by Rory Christensen
I blame my parents for this one. When I read through the 1 Timothy 3 list of ministry leadership essentials, there’s one that always hits me with an internal, assumed exclamation mark. It’s their fault. For as long as I can remember, my parents have used their house to welcome guests, host missionaries, house traveling musicians, and launch Bible studies. Over the years, I’ve seen the good news shared (Jule Miller film strips anybody?), weddings conducted, meals served, even a displaced family of 8 given a home for the summer (and separate housing provided well beyond). It all happened because my parents were committed to this particular ministry qualification. You know what it is by now. Read 1 Timothy 3:2 to see it spelled out. “The overseer is to be … hospitable.” Hospitable. I hear that word, ministry memories come, and my conviction is sharpened all over again.
It’s my parents’ fault. Really.
But in the same breath that I blame them, I realize that I need to thank them too. As I’ve processed this “hospitable” leadership requirement through the lens of their example, I’ve realized that there are at least a couple reasons why we could all do to emphasize hospitality a little more.
First, we should emphasize it because of its potential. I like the way Alexander Strauch put it:
I don’t think most Christians understand how essential hospitality is to fanning the flames of love and strengthening the Christian family. Hospitality fleshes out love in uniquely personal and sacrificial ways. Through the ministry of hospitality, we share our most prized possessions. We share our family, home, finances, food, privacy and time. So hospitality is always costly. Through the ministry, we provide friendship, acceptance, fellowship, refreshment, comfort and love in one of the richest and deepest ways possible for humans to understand. Unless we open the doors of our homes to one another, the reality of the local church as a close-knit family of loving brothers and sisters is only a theory” (The Hospitality Commands, p. 17).
You hear that, and you get a feel for the power behind the “ministry of the open door” (to borrow words from Ozark Christian College President Matt Proctor).
As we lean in to hospitality, our lost, hurting world is impacted (Hebrews 13:2, anyone?), and our Christian family is uplifted.
Second, we should emphasize hospitality because of its practicality. Go to the Bible and you find hospitality used as a natural conduit for the disciple-making way of life. Take a scan and you see all manner of Jesus followers using it in all manner of ways:
- Matthew, for evangelism (Matt 9:9-13)
- Priscilla and Aquila, for …
- welcome/care (Acts 18:3)
- correction (Acts 18:26)
- worship (1 Cor 16:19)
- Paul, for evangelism (Acts 28:30-31)
- The entire early Church, for …
- table fellowship (Lk 24:13-32; Acts 1:4; 10:41; Gal 2:1-21)
- instruction (Acts 5:42)
Robert Coleman has long told us of the need for association, instruction, and demonstration in the disciple-making process (cf. The Master Plan of Evangelism, chapters 2, 4, and 5). I see these biblical examples and note how “the ministry of an open door provides” a natural context within which all these God-honoring actions can occur. It is a useful conduit (the best conduit?) for the disciple-making way of life.
When I read these reasons and descriptions again today, I’m inclined to reach a bit beyond definitions that limit hospitality to merely making people feel welcome. Defining it only as “feeling welcome” strips away its deepest significance. When we engage in the ministry of open doors we tap into something that has incredible, unlimited Kingdom potential. Yes, it certainly is practical, but it is much, much more. In Acts 28:31 Paul’s Kingdom work, rendered through the conduit of hospitality, was unhindered.
Our Kingdom work can be unhindered as well. I absolutely believe that and I’m committed to living like that. Maybe you can join me in it. I still blame my parents for it, by the way.