In recent years, many of us, in churches large and small, have taken an in-depth look at what we are doing to welcome people. We want to make sure that our children’s areas are clean, bright and cheerful, that the bathrooms are spotless, that the church is comfortable, that our Sunday greeters are out in the parking lot to help people as they arrive. We want to ensure that our worship service is accessible, that directions within the church are obvious so that folks can find their way, and that our outside signage is visible and welcoming. We want to be very certain that our coffee is amazing, and that our savories and sweets are so awesome people will come back for more. We also encourage members of our congregations to be aware of any newcomers and not to leave them alone holding up the wall during coffee hour.
It’s a lot that we ask of our congregations, especially when our budgets are stretched, and our people’s own personal day timers are packed, even on a Sunday.
A common scene in church kitchens on a Sunday, once the coffee hour is over, food is put away, dishes are done and the wardens are locking up, is that someone will say “Well, that’s done for another week.” But is it? Is that it? Is that hospitality?
Yes, it is hospitality-and if we have done even some of these things we have done well, we have “packaged” our church and presented it very well to newcomers and visitors.
But what happens when the packaging comes off? What is going on inside our respective churches? This is the tough question to ask of ourselves, because the hospitality of the Kingdom going on within the church community, between brothers and sisters in Christ, is what is truly vital to the health of the church. This inside hospitality is essential if we want to sustain our outward hospitality of welcoming people into our midst.
For me, this is all about the hospitality of Jesus. It continually awes me that we–you and I–have the privilege of offering and sharing the hospitality of Jesus with one another within our church families.
When we look at Bible, we see over and over again that Jesus had the extraordinary ability to meet people exactly where they were at, he met them in their doing, he met them in their interests, he met them in those things that were on their hearts. He welcomed people as they were. He not only welcomed people into conversation, but he welcomed them into his time, he welcomed them into his full attention. He welcomed those who came to him to share in his life and invited them into the Kingdom of God.
What’s more, Jesus, at the same time that he was extending his hospitality to others, was himself completely open to the hospitality of God and the power of the Holy Spirit in him.
How are we offering this same hospitality of Jesus to one another within our congregations? Here are some questions I invite you to ponder with me:
1. What is a newcomer? While we think of a newcomer as someone who is new to our church, may we also think of a “newcomer” as an existing parishioner who is coming into the church in a new way? They may be recently widowed, have lost their job, be newly married, have a new baby. Life circumstances can change the way we know ourselves and are known. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we want to be sensitive to this “newcomer” and to meet them in their new place. I have heard from so many people who have become separated in marriage that they felt their most uncomfortable and marginalized when they came to church, their own church, the church they had attended for years. Why is that?
2. Hospitality is vital within the various ministries of our church as well. Welcoming existing members of the congregation into new positions of leadership, the Choir, ACW, Sunday School team, or into small home groups is not always as graciously extended as we might wish. Yet within a community that follows the way of our Lord, encouraging, equipping and empowering each other to be all that God created each of us to be is a huge part of what we are about.
3. Think for a moment about the generations that exist within our church families. God willing, we are dealing with a least four generations and in some cases even five. Church is the only place outside of the family unit where the generations gather on a regular basis. What is the hospitality like between the generations? I have had the joy of experiencing one warm and wonderful woman who happily took it upon herself to position herself in the main entrance hall each Sunday in order to greet the church family as they arrived. What was remarkable about her ministry was the way in which she greeted each young person. They felt valued and welcomed. It was heart warming to see the little ones come up the walk way with anticipation and as soon as they would see her waiting for them, their little faces would light up. She was, and still is, always there for them.
4. How transparent is the leadership team? There is something uncomfortable about being a member of a church family and not knowing what’s going on-as if you are not important. Inside hospitality is about inclusiveness. While we are thinking about transparency, how easily would a member of our congregations, or any of us for that matter, be able to articulate the core values, purpose and vision of our church? How well have we as leaders communicated what we know so well?
5. I wonder too sometimes about the hospitality that we, as a church, extend to the Holy Spirit. I’m sure that sounds odd, yet I believe the question is valid. I had the joy of hearing the “Himig Singers” last spring. A great song that they performed for us was called “You ain’t got church til the Holy Spirit shows Up”.
Recently, I was involved in a Bible Study on the Book of Acts. We came to the word “favor”, a word which Luke uses in reference to Mary, to Jesus, and to the early community. It is a beautiful word and captures the significance of hospitality of Jesus. The word favor, according to my Strong’s Concordance, means “divine influence upon the heart and its reflection in the life” The hospitality of Jesus in us is the divine influence upon our hearts which is then reflected in our lives, both individually and communally.
In the Book of Acts (2:47 ), it is this grace from God, this “favor” that attracted others to the early church community daily. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, these early Christians extended to each other their willingness to be together, to come to table together, to learn together, to share, to love and to serve each other. And this willingness is the hospitality of Jesus, “hospitality inside”, if you like.
For the individual soul, this inside hospitality assures us that we are valued, that we are beloved, that we belong. It gives us confidence in who we are as children of God. It also gives us confidence in our own church family.
If the hospitality of Jesus is appropriated into the very heartbeat of our congregations, the natural outpouring of this will then flow outside of ourselves into our lives in the world. It becomes natural and normal for us to be Kingdom hosts, inviting others to come and see, to come and share in the way of Jesus and the Kingdom. We are able to extend this hospitality to others because we are confident about what it is that we are inviting them into.
And that’s hospitality from the inside out.