10 Things You Should Know About Christian Hospitality
This article was originally written for Crossway on 8th April 2018 by Rosaria Butterfield
1. Hospitality reflects the gospel.
Faithful Christians are—and have always been—a strange minority in a hostile world. Redeemed by Christ, we have lost our old lives—and with our lives, we have left behind the history, identity, and people who once claimed us. Conversion starts with the sacrifice of what once was, and the gospel provides for what we have relinquished through hospitality. When Peter says to Jesus, “See, we have left everything and followed you,” Jesus responds with this comfort: “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold, now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10: 28–30). The gospel comes with a house key, and that key unlocks the “hundredfold” of God’s provision of family and community for others. Hospitality is the ground zero of the Christian life.
2. Hospitality is spiritual warfare.
Hospitality that gathers brothers and sisters alongside unsaved neighbors and strangers isn’t charity or kindness; rather, it takes the gospel upstream of the culture war—where it belongs—and shakes the very gates of heaven for the souls of our neighbors. When we are in each other’s lives daily, we are not operating with ignorance or stereotypes about other people and their “lifestyles.” We don’t have to wonder what our unbelieving neighbor thinks about us, because he is sitting right here, passing the potatoes and telling us exactly what he thinks. At our house, when the meal is finished, the children pass around Bibles and my husband, Kent, begins nightly practice of family devotions, where all are welcome to join. My neighbors know that they can leave, but usually, they don’t.
3. Hospitality makes room for different kinds of hosts and guests.
Every Christian is called to practice hospitality, but that does not mean that everyone practices it in the same way. We practice hospitality by sharing our resources and our needs, by serving as both host and guest, as Jesus did when he walked this earth. Hospitality works on the same principle as tithing. You are either giving, or you are receiving. You are either building up the body, or you need the body to build you up. All of us have a stake in hospitality because Jesus does.
4. Hospitality is the Benedict option on mission.
St. Benedict, the 6th century father of western monasticism whose response to the collapse of Roman civilization helped preserve the Christian faith, has received renewed attention with Rod Dreher’s 2017 publication of The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. We Butterfields practice almost-daily hospitality, including table fellowship, Bible reading, psalm singing, and prayer. This comes out in the wash as Benedict option on mission. The invitation is wide open, and sometimes we spill into three rooms. Dining nightly with brothers and sisters from the church has developed deep familial bonds. Over the years, we have learned how to help each other without being asked. We are a set-apart people. We love the church, and we extol her virtues, and we call others to come into God’s family.
At our house, some people come early, and some people come late. Some people come because they want to know why all the cars are parked outside our house. Some people bring food. Some people bring friends. This feast of grace is our mainstay, and we intentionally seek out unbelievers to join us. We are distinctly set apart for Christ, and we are invested in the world, serving others, beckoning others to taste and feel that the Lord is good.
Is this awkward? Yes. But how else will your unsaved neighbor know that the throne of God brings grace to some, but judgment to others? How will he know that the culture of sexual freedom and personal autonomy has duped him and stolen his integrity as an image bearer of a Holy God?
Hospitality is good for the giver because it puts our lives and hearts on display.
5. Hospitality requires unity in the church.
When I lived as a lesbian in a diverse LGBTQ community in New York in the 1990s, someone’s home was open every night for anyone in our community. The AIDS epidemic simultaneously terrified and unified us, and it was unthinkable that anyone in our community would be left alone in chronic and extensive ways, especially during such desperate times. My lesbian partner and I opened our home on Thursday nights, and I learned back then how to cook for a crowd of unknown numbers, and make serving others a priority, even in the midst of a frenetic professional life. If the church felt the priority of our brotherhood and sisterhood over and against our fleshly identities, we too would make hospitality a priority. Christian unity would shift our focus from programs to relationships. We would see our lack of vibrant, regular, and distinctive hospitality as the dirty, rotten sin that it is.
6. Hospitality nurtures and grows the family of God.
Chronic loneliness should never be the norm in the church. The church is God’s family, and we should live in daily community. Chronic, debilitating loneliness in the midst of the great assembly of God’s people devastates lives, and sadly, this cancer is growing in the church. A small group that meets once a week is a paltry answer to this problem. But nightly table fellowship, where all brothers and sisters from the church are welcome, forges relationships of belonging and growth in grace. We don’t want to stop there.
Nourishing the family of God and compelling those outside of God’s favor to come to your table are the twin heartbeats of hospitality. In communities bounded by race and class sameness, it is often hard to know how to break out of our own boxes. We must seek those outside of ourselves with intention. What would our church family look like if we had members whose participation in social programs brought the outside in?
We could become a SAFE family partner, become a liaison to an incarcerated brother or sister, become a licensed foster family, meaningfully care for refugee families by working alongside agencies that already do this. These are not grand and impossible relationships to forge. All this takes is a background check, a home study, your time, and the willingness to step out of your comfort zone.
7. Hospitality is good for the giver.
People whose lives are riddled with hidden sin patterns hate hospitality. They fear its openness. They moan about its burdens. Their idols leave no room for competition. And maybe it isn’t egregious sin that causes the barrier. Maybe it is domesticated sin. Maybe they care more about their boundaries and their white carpet than they care for their church family or for the eternal state of their neighbors.
Hospitality puts our lives and hearts on display. We see our selfish ambition and our pride. When we see our own sin clearly, when we confess and repent of sin daily, then we are ready with a clean conscience to hold material things lightly and people dearly. Hospitality is good for the giver because it puts our lives and hearts on display. It compels us to confess and repent, to live below our means, and to build in margin time for the unexpected needs of others.
8. Daily hospitality is good for the children.
It’s good for children to watch their parents living the gospel in regular, nightly table fellowship. They watch you warmly embrace neighbors who think differently than you do, and they hope that maybe, just maybe, their secrets are safe with you. They watch you live gospel fluency, handle conflict, make sacrifices, and they see unbelievers come to Christ at the kitchen table. The children in the neighborhood catch on to what is going on at your home, and soon, they start coming to dinner, asking questions, opening their hearts in family devotions, and coming to church. These kids start to bring their siblings. Or their parents. Your children behold that Jesus really is King and really is alive, and that he isn’t just some prop you pull out on Sunday morning or for youth group.
9. Hospitality is expensive.
Hospitality takes money and time. Daily hospitality multiplies the Butterfield food budget. It also keeps me in a daily pattern of chopping vegetables, kneading bread, and soaking dry beans. By 4:30 pm, the rhythm of our house shifts from homeschool to hospitality. While our teenage son is still doing homework, and our younger daughter is practicing the piano, I start picking up the house for table fellowship and Kent starts thinking through the passage for tonight’s family devotions. My single friends from church come home to a warm meal with many friends waiting to embrace them. Other families from church start to wander in. My neighbors know that I am often able to do childcare after school, so we regularly have children from the neighborhood here. All of this takes time, money, sacrifice, and flexibility.
10. Hospitality is worth it.
Hospitality develops eyes to see. It sharpens the saw of God’s word on our hard hearts. It develops bold intimacy among people who would never have reason to be friends. It grieves the loss of missed opportunities to serve. It shudders at Jesus’s words, “For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. . . . as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matthew 25:42–45).
Jesus identifies with the stranger, the outsider, the needy. Daily hospitality hones a distinctive Christian culture from within as it embraces evangelistic optimism, knowing that if God wills, strangers will become neighbors and neighbors will become part of the family of God. Who knows? This may happen at your kitchen table tonight.