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What is Christian hospitality?

By Chris Surber

The term hospitality is being thrown around more and more in Christian leadership and church growth circles. Thom Rainer’s popular book, “Becoming a Welcoming Church,” is just one of a slew of examples of books, articles, seminars and discussions on this increasingly hot topic.

When I think of hospitality, I think of a Travel Channel show I used to watch about dying hotels. The host of the show would bulldoze his way through the bad attitudes of poor hotel managers and staff in an effort to turn them around.

What is hospitality when it comes to Christianity, Christians and