“I could never have the spiritual gift of hospitality. My home is small, and I’m not very good at cleaning it.”
I’ve heard this sentiment several times. While it’s a tragic misconception, it’s plausible and understandable. Whenever a small ministry has an event for fellowship, the generosity of the member with the largest (or at least cleanest) residence is utilized.
Myself, I’ve been the recipient of such generosity in my work as a pastor. A well-to-do congregant who served in the drama ministry was willing to host a football viewing party I produced for the worship arts community. Later, when I was organizing a day seminar for congregant actors from all across my denomination’s district (this included flying in a guest speaker), a moneyed musician from the worship team was willing to let us meet in his lake house. I even worked for a megachurch that had its own “hospitality room,” which featured the most beautiful and capable kitchen in the entire facility.
But the overemphasis on residence size and cleanliness we may hear today about the spiritual gift of hospitality isn’t based in the New Testament. It’s rather a product of American professionalism and marketing. Have you ever been to a ministry event in someone’s home, church or rented facility where the sanitation and decor is top of the line, whereas the hosts themselves seem impersonal or even absent? Something’s missing there.
For Christians, hospitality isn’t a spiritual landlord-ship, airbnb, or (to be a bit crass) fundraiser. It certainly wasn't that way in the underground New Testament Church. It was less about advertising and appeasing and more about provision and (non-sexual) intimacy. According to an anonymous letter to Diognetus, Christians curiously (but positively) "offer a shared table, but not a shared bed." Inviting someone (or a family) over for a meal and gracious dialogue, no matter how small the residence and ordinary the culinary skills, was and continues to be a significant expression of love.
As one mentor from graduate school told me, hospitality is “making someone feel at home wherever they are.” Whether it’s at a church, an event, at your house or even a third party location (e.g., you may not have complete control of cleanliness and decor), you’re being hospitable if you are helping to make a guest feel emotionally welcome, safe, and comfortable. Even if you’re not the designated host or “hospitable-r.”
While basic cleanliness and decor should not be abandoned, feelings of emotional safety, comfort, and being welcomed are in short supply these days. And having a nice-sized, sanitized, fellowship event with tasty hors d'oeuvres isn’t going to help. We, as Christians, need to be more focused on the more important, gracious and relational aspects of hospitality. We need to be quick to listen (even though it can hurt, people want to be heard), slow to speak (even though we often have things we want to say), and slow to be angry (even though hurtful things may be said).
The spiritual gift of hospitality isn’t about putting on a fancy event to gather more funding and consumers for ministerial institutions or ventures. Although more mentally and emotionally laborious, it’s about building true and discipling community in a world of tragic division and disarray. (Sound familiar?). Now that, in many countries, we are regaining our ability to see fellow children of God beyond social distance and the tribalism of cyberspace, we have an opportunity to help heal everyone by taking initiatives with gracious hospitality.
So, to whom are you going to be hospitable in 2021 and beyond?
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