Christian Living 

A starved, skinny, under-nourished form of hospitality

Recently a number of posts on hospitality have shown up in my blog feed. Discussions about scruffy hospitality or discovering that hospitality is about friendship not impressing people and learning that it really isn’t about entertaining.

Yet there’s something about all of them, commendable though they are, that makes me a little sad. I think it’s a sad reflection over the state of the church where we have embraced a starved, skinny and under-nourished form of hospitality instead of the more robust Biblical version.

As Leanna Shepard argues in this post about gospel-driven hospitality

If you look up the word hospitality, what you’ll not find is a definition that reads, “Graciously hosting a weekly small group,” or “Welcoming your best friend and her family into your home for a home-cooked meal and game of Monopoly.”

Rather, true hospitality means loving the stranger; treating a new acquaintance like an old friend; sharing the best of your time and possessions with the underprivileged.

We need to overthrow the idol of our home and rediscover the lost art of hospitality (especially important if you’re church planting – essential in fact).

Hospitality is a requirement of elders (Titus 1:8), it was a requirement for widows to receive church help (1 Tim 5:10), it was expected to be done with a willing heart (1 Peter 4:9), and expected by the church as a whole (Rom 12:13). Yet I think not nearly enough elders are challenged by the question of whether they are genuinely hospitable or not.

Yet the one way the Biblical version of hospitality is flat-out different to much of what passes for it today is this: it was given to strangers (Heb 13:2). Not your new friends, not the people you’ve been meaning to catch up with for a while now, not your old buddies who are passing through your city for a visit – that’s being friendly, helpful, kind and that’s, you know, not bad. Don’t feel bad for doing it, just don’t mistake it for the genuine thing.

So here’s an easy test for you to do a health check on your hospitality. When was the last time you had someone you would have said was a stranger, to stay in your home?

Has there been any risk, at all, of you entertaining angels?

Yet there are plenty of good reasons to avoid practising Biblical hospitality, and the first one is the cost. As Leanna rightly says,

At the heart of hospitality is the heart of the gospel—sacrifice, love, humility. And it’s hard. Jesus bids us to come and die, and there’s nothing easy about that!

There is a price to be paid when your home is opened in this way. It is tiring, it does not mean your home will resemble an episode of Friends or a picture in an IKEA catalogue. It is noisy, it is constant and it can go on much longer than you might want it to.

Here’s a question that you may or may not have considered before. When the Apostle Paul was on his missionary journeys and stayed in towns, where do you think he lived? A hotel or a guest-house? Airbnb? Or in someone’s house for days, weeks and even months at a time?

Much has been made of the fact that the Bible has a whole book dedicated to sex, not nearly as much has been made about the fact that it also has an entire letter devoted to hospitality.

3 John has 14 verses, the first eight commend Gaius for his hospitality, the next two condemn Diotrephes for being inhospitable. Verses 11 & 12 tell us to copy the good and the last two that John will tell Gaius more when John comes to stay!

Paul when writing to Philemon finishes by asking him to get the guest room ready. I know of plenty of people with guest rooms but no guests. Rooms reserved for the occasional visit of a family member but empty for months at a time to people who might need somewhere to live.

So here’s my definition of what hospitality is and what it isn’t:

It isn’t hospitality if it just means evening meals. It is hospitality if it includes breakfast, lunch & midnight snacks.

It isn’t having another family over for a meal. It is extending the size of your family

It isn’t opening your home for a small group. It is opening your home to those in need of a home.

It isn’t hospitality if it’s planned for your convenience. It is hospitality if it’s offered for their need.


Photo by Dru Bloomfield – At Home in Scottsdale

Photo by defaulterror

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9 Thoughts to “A starved, skinny, under-nourished form of hospitality”

  1. Strangers never ask to come into my home. Actually neither do my friends. On a good day I might coax my close family (mother, mother in law, father, step father in law) to visit, but they are quick to return to their own comfortable bubble. In order to be hospitable people have to be willing to be …uh… hospitalised? British people are far too insular it seems to deign to interact on that kind of level. I’d love if it were different but it’s not. Talking to strangers is awkward enough, actually going into their homes or spending more than what is required by politeness of time with them is beyond British people’s capacities.

    1. Hi Sophia, thanks for leaving a comment. I appreciate you taking the time to respond.
      I get that…we’re British & the Swedes are even more reserved. I guess you don’t have to invite someone who is British though, do you? My guess is there are plenty of lonely people who would appreciate the offer, if one was actually made…

      1. Where would I meet these lonely people though? That’s the problem with lonely people, they are usually shut up in their homes being lonely because they have no-one to go anywhere with 😛

        I remember lamenting this in university, all the people who weren’t interested in getting drunk didn’t socialise so it felt like *everyone* just wants to drink – but really we were all alone wishing we had people to talk to who had interests besides drinking but because we didn’t go “out” we never met each other.

