Hospitality in Disciple Making
Little things can make a tremendous impact.
I live in Michigan. This past winter, we had a storm that brought in a mix of rain, ice, wind, snow, and brutal cold. The day the storm hit, I had a wedding to officiate. There was a layer of ice, topped with a few inches of snow, and howling winds creating arctic windchills.
Knowing there was likely a layer of ice coating my vehicle, I prepared to have to work a bit to get the door open before heading out to the wedding. But as I began tugging on the handle to pull the door open, no amount of force was successful. I pounded around the edges of the door in hope that it would break free, but to no avail. I went to the passenger side doors, nothing. I even considered the possibility of crawling through the back hatch, but the hatch also seemed far too stuck to open. Thankfully, I had put my wife’s vehicle in the garage for just such an occasion. So, I hopped in it, slowly and carefully made my way to officiate the wedding, and returned home safe and sound.
The next day, the sun was up and hot, and I thought, Now, I will get my car thawed and take it to run some errands. But as I was approaching my vehicle (appearing exactly as it had the night before), I reached into my pocket and did one additional, habitual, seemingly small step. I hit the unlock button on my key fob. I pulled the car door handle and the door opened with the greatest ease. Little things can make a big impact.
Here’s the thing about little things: when little things have big impact, it turns out they aren’t actually little things.
“When little things have big impact, it turns out they aren’t actually little things.”
We all want to make an impact, and obeying Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples is the best way to do it (Matt. 28:18-20). Obeying the Great Commission points people to Jesus and to the abundant life that only he can give.
I believe expressing hospitality to be a small thing that makes a great impact in making disciples. It’s the unlock button to other people’s lives and to sharing our lives with others, which is necessary in discipleship.
So, what is hospitality?
Hospitality is showing a stranger love. It’s opening up your life to someone else, to move them from being a stranger to being a guest in your life. It often manifests itself in opening up your home and sharing a meal with others. This was especially important in the first century when hotels weren’t common and traveling Christians would need a place to stay (see Rom. 12:9-13; 1 Pet. 4:7-9; Heb. 13:1-2). To show hospitality meant they could stay at your place, eat your food, and use your amenities.
“To show hospitality meant they could stay at your place, eat your food, and use your amenities.”
As would have been the case in the first century, lives are shared when we enter into each other’s homes. When someone sits at your table for a meal, or spends time with your family sitting around the living room, lives are shared, stories are told, and influence is ripe for the making. Perhaps that it why it is listed as a characteristic of an overseer in the church. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:2-3,
“Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.”
The leaders, bent on the Great Commission, were to be men who were hospitable. They were to share their lives with others.
Genuine hospitality not only provides for physical needs, but also gives opportunity to provide for spiritual needs. I could be wrong about this, but I think in our current culture one of our greatest opportunities for gospel influence is in our homes and around our tables.
“I think in our current culture one of our greatest opportunities for gospel influence is in our homes and around our tables.”
To be clear, I am not talking about entertaining guests, although there’s a place for that too. There is a difference between entertainment and hospitality. Entertaining requires significant preparation. The house is spotless. The best dishes are pulled out. The kids get bathed. Someone greets at the door and collects coats while someone else perfectly times the setting of the table and meal preparation. This is entertaining.
Hospitality aims for being always ready (not perfect, but ready). Hospitality requires more vulnerability. Hospitality grants what Dr. Will Miller and Dr Glenn Sparks call “refrigerator rights.” We tell people from the first time they come into our house they have “refrigerator rights,” which means they are welcome to open up our fridge and help themselves (though we always warn them against eating, or even opening, anything wrapped in foil).
It’s in the context of genuine hospitality that people see your dirty laundry (literally and metaphorically). It’s in this context that lives are open to be shared. It’s where people are moved from being strangers to being friends, with the goal of them becoming family.
Let’s take a moment to be honest. Strangers are people we don’t know. These may be people we just physically saw for the first time, or it might even be people we see every Sunday morning when we gather as the church. Sometimes we know people’s names and recognize their faces, but they are still basically strangers. The conversations are superficial and distant.
“Hospitality is where people are moved from being strangers to being friends, with the goal of them becoming family.”
Distant and superficial conversations will never make disciples as we are called to. We must be willing to open our lives to others if they are ever going to open up theirs to us. How do we do that? We show hospitality.
The effectiveness of the church is greatly stunted when the acts of hospitality are absent. Through expressing hospitality, we have seen church consumers move to Kingdom contributors. We have seen a child from a destructive home find a Christ-centered home. Through hospitality we have seen the lost found, and the dead become alive.
So let’s go make disciples through a little hospitality, because little things can make a big impact. After all, God made space for us at His table; let’s make room for others at ours.