Monday, May 3, 2010

Practicing Hospitality: Chapter 2

by Carrie
If you are just checking in with us here, I'm going through the book Practicing Hospitality: The Joy of Serving Others chapter by chapter and sharing what I'm learning as I go along. I wrote about what I gleaned from Chapter 1 last week and now I'm moving on to Chapter 2.

This chapter is titled "Hospitality and Strangers" and opens with Hebrews 13:2 which says:

"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."
Showing hospitality to strangers is admittedly a tough one for me. I really prefer to know who is coming into my home or be given an awfully good reference by someone who knows them quite well. (It stands to reason that I also have to trust the reference!) I think, to some extent, in today's society we are forced to be incredibly discerning over who we open up our homes to. Our families have a right to be our top priority and we need to be discerning over what will benefit and bless them first and foremost. (This is particularly true, I think, when you still have children at home.) We have a duty and a responsibility to protect our family and so it's good to know who you are welcoming into your home. (I'm not arguing that the husbands should be involved in this decision making process because in my mind that's a given. I am assuming that you and your husband are extending invitations together where it counts and when it matters most. Don't assume that because I'm addressing women that I'm dismissing men. But this post could become awfully long if I addressed that issue - like I'm presently doing - and I'm trying to keep this contained!)

That said, clearly we are not expected to show hospitality just to those we know. I think the level to which we can individually practice this with strangers will vary by person and season of life. That said, here are some "safe strangers" that I think we should be very eager and willing to offer hospitality to:

1. Our church family.

I can count on one hand (ok, maybe two!) the number of invitations that our family has received from our church family in the last few years. Usually the invitations that we do receive come from the same people. We certainly enjoy the familiar (quite well, actually!) but it does a person good to step outside of their comfort zone and make people feel welcome.

If you are well established at your church, why not consider inviting someone who is new over for dinner some night? I can't imagine a better way of making them feel welcomed to the family. Are you new to the church? Make a point to sit in the same pew or seat every week and get to know the immediate people around you. Invite them over for dinner. Seriously - whoever has greeted you and talked to you for a bit - invite them over! I promise that while the conversation might feel stilted at times, in the long run - this will pay off!

* As an added encouraging note - I've talked with quite a few people who left their church because no one ever invited them to be a part of the body in any real or significant way. You can make a significant difference in the faith walk of your church family by making an effort to CONNECT with them. You never know who really needs a friend until you ask.

2. Military families. Are you part of a military family living on a base? I can't speak to this one as well as I can to other situations, but it seems that military families have a common bond and can find ways to share life with one another. If you are not a military family and you happen to live near a base, one way to extend hospitality (and a thank you to the men, women and families that are sacrificing and serving our country!) is to take care packages to families that you connect with in that position. (Maybe we can have a military wife or family member speak to this issue? That would be helpful for the rest of us. (E-mail on the side with thoughts on that: offeringhospitality (at) gmail (dot) com.)

3. A Mom Group. Part of a mom's group (MOPS)? Invite one of the moms over for a play date. Even just once. You don't have to do it twice if it doesn't work out and you and your children don't click. But you can try it once and be gracious in getting to know her, offering smiles if nothing else.

These are just some quick ideas of "safe strangers." Maybe you can think of some more. At any rate, I do think we should exercise some caution in who we invite into our homes and we should be discerning about the company we keep. We also cannot escape the command to offer hospitality to strangers.

Moving on a bit . . .

I thought the most important point that was made in this chapter was that we are to offer hospitality as a result of our gratefulness for all that God has done and is doing in our own lives. Hospitality should be a natural extension of gratitude!

"Paul uses the last few chapters of Romans to exhort believers to be obedient because of their gratitude for God's work in their lives and their love for Him. This is the context in which we find the command to practice hospitality." (page 49)

Are you a grateful person?

Last fall I read and reviewed Choosing Gratitude, by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and, let me tell you!, it did a number on my attitude.

