In Alabama, we talk all the time about southern hospitality. In our culture, hospitality means being warm and nice. When we walk past a stranger, we say “Hi.” and smile. Do that in New York and you might get cussed out. We pride ourselves in knowing how to host nice dinner parties and cook a good casserole. But the notion of hospitality goes much deeper than our southern roots, it comes from God himself. Biblically speaking, hospitality is the idea of welcoming in outsiders, caring for them, and treating them as you would your own family according to the way God has treated us. Deuteronomy 10:18-19 says, “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Therefore, love the sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Moses instructs Israel that based upon God's love and care for them while they were sojourners, they should in turn love and care for the sojourners among them.
As we consider the unfolding storyline of the Bible, we see that we were once sinful strangers in need and God took us in, showed us kindness, and sent his Son to meet our need of forgiveness. The apostle Paul reminds us, “you were at [one] time…alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2:12-13). Through Jesus, we have been brought into God’s family as sons and daughters of God!
"we were once sinful strangers in need, and God took us in, showed us kindness, and sent his Son to meet our need for forgiveness."
Hospitality does not find its deepest roots in southern culture, but in the gospel of Jesus! Therefore, showing hospitality should be a natural outworking of God’s care and kindness toward us. At Immanuel, we want to be known for our hospitality from our worship gatherings, to our Gospel Communities, to our personal lives.
Hospitality in the Gathering
When new people show up to our time of corporate worship, they should be treated as honored guests. We want an environment at our gatherings that says to visitors, “Welcome! We’re glad you’ve joined us for worship.”
Here are some practical ways that we can be hospitable on Sunday mornings:
1. COME TO WORSHIP EARLY. When you show up to worship chronically late, not only does that say something about how little you value interaction with your brothers and sisters in Christ, but it also shows that you do not anticipate meeting or interacting with visitors. Perpetual tardiness to the gathering is an issue of inhospitality. It leaves no margin for engaging with guests. What if you started leaving the house earlier on Sunday mornings so that you could come to the gathering ready to fellowship with other believers and intentionally connect with folks you don’t know?
Caveat: we would rather you come late to worship than not at all. Being late to the gathering is not the unpardonable sin. So even if getting ready for worship goes haywire and you’re a bit behind, come!
2. COME TO WORSHIP EXPECTING TO TALK WITH OTHERS. When you come to the gathering, please don’t come with a just me and Jesus mentality. I remember being instructed as a youth to “draw an imaginary bubble around yourself and to get alone with God” while I was in a gathering. To be clear, there is a time to get away with God and to spend time alone reading and praying…the worship gathering is not that time. When we gather for worship, it’s a time of celebration, group singing, and fellowship. Come expecting to interact with brothers and sisters and with guests.
Caveat: To you introverts who are on the verge of blaming your lack of engagement with others on your personality, please don’t. I am an introvert. Conversations with new acquaintances don’t go easily for me. They are typically characterized by awkward pauses and a desperate grasping for a good follow up question to keep the conversation going. Nonetheless, introversion is not an excuse for closing ourselves off from talking to others. Find one person you don’t know and go talk to them. Just one person. Start with, “Hi, I’m _______, I don’t think we’ve met.” From there, embrace the awkwardness. God will use you.
Hospitality in your Gospel Community
Many small group settings can quickly turn into insider only cliques, but in our church we never want our GC hangouts to feel like secret fraternities. Anytime we get together, whether it is to enjoy a meal, discuss the Scriptures, or even pray, we want to do so in a way that is accessible and welcoming to “outsiders” and visitors. In fact, we want to intentionally invite our neighbors and friends into the group. The goal of every GC is to welcome outsiders in to the point that you are forced to multiply your group!
So what are some ways we can pursue hospitality in our GCs?
1. THROW PARTIES. Parties make for a great access point into a Gospel Community. I recommend that your Gospel Community throw several parties throughout the course of a year. As you plan a party, think about who you are going to invite. Consider what would make them feel at home when they come. Prepare other members of your GC for who you are inviting so that they can be ready to introduce themselves and engage with your friends from outside of the GC. Then, and this is really profound, have a good time! Enjoy one another. Make connections. Bless those who come with no strings attached.
2. AVOID "CHRISTIANESE" TALK. My wife tells me that when we first met, she used to have to write down words that I used around her so that she could look them up later to find out what they mean. At the time, she was a new believer and I was going through a “cage stage” of theological learning. I was excited about the doctrine I was gobbling up, but it made Melanie feel really uncomfortable at times. Don’t be like me. Avoid unnecessary, verbose theological language. There will be times you’ll have to use a theological word in the course of conversation or Bible study. When you do, be sure to define the term. Have discussions in a way that says to newbies, seekers, and outsiders, “You have a place here.” If your GC is growing in a healthy manner, there will be people ranging from unbelievers to mature believers and all in between that are part of your group. Do not talk in a way that only represents the mature believers in the room. If your group is only made up of mature believers, then perhaps there is a reason for it. Maybe your group is not being very hospitable to unbelievers and young believers, and you need to rethink the environment of your hangout.
3. CARE FOR ONE ANOTHER LIKE FAMILY. In the book of Acts we read that members of the early early church were all together and had all things in common. They cared for one another's needs as they worshiped together and gathered in each others homes for meals and fellowship. It was through this loving, familial relationship that they found favor with all the people and the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47). As the body of Christ loves one another like family, it makes Christ commendable and magnetically draws outsiders in. The more we are genuinely devoted to loving and caring for one another, the more we will find that our unbelieving friends are intrigued and drawn into the fellowship of the body.
Hospitality in your personal time
When was the last time you had a coworker or neighbor over to your house for dinner, or invited someone new into your friend group, DNA group, or supper club? Are there margins in your life to welcome others in, or is your schedule so jam-packed that you have no room to do something as simple as go grab a cup of coffee with someone? Hospitality is about leaving enough room in our personal lives to love and care for others. God told Israel, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:9-10). God’s people were to leave margins in their harvest fields and vineyards to care for the poor and the sojourner. They had a plan for extending grace. I think this is a helpful principle for our lives as well. We need to build into the rhythms of everyday life room for showing gospel hospitality.
Church, let’s remember that God made time for us. He invited us in. He cared for us and met our needs. In light of his gracious hospitality, may we be a church known for welcoming in outsiders and treating them like family until, by God’s grace, they truly come to know Christ as Brother and God as Father.
By Pastor Andy Adkison