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Church planting essentials: Hospitality

Family. Church. When you think about those words what comes to mind? Are there any overlaps? It is quite possible that neither of them carry any positive associations for you, yet that only serves to highlight our deep need for a place where we are loved, nurtured, cherished and valued; a people who give us our identity and our place in the world, a people to whom we belong and who belong to us.

Our conviction is that the church is the household of God (Eph 2:19 for example) and this shouldn’t just be a theological and theoretical truth but a lived out, everyday reality. We want to be part of a church that feels, acts and lives like it really is a family. But what is a family?

Steve Holmes puts it well when he says;

When the Bible talks of the church as ‘family’, what picture are we meant to see?…Two things, I think, both of which extend beyond the local church. One is a theological reality: we have been adopted by the same Father, so we just are sisters and brothers; this is the highest privilege of salvation. Second, there is an ethical imperative, but I think it is more about availability than intimacy: your family, in the various cultures in which the Bible was written, are those who have an almost unlimited claim on your hospitality, help, and resources. A family member who requests help cannot be turned away, even if you have never met her before.

Seeing the church as family has led us to learning and practising the gift of hospitality. It isn’t simply a method of gaining new members but putting into practice our ecclesiology. That sounds quite grand but the reality is, for us, fruitful but costly, joyous but exhausting. It has also hammered relentlessly away at my selfishness.

Hospitality has meant working through with our children about sharing their space, their toys and their parents with people when all they want to do is be on their own with their mum and dad.

Hospitality has meant giving up bedrooms for young men and women who have moved to Stockholm or are in between lodgings.

Hospitality has meant finding extra places at the dinner table, extra beds on the office floor, extra food in the fridge and longer waiting times for the bathroom.

We are not extroverts in our family, we all need our space and time either alone or just as a family. We need it to recover, we need it for our sanity and well-being. Hospitality strains all those feelings of need and entitlement. It can be costly and exhausting.

Hospitality has meant allowing people to be in your home when we are tired, grumpy, dishevelled and behaving poorly and want just to be left alone (it should be said that all of those descriptions apply mostly to me). It has broken down any notion our friends may have had about the pastor’s righteousness. The notion of salvation by works is clearly ridiculous.

For those who have come to us with Catholicism in their history, this has been both a shocking and stunning revelation. In contrast to the image of a distant but powerful priest here leadership is approachable, familiar and, in my case, very ordinary. Yet somehow, mysteriously, God is at work not through power and strength but through some quite obvious weaknesses.

Hospitality has helped a spiritual family take shape. The gospel in our lives is taking shape not through slick meetings but by regular time around our kitchen table.

Hospitality has opened our lives to a richness and diversity of cultures that we have never previously experienced and seen how the Gospel transcends culture, nationality and language to create a multi-cultural, multi-coloured, family.

Hospitality has given us friends when we moved to a city where we knew almost no-one. Hospitality continues to give us friends. This week I have been called a true brother and that a friend loves our church because it is their ‘family’. Jesus’ words in Mark 10:29-31 have been tested and found to be true.

Hospitality is the catch-all term of practising all the ‘one-another‘ verses of the New Testament. Hospitality allows us to live the gospel. God has welcomed us in to His home. We were strangers and were invited in, enemies who have been made one of the family. We are not paying guests in the household of God, we are adopted children, through Christ we belong.

This captures the essence of hospitality, it is treating people whether they are a complete stranger or a treasured friend as if they belong, because, in Christ, they do; they belong.

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