        It’s even harder now as an adult, married woman. When I was a teenager I’d go hang out with homeless alcoholics just because they would be sitting around and I could go up to them and talk to them (whereas other people are always *going* somewhere if they’re out of the house). But I had next to no inhibitions then, now even if I didn’t have all these inhibitions my husband would worry about my safety if I did things like that.

        Its very difficult to see an easy way to overcome the isolating nature of modern society.

        1. A few comments – one of course you don’t have to do it on your own, no need to take unnecessary risks. But I’m not sure it’s quite true to think that the lonely never go outside – or visit a library, or job centre, or cafe, or that the people living on your street wouldn’t welcome an invitation to a street party or BBQ or that there aren’t colleagues at work that we’ve never tried to get to know.

          I agree that there probably is no ‘easy way’ to overcome isolation but just because something is hard it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be attempted, right?

          1. If you were in the library/job centre/at home/in a cafe and some weird woman came up to you/rang your doorbell, would you not just try and get away from her and her overeagerness to engage with you?

            Well to be fair actually if the weird woman was me I’d probably start crying from the anxiety of trying to talk to someone I didn’t know but hey ho… I’m almost crying right now thinking about it.

            So the actual scenario is a woman comes up to you, says:

            “um, hello, I was wondering if, not that I want to bother you or anything… *degenerates into tears*… I’m sorry” *runs off*

            I know that’s how it would be because that’s how it goes when I try to talk to people at church and at the CBT group I go to for my obesity 😛

            It does eventually work, I can talk to the people in both places slightly more comfortably now, but it seems very coercive, like I’m emotionally blackmailing people with my tears – it seems the opposite of hospitality either way. No-one wants my emotions drizzling all over them, it is not helpful to anyone, it doesn’t serve anyone’s needs but my own.

          2. Sure, some practice is required – talking to strangers is not something many of us (including me) are very good at. So we try and extend the definition of neighbour – how can we get to know the people who live 2 doors away, 3, 4 etc… put a note through the door of the elderly person down the street, offering practical help if needed…community BBQ, start litter picking and someone will probably start talking to you….there’s always a way where there’s a will

          3. I don’t think there’s any elderly people on my street, it’s all people who work on the army base, mostly seems to be families. I always worry about offering help to people with children because I think they’ll think I just want to get access to their kids to abuse them or something.

            In 3 months though I will give birth to a child of my own so maybe then that will be less of a suspicion.

          4. I’m sure if you asked God to give you an opportunity to speak with one person on your street or do something kind to one person in your neighbourhood, or be generous anonymously (if you’re worried about what people will think). Why not put a fiver in an envelope with a note saying ‘treat the kids to an ice cream – from a neighbour.’ and stick it through a mums door. There are loads of things you could do, you just have to decide whether you want to do something or nothing.

          5. I can certainly ask.

            If I had a fiver though I would have already spent it 😛

            It’s Easter this Sunday and I want to get the lady at church whose been giving me a lift to church and maybe her 7 kids an Easter present (not strangers I know), but I don’t have any money to buy a present. I have some recordable CDs and I was thinking of singing some Easter Carols or something and recording them, but it seems pretty narcissistic to give people a gift of my own singing. Another idea I had was some kind of decorated eggs or painting an icon of the resurrection, but I am probably a better singer than I am an artist and I don’t really want to give someone a shoddy present. So I am stressing about that right now. I know she won’t care if I don’t get her anything though. My mum’s birthday was yesterday and I made her a booklet about socialising (even though I am not exactly a genius at it myself, but we think she probably has undiagnosed aspergers, my brother also has aspergers and I reckon he got the genes for it from her), like with basic stuff in it, that you have to pay attention to other people and look at their faces and anticipate their feelings and needs and stuff. I am bad at coming up with money free ideas to give people – because I don’t work, only my husband works, and he gives me an allowance but it’s £40 a month (+£60 for a monthly bus ticket) and now I am thinking about buying nappies and I only have 2 months to go, one of which includes my husband’s birthday and I need to get him something or figure out something to make him which I have no idea what he would like. He said just get him guitar strings or something but it seems a bit pathetic to me.

            I know it sounds like a bunch of excuses, but the reality is, I don’t need to excuse myself. Sometimes I try and do better, sometimes I’m lazy and pretty pathetic (more often the latter), but it’s only One whose judgement I need to worry about and He knows all this stuff already. It’s actually just me worrying out loud because my husband is at work and I have no-one to talk to and I’m lonely.

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