Hospitality outside the church matters

Posted by Pastor J.D. on August 22, 2012
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This is the second in a two-part follow-up to this weekend’s “Practical Christianity” message from Hebrews 13. You can check out the first post here. Matt M is the Pastor for Local Outreach at the Summit.

If you’re anything like me, the spiritual discipline of hospitality feels very personal and invasive.  I really value the idea of having a comfortable space away – a refuge that gives me a chance to refuel and recover. I know that hospitality is ultimately about inviting someone into my life, not just my home, and that’s just not enough control for me.

The problem is that my home isn’t ultimately my refuge – God is supposed to be my refuge.  That gives a whole new meaning to the command to show hospitality to (literally “love to”) strangers in Hebrews 13.  God first showed love to us when we were strangers by inviting us into His family and His eternal home, and commissioned us to model that hospitality. That’s why we say at our church that our mission is to turn strangers into friends, and eventually family.

If our mission is to model what God did, then we should probably also model how God did it:  we should treat the stranger as if he or she were already a family member.  I love the imagery of Deuteronomy 7:7, where God talks about how He “set His love on” His people.  It’s like He just dropped some love on a people who were not previously set apart and certainly didn’t earn it.  In the same way, we should be “setting our love on” the strangers and outsiders in our city.  That’s part of what makes the church distinctive – only people motivated by the Gospel show love to people they have no connection with.

Showing hospitality to strangers often involves as much “going to” as it does “inviting in“.  Strangers are the least likely to be in your social circle or in your home (duh, they’re strangers), so if we want to love them we’re probably going to have to go where they are.  That’s why we “seek to show hospitality” (Rom. 12:13) and go “outside the gate” (Heb. 13:13).  At Summit, our prison ministry provides a powerful example of this principle:  every week Summit members drive out to the prison to pick up incarcerated men, bring them to the worship service, and then drive them back.  They can’t invite these guys to their homes, but they can go to them for the purpose of making them members of our church family.

Hebrews 13 hospitality means creating space in your life or home that can be filled with a stranger instead of just people you know make you happy.  At times I’ve challenged our local outreach leaders to take a look at our calendars for the last three months and figure out how much of our discretionary time (meals, evenings, weekends) was spent with a stranger to God’s family.  How much of our time is even available to offer?

I love to see our church creatively exploring new ways to be hospitable. What if two young professional guys decided to rent a 3-bedroom apartment instead of the two they needed, just so the third bedroom could be offered to an ex-prisoner transitioning back into society?  What if their friends or small group decided to join them by inviting that prisoner to share meals at their homes or helping with transportation?

What if a family opened up space to a teen mom-to-be who’s scared to keep her baby because her boyfriend doesn’t approve?  What if a small group decided that the family spending a year at Duke Hospital for a child’s chemo treatment was their family, and they were going to make sure the family had all the support they needed?

My home is not my refuge, God is.  My time and my money are not my own, they’re tools for God’s work.  Control over my life and space can be good, but Christ is better.

Pastor J.D.

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J.D. Greear is pastor of The Summit Church, in Raleigh-Durham, NC and author of Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (2011) and Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved (2013). More

2 responses to Hospitality outside the church matters

  1. I can relate to your opening paragraph about spiritual hospitality sometimes feeling “invasive”. I’ve heard before that when making decisions to go on mission trips when your parents are unhappy about it sometimes you have to say yes to God and no to your parents. I can understand that concept, but what if you don’t feel led by God to go on a mission trip just yet, your parents don’t want you going just yet either, but all your friends are going and they want you to come along with them? You want to honor your parents above your friends so you decide not to go on the mission trip just yet. If making the choice to go on a mission trip then how do you decide it is really God who is leading you and you are not just giving in to Christian peer-pressure?

  2. Amen. Amen. Amen.

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