In seminary our wives met together once a month with older mentors rotating through each other’s homes in order to learn how to be hospitable with whatever we had. Some nights the ladies gathered together in the comfort of a couple near retirement who had plenty of space for everyone. Other evenings 20 women would pack in a one-bedroom apartment barely large enough for the couple that made it their home. The goal was to remind us that what matters is our willingness to open our homes, not that it is perfect for entertaining many guests.
In her book The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World, Rosaria Butterfield says, “Sometimes Christians tell me that they don’t practice hospitality because they don’t have enough space, dishes, or food…This is a false fear that no one should heed. Hospitality shares what there is; that’s all. It’s not entertainment. It’s not supposed to be” (216–217).
We are a world that is connected in greater ways than ever in history yet more disconnected from real relationships. We have a thousand friends on Instagram and yet can go through a week without having meaningful conversation with anyone outside our own family. It has created a culture that is more concerned about image than relationships and we fall prey to it fearful that our homes aren’t good enough to have people over. But “People will die of chronic loneliness sooner than they will cat hair in the soup” (111).
Hospitality is an often overlooked aspect of the church, especially of her leaders. Elders must show a pattern of hospitality in their lives (1 Timothy 3:2). We are to love one another as the household of God (1 Timothy 3:15; Galatians 6:10). We must be hospitable because God was for us in Christ. We are orphans, wanderers, foreigners, homeless and he makes us into a family and gives us a home (John 14:1–4). Our witness of his hospitality toward us is hospitality toward others.
But what is Christian hospitality? There are many counterfeits. There is the feeling of welcome you get at the local coffee shop or the camaraderie you build at the CrossFit box. You might even know someone who has an extra room in their home and makes it available on Airbnb. But this isn’t what God did for us. He made us part of his family. He extended a welcome at his table to those who were rebels, thieves.
Hospitality in the bible comes from the Greek word meaning, stranger-love. But it means so much more than being cordial with a person you don’t know on the sidewalk downtown. It was a word commonly used to refer to having someone in your home as part of the family for a time. It could refer to a stranger passing through or a fellow citizen who fell on hard times. It’s not so much the time or the type of person in your home, but how that person is treated inside. It sees the gift of a home as a tool to display the work of God. “Those who live out radically ordinary hospitality see their homes not as theirs at all but as God’s gift to use for the furtherance of his kingdom” (11).
That could mean a myriad of different things for different homes, but to Butterfield it boils down to this: “Radically ordinary hospitality is this: using your Christian home in a daily way that seeks to make strangers neighbors, and neighbors family of God…When our Christian homes are open, we make transparent to a watching world what Christ is doing with our bodies, our families, and our world” (31). The world already distrusts us. They think we are crazy. They think we oppose them, hate them, are disgusted by them. We say we aren’t. We follow with pithy bible quotes that justify our position. But hospitality puts hands and feet to our words about truth and love. It creates a dissonance in the minds of many when they don’t like our words, but they see what the words from Christ produce in our homes.
It is important to realize that this isn’t an individual endeavor tacked onto an already busy life with other worldly priorities. It is part of the fabric of our corporate Christian identity. “Radically ordinary Christian hospitality must be rooted and steeped in grace: church membership, private prayer and fasting, solitude, repentance, Bible reading, Scripture memory, and worshipful singing” (36) We do this together with the tools God has given to the saints for two-thousand years. This simple work is the means by which he rescues the perishing. “Radically ordinary hospitality means this: God promises to put the lonely in families (Ps. 68:6), and he intends to use your house as living proof” (37).
The Gospel Comes with a House Key is a much needed book for the church. We have forgotten what our witness is. When we hear “evangelism” we are filled with fear believing it means we are called to preach on the street, hand out gospel tracts, engage in apologetic debates with skilled arguers, or confront blatant sin in someone’s life. Some of these things might need to happen, but we fear evangelism so greatly because we’ve disconnected our witness from our ordinary lives. Hospitality is the connection between ordinary people and an extraordinary witness. “Radically ordinary, daily Christianity is not PhD Christianity. The gospel coming with a house key is ABC Christianity. Radically ordinary and daily hospitality is the basic building block for vital Christian living.” (220)
Instead of worrying about sharing the gospel with a complete stranger, let’s first take the step of welcoming a neighbor or co-worker into our home. It is through building these relationships of trust that spiritual conversations flourish and the gospel has a real person to it instead of a cold, social-media hit. Jake and I often joke that we are going to write a one-page book called, Eat Food and Talk about Jesus. It’s a book that simplifies evangelism and discipleship. Food has a way of breaking down barriers.
Rosaria Butterfield’s book does far better. With both inspirational stories and solid bible teaching, she casts a vision of a church on mission through ordinary life in the home.
We have purchased a copy of this book for each of our Community Groups. Reach out to your CG leaders to get a copy of it for yourself.