How to Live Out Biblical Hospitality
Practicing and receiving
In our marriage vows, my husband and I pledged to open our home to friends, family, and strangers. We incorporated this call to hospitality through the reading of 1 Peter 4:8-11. Admittedly, our vision of hospitality mostly looked like dinner parties and backyard barbecues—it was limited to the “fun” kind. But the thing about hospitality that we soon learned, is it’s often uncomfortable and inconvenient.
In our ninth month of marriage, my baby sister moved in and stayed for 14 months. That’s when the call in 1 Peter 4:9 (NIV) to “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” got real. When dishes weren’t done, leftovers were unexpectedly eaten, and the utility bills increased, it was hard to hold our tongues. We wouldn’t do anything differently—that 14-month stay turned my sister’s life around, but there were many difficult moments, days, and weeks.
What is Biblical Hospitality?
When I look back on that season, I often think of cultures where extended families live under one roof—a roof much smaller than mine. I also reflect on examples like Rahab and the Good Samaritan and have realized the hospitality we practice in western culture is only a shell of what is illustrated in the Bible (Joshua 2; Luke 10).
How can leaders rediscover and live out this biblical hospitality? Opportunities run the gamut, from providing a simple meal to opening your home for extended visits. However, hospitality doesn’t have to be at home at all. It can be a meal out (your treat), a picnic in a park, or taking a meal to someone. It doesn’t have to be a meal at all. Hospitality is the act of sharing in service to others—friends and strangers, no holds barred. Share your vehicle, share your office, loan out or give away a spare computer, sofa, or stroller. Hospitality is about offering everything you have, tangible and intangible, in the service of others—including your home, possessions, time and talents.
With that definition in mind, here are some ways to grow your hospitality practice as a leader and incorporate it into the culture of your church.
Promote a Culture of Hospitality
- Offer a class or teach a series on hospitality. Highlight examples given in Scripture. A class could culminate by dispersing into ongoing smaller groups, to multiply the knowledge and give people a chance to practice hospitality with one another.
- Teach hospitality to youth and have them practice by serving. If hospitality is disappearing from our culture, it’s imperative we reintroduce it to younger generations. You could give youth opportunities to serve in existing ministries—like caring for the homeless or taking a turn to provide the refreshments at Sunday coffee hour.
- Encourage small groups to meet in homes, even if the location rotates weekly or monthly. I’ve attended groups in homes, coffee shops, and at the church, and the home meetings always foster deeper community and better church attendance.
- Advise small groups to break bread together at least once a month. Sharing a meal, and even celebrating the Eucharist in a small group in a home, can be a profoundly different experience than corporate communion.
- Make sure some small groups are a mix of married couples and singles. The single members of our churches need to be folded into the community of the church and shown hospitality. Also, married couples can be sharpened by single friends and vice versa.
Why the focus on small groups? When people are known by one another it ensures that their needs are known also. If a new washing machine is needed or there is a birth or death, an intentional community is the front line for answering the call for hospitality.
Practice Hospitality as a Leader
As a leader you can participate in all the above, but here are some other tips to consider:
- Host a small group or Bible study. It’s easy for leaders to forget to connect on a personal level with parishioners. Hosting—not necessarily leading—a small group may help you “hang up” your leader role and engage in community in a very basic way.
- Trade emails and texts for face-to-face conversations. Invite people into your office or out for coffee. It seems simple, but in-person interaction is growing rare in our world of “digital community.”
Lastly, an integral aspect of practicing hospitality is receiving it. I struggle with this. I grow anxious at the thought of inconveniencing anyone, but in our community, our faith community especially, we must not deny others the opportunity to show us hospitality or deny ourselves the opportunity to receive it. Both sides of the experience are important—as Jesus illustrates by allowing others to serve him (Luke 7:36-50) and by his example of serving others (John 13:1-17; Matthew 14:13-21).
Set Boundaries to Avoid Burnout
At the risk of sounding contradictory, leaders must still protect themselves and their families from growing weary in well-doing (Galatians 6:9). It’s important to communicate and maintain healthy boundaries with staff and parishioners to maintain your health and keep your home life in order. Here are some other guidelines to follow:
- Limit invites to your home to certain days of the week to avoid scheduling conflicts and to protect family time.
- Block time on your calendar for personal recharge—whether it’s a time of meditation in your office or a walk.
- Instead of inviting a parishioner or staff member to your home for dinner, take them to lunch or coffee.
- If you host a small group or study in your home, consider rotating weekly or monthly with other attendees. This gives you a break and allows others to practice hospitality, too.
I believe the family is the core of the church and that strong, healthy families are a force for changing the world. That said, please be mindful not to neglect the health of your marriage and family relationships for the sake of showing hospitality to others. Likewise, don’t neglect your own wellbeing. Hospitality is a biblical mandate, yes, but it becomes divisive if we give our time and energy away at the expense of nurturing our family relationships and ourselves.
Lord, thank you for your example of grace and compassion, and for your sound instruction on how to treat others. Please open our eyes to the needs of those around us, give us opportunity to be your hands and feet, and grant us wisdom to balance our showing of hospitality with our need to protect and invest in our families. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.
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