by Johnathan Arnold
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 helped me to realize 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.
Living Our Lives Together
Biblical hospitality is not about being a perfect host. It is about opening one’s life to others, especially outsiders, to meet needs.
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.
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
Hospitality is the fastest way to grow a church into a stronger community.
Practical Tips for Getting Started
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.
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. We have people sometimes drop by on short notice, so we’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.
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 an unbelieving neighbor without the expectation 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.
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
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!