I've consciously been working on my attitude, particularly after reading that book. In fact, I could stand a reread and a refresher course already! I heartily recommend Choosing Gratitude (if you click on the title it'll take you to my review of the book) and would suggest after reading what the good ladies of Practicing Hospitality have to say - that Choosing Gratitude might be the appropriate place for you to begin your foray in the world of offering hospitality.

I'm going to stop there for this chapter as I think that's enough to chew on for the moment. (Or, it's enough for me at any rate!)

Blessings and wisdom on you all as your pursue what offering hospitality means for you as an individual with exactly the right set of giftings to serve yourself and others well!


  1. I am reading a book about missionaries on the Amazon River some time over the past 60-80 years, and I've been amazed at the hospitality of the Brazilian and Indian people there, who had very little of this world's goods, but were willing to share. Plus it was just a given that if a traveler happened to be in your part of the jungle as evening fell, you'd offer them shelter for the night. It's hard to fathom taking in total strangers, though I know it happened often in Bible times as well.

  2. Carrie,

    That was the passage for our sermon yesterday! Our pastor encouraged everyone in our church to invite "strangers" over once a month until September. This is something I would like to discuss more with Eric.

    I actually invite quite a few different moms over for playdates (either individually or as a group), but I confess that sometimes I feel tired of being the one who always initiates!

  3. Re: hospitality at church --

    Years ago, as visitors to a new church we were considering, we were surprised to be invited home for lunch by one of the church families. Even more surprisingly, we went ... and had a good visit with them, plus a simple but delicious lunch (soup, good bread, maybe raw veggies -- cannot remember!).

    We joined that church, and eventually learned the "secret": that each week, there was a designated "inviter." People signed up to do this, just like you'd sign up to help with childcare, setup, ushering, coffee table, etc.

    That family would have prepared an easy lunch (crockpot, soup, sandwiches, etc.), and watch for visitors. They would introduce themselves, shepherd the family around to the nursery, show them where the bathrooms are, sit with them for the worship service, etc., and then invite them home for lunch.

    If there were no visitors that week, or if the visitors declined, then that family was to invite home someone ELSE from the church who they didn't know well (or at all). The lunch did not need to be gourmet! The whole intent was to get to know one another and build community.

    I can tell you, this made an enormous difference in retention of visitors. I wish all churches did this!

    When visiting a new church, some may prefer to remain invisible while they get the feel of the climate of that worshiping body. But if no one greets them beyond "Hello!", then people are not as inclined to come again!

    We've moved, on average, every 2 years for 35 years, so we've constantly been the newcomers. In way more churches than i can count, our family stood, ungreeted, in the front hall before or after the worship service ... while all around, friends chatted, laughed, got coffee, and caught up with each other. Often, these were small congregations in which it was pretty darn obvious that we were new. It's a very lonely place to be.

    Once again, this same scenario occurred, when my husband was to be the guest preacher that day. After the service, a man came up and said, IN ALL SERIOUSNESS, "Preacher, i saw you standing there before the service. If i'd known you were the guest preacher, i'd have said Hey! to you!"

    It was all i could do to keep from spitting out, "Well, it's obvious why your church is not growing!"

    (for those of you not from the south, Hey! = Hi / Howdy!)

    And for those who are wondering why we didn't take the initiative to greet folk when we were the visitors ... often we did. And as an extrovert, i myself am a champion at greeting. But you know, sometimes you just get tired of always being the one to reach out, and you want someone to reach out to you!!

    My favorite line at church (or any other meeting) is "Hi, i'm Kathy, and i haven't met you yet. Have you been coming here long?" That way, it connects with folk whether they are new or oldtimers. SO often i find that the people sitting around me have been in that church for years, and it's obvious they don't know me, but THEY FAIL TO REACH OUT!!

    So, reach out, even if you think you don't know what to say. Those visitors are probably at least as intimidated as you are. And next week, greet them again -- few want to sit alone in a new place. Sometimes those weeks when someone is not brand new, but is not yet known and plugged in, are very lonely weeks. I speak from sad experience.