The holidays are perhaps the time when hospitality is most on our mind. For some, the word conjures up thoughts of a house full of welcomed guests, a table full of special foods, and hearts full of warm feelings. For others (maybe most?), the mere mention of holiday hospitality brings to mind crazy uncles, ugly Christmas sweaters, and that funny smelling casserole that your aunt makes.
Whatever your thoughts on the matter, hospitality is not an option for the Christian. In fact, it is a distinctive of the people of God. Hospitality is woven into the very fabric of our faith.
Throughout the Old Testament, the people of God were commanded to welcome the sojourner (think Deut 10:19). The New Testament does not ease up on the issue either. Instead, the kingdom of God is radically inclusive, making no distinction between peoples. One need look no further than Jesus’ parable of the good samaritan (Luke 10) for a proper understanding of loving your neighbor.
In his book, A Meal with Jesus, Tim Chester does an excellent job of showcasing how Jesus used a ministry of hospitality as a means of mission. If you have not read this book, you should, and you can find it here.
But the real reason I’m writing this post is to highlight a specific instance of gospel-centered hospitality.
In addition to working at the seminary, I also pastor a local church in North Raleigh. Wednesday night, as I was winding down for the evening, I got a text message from one of our church members with a simple note to pray for he and his family, as they were headed to dinner with a Muslim family he knew through work.
To give you the backstory, our church has placed special focus on reaching the West African population in our area. North Raleigh is home to a large pocket of West African Muslims, and we have decided it is our responsibility to reach them. So, upon finding out that one of his coworkers was West African, this young man decided to become his friend.
It was a rough go at first, as the conversations were hard and often superficial. So, being a former missionary to West Africa, I told him to change his tactic. I told him, to start talking about food. West Africans have a very specific style of food, and it is a piece of their culture with deep roots. Well, it was not too long before I found out he had been invited over to try their food.
Hospitality opens doors. Sharing a meal is more than a way into people’s homes, it is a way into their hearts.
However, our American culture does a good job of walling us off in our homes, places we see as refuge from the world. Fight that temptation to make your house a castle. In actuality, it is the most expensive ministry tool you own. Steward it well.
In a world where so many different cultures of people live in the same space, hospitality is more important than ever. In fact, it may be the best tool we have to make the gospel known to people very different than us. Consider inviting your lost neighbor over for a meal. Or, as the family in our church did, invite yourself over to their place for a meal!
Keelan leads the Peoples Next Door project and is a Senior Church Consultant with the Union Baptist Association in Houston, TX. He is working on a PhD in Missiology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In previous years, he spent time as a church planter in West Africa with the IMB and doing ethno-graphic research in Washington, DC with NAMB.