by Johnathan Arnold
Welcoming people into our homes can be a deep joy instead of a stressor, but it requires us to surrender our rights to a pristine image and uninterrupted privacy. Hospitality shows the beauty of God by demonstrating the power of the gospel to bring people together.
When I became a pastor, I knew that hospitality would be a significant part of my ministry. Being hospitable is a requirement for elders in both Titus 1:8 and 1 Timothy 3:2.
This seemed easy enough because I enjoyed entertaining, making my house look beautiful, setting a polished table, and arranging special flourishes for my guests. My attention to detail seemed to check all of the “good host” boxes.
Real ministry and an honest look at Scripture shifted my paradigm. I soon learned that these things are not equivalent to being hospitable — in fact, there are times when they are inhospitable! Being a perfect host by the world’s standards has become less and less important to me, and Biblical hospitality has started to change my life, home, and ministry. Let me explain.
Living Our Lives Together
In the Bible, hospitality is about opening one’s life to others, especially outsiders, to meet needs. In Western society, people live in closed boxes. Although there certainly is “no place like home,” there is a common perception that “home” is where we shut out the world. People open the door to their closed box, enter the real world for eight hours, then return to their safe place. The windows into their private lives are perfectly curated pictures on Instagram. The gospel, however, invites us to open our everyday lives to believers and unbelievers alike.
Biblical hospitality is not about being a perfect host. It is about opening one’s life to others, especially outsiders, to meet needs.
Although I have not yet read the book, I recently heard the title for a work by Rosaria Butterfield, The Gospel Comes with A House Key. The title alone resonates deeply with my heart. (I have actually extended my house key to someone since hearing it.) It’s easy to sing, “I’m so glad to be part of the family of God,” and be thankful for the privileges; but it’s another thing to make our private lives accessible to those we call "brother" and "sister" as if they were blood relatives. When we say, “make yourself at home,” do we really mean it?
While setting a nice table and preparing an exceptional meal may be one way to say to our guests that they are special and worthy of our respect, people often walk away with a different impression: “Wow, they really have it all together. I could never do that.” I’ve begun to appreciate my wife’s desire for our home to be warm and welcoming because I understand that those qualities are consistent with Biblical hospitality. Sure, I’d love to live in Buckingham Palace as much as the next person, but opening up is sufficiently difficult without worrying if you are correctly dressed. People should walk away feeling like “part of the family,” and that means they must feel comfortable and secure.
People need to see that their pastor and fellow Christians are real people living real lives.
If your house is well-kept by normal standards, but you can never invite someone across the threshold without apologizing for “the mess” because of insecurity or perfectionistic tendencies, chances are that you need to surrender your home to God. A sofa that nobody is allowed to sit on does not advance the gospel.
When you have two or six or ten people through your house each week, having everything dust-free and in perfect order becomes increasingly less important, and sincere friendship becomes more and more central. Letting people into your heart is difficult to do when your focus is on the one corner of the house that isn’t exactly as it should be. Transparency makes us approachable, and that is the only way for our relationships to flourish. People need to see that their pastors and fellow Christians are real people living real lives.
Hospitality is for Every Believer
Although hospitality is a requirement for pastors, hospitality should be a priority for every believer. The fact that some have the gift of hospitality does not exempt us from hospitality any more than some people's gift of faith exempts us from having faith of our own! We are told in 1 Peter 4:9 to "show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Romans 12:13 instructs us to “contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” 1 Timothy 5:10 praises the woman who “has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.”
Hospitality is the fastest way to grow a church into a stronger community.
A church may grow numerically, but it will rarely become a stronger community until we make open-door hospitality a priority. We need to do more than gather together for a weekly service; we need to live our lives together. As a pastor, what has transformed my relationship to my people more than any other thing is inviting them to come to my house and spend time with my little family. Sometimes, this means a Bible study; other times, it just means drinking coffee and chatting, or playing a game. Jacob Martin, one of my spiritual heroes, taught me that an Uno night without any strings attached is a good investment of a pastor’s time.
Practical Tips for Getting Started
If you’re hesitant about the idea of opening up your home, don’t worry! It’s a big step, but it’s a gospel step. Here are a few practical tips for getting started on the track to radical hospitality.
Make your home a place that people want to be. Comfortable sofas and plenty of space for toddlers to romp around will go a long way towards making people feel safe and at ease. Consider having toys, books, and games on hand to occupy children so parents can focus on meaningful conversation. Keep the expensive breakables out of reach, or be prepared to do what Mrs. Grover Cleveland did when her guest accidentally crushed an expensive piece of thin, antique china: she picked up a cup and smashed hers as well.
To feel like "part of the family," people must be comfortable and secure.
Growing up, visiting my uncle’s house was always exciting because there were fun things to do! If you have the space, buy a game table. If you have a backyard, invest in a large grill, fire pit, and patio chairs for a summer get-together with friends. After refinishing my basement with my youth group in mind, they are now asking when they can come over to play ping pong or just hang out. Create smart opportunities, and you will no longer have to pull teeth to introduce a home Bible study.
Stock your cupboards with food that people like. When the three messengers arrived at Abraham's abode, "Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, 'Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.' And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them" (Genesis 18:1-8).
Good hospitality requires us to be prepared. Bake a dessert, or mix up some iced tea in advance. My young people sometimes drop by on short notice, so I’ve learned to have plenty of pizza, cheese fries, and ice cream on stock. When we take notice of what people like to eat and are intentional about having it for them when they come, it makes a clear statement that we really care and that we want them to be there.
Don't try to be a sous chef. Chicken Marsala looks nice on the plate, but everyone sighs with relief when they can pronounce the entrée. There are appropriate times to have a beautiful spread, but it soon becomes a burdensome expectation for the woman of the house when hospitality is a week-by-week activity. Most people are thrilled with a juicy cheeseburger and french fries.
Be prepared to welcome visitors at any time. "Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies" (Hebrews 11:31); her hospitality led to her salvation!
Being able to invite someone in any time there is a knock on the door means that our homes must be respectable at all times. Women are “keepers at home,” while husbands and children should be helpful (Titus 2:5). We say that Christ is Lord over every detail of our lives, but we are living inconsistently with that conviction when we do not invite people in because we have draped dirty laundry on the sofas. God is not impressed with picture-perfect homes; He is also not impressed with undisciplined sloppiness and clutter.
Use the dinner table as a place for evangelism. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, reclining with them in his house, at the cost of his reputation (Mark 2:13-17). The table is a holy place for good food and discussion about life's questions. Send a dinner invitation to a Muslim, Jew, or practicing homosexual without the expectation that they will come to your church.
There are few better places to talk about life's deepest questions than when gathered around a dinner table with good friends and a hearty meal.
God’s Old Testament covenant people were repeatedly charged with extending hospitality to “the stranger” in their midst — people passing through on a journey or stopping in from another culture (Leviticus 19:33-34). The reason? “You were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). We, too, were once strangers, alienated from the family of God. God welcomed us, extending an invitation into the household faith. We need to extend hospitality to unbelievers — people who do not look, act, or believe like we do.
Invite someone over who is new to the church or community. When two strangers showed up in town, Lot welcomed them into his home and "he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate" (Genesis 19:1-3); his hospitality led to his rescue from Sodom. Hebrews 13:2 warns, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."
What would happen if every time a person moved into the community or attended our church for the first time, they had to choose between offers for a chicken dinner, steak dinner, or ham dinner? We might be surprised at the increase in retention! Instead of wondering whether or not a new person will show up for church on Sunday morning, invite them over for dinner afterwards! If they accept, they have another reason to come.
Guard your family time. The first people to whom we must show courtesy and care are our own family members. Make sure that your spouse and children are priorities, even when others are over. If they aren’t fully on-board with your hospitable efforts, make sure that special parent-child times and date nights are kept in-tact.
The Blessing of Unusual Kindness
Paul said in Acts 28:2, “The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold.” Sadly, unbelievers sometimes outdo us in the area of hospitality. Will people say of us, “they showed us unusual kindness”?
As I pastor, I fall short in many areas — and suspect that I always will — but I am grateful for how God has opened my heart to the need for hospitality and pray that the body of Christ will come to appreciate how hospitality can change their lives, too. Let’s get started living our lives together!
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