We tend to equate hospitality with parties and social gatherings or gracious resorts and expensive restaurants. To us hospitality is an industry, not a practice, one that summons Martha Stewart to mind more quickly than Jesus Christ. But to ancient Christians hospitality was a virtue, part of the love of neighbor and fundamental to being a person of the way. While contemporary Christians tend to equate morality with sexual ethics, our ancestors defined morality as welcoming the stranger.
A People’s History of Christianity pg. 61, 62
When I was regularly co-hosting a podcast, one of the things my co-host Don would bring up every now and again, was the difference between the feast that Abraham gives in Genesis 18, and what most churches offer as a feast. In some translations, Abraham tells the messengers that he will prepare a morsel of bread for them. In reality he has his servants prepare three seahs of bread, tender choice calf, curds, and milk. For context, a “seah” of bread requires 144 eggs to make, it is a giant loaf of bread, and there were three of them. At this point, Don would usually point out his experience in the church is that it would often promise a feast and provide a morsel. I can’t disagree with this, at least in most of my ministry contexts as well.
I have worked in churches where there were individuals in charge of hospitality departments or “ministries” so that the Sunday morning experience was as pleasant as possible. The focus of hospitality, as far as church leadership was concerned, was on Sunday mornings. This to me screams of the Martha Stewart approach to hospitality. Everything looked good, there were good things to eat, and good coffee to drink. As far as the leadership was concerned, the people who provided the hot meal once a week were fine to do their own thing, and the hospitality person would never have been involved.
So often the posture in which we serve in the american or evangelical church is, “they should be happy with what they get” instead of, “we are so honored to have you here.” It’s strictly transactional and void of the care of the stranger. How do we align our believe of all peoples having intrinsic value, as they are made in the image of God? How do we move from our strict ethics being focused on “spiritual” issues, and ignore the physical needs around us?
Hospitality is the practice that keeps the church from becoming a club, a members-only society… from what historians can gather, hospitality-not martyrdom-served as the main motivator for conversions.A People’s History of Christianity pg. 64
In every church, there are people that treat it as a members-only club. That is unavoidable as things stand. There will always be people that show up because they want to be a part of what is happening on Sunday morning. Ever since I read this chapter, all I have thought about is hospitality and welcoming the stranger focused church, versus whatever we have now. But then again, this is the difference between a communal faith, and the individualized faith christianity has grown to become (especially in the US).
How do we break out of the cycle of selfishness and create a culture of hospitality?
What if we were known for not what we’re against, but who and how we serve?
Grace and peace y’all.