet people as strangers and invite them to become neighbors, and, by God’s grace, many will go on to become part of the family of God.
Hospitality requires daily Bible reading, deep repentance, dark mornings in solitude, and the daily willingness to forgive others whether or not they ask.
Kent also invited our whole church to come. He wanted to make sure that there would be plenty of believers to help our unbelieving neighbors process the robbery. That has always been Kent’s strategy—have a house filled with God’s people who can then help our neighbors see the hand of God in the everyday details of life, including the providence of being robbed.
We live in a post-Christian world that is sick and tired of hearing from Christians. But who could argue with mercy-driven hospitality? What a potential witness Christians have, untapped and right here at our fingertips.
Our post-Christian neighbors need to hear and see and taste and feel authentic Christianity, hospitality spreading from every Christian home that includes neighbors in prayer, food, friendship, childcare, dog walking, and all the daily matters upon which friendships are built.
When we are too functional, we forget that the Christian life is a calling, not a performance. Hospitality is necessary whether you have cat hair on the couch or not. People will die of chronic loneliness sooner than they will cat hair in the soup.
Through her writings and my observations of the culture I find myself ministering in, I have become quite convicted in the necessity of regular and ordinary hospitality. Nothing flashy or gimmicky, but friendly, inviting, warm, and full of grace. A culture pervades in Ukraine where talking to strangers on the street is viewed as the tactics of a salesman or the behavior of a cultist. Accordingly, the evangelism tactics we Americans are well-versed in don’t seem to be particularly useful here. Further, given the weight that personal and familial relationships hold in Ukraine, I am surprised this intentionally slow and long-haul mercy work isn’t more common.
What do I envision this will actually look like?
As I look to the year ahead, the most obvious starting point is Saturday evenings. Compared to Fridays, Saturdays are generally laid back and reserved for lingering through the markets or sites of Kyiv. Further, Saturday preludes Sunday.
First, we would gather to prepare and enjoy a meal together. Then, there would come a point where clean up begins, coffee and dessert are prepared, and the evening could change gears. This pause in action and natural change of flow would allow for departures for other commitments, or if someone is not quite comfortable discussing religion just yet. Finally, we would meditate on a passage of Scripture, pray, and sing together before parting our own ways.
It would be a tremendous privilege to gather people on Saturday evening in preparation for the Lord’s Day. All of this would be directed to prepare our hearts for God’s ordinary means of grace to be enjoyed the following day. This oft overlooked aspect of Sunday worship is a glorious means to ensure we can drink deeply of God’s abundant provision on the Lord’s Day.
From here, as the Lord occasions and provides, hospitality will branch out into the rest of the week and the pattern would be repeated: food, fellowship, Scripture, prayer, and singing. I pray that over time, my home becomes a well-known, well-worn oasis for camaraderie, support, nourishment, gaiety, prayer, and feasting on Scripture.
So, if you find yourself in Kyiv on a Saturday evening, consider this your invitation to stop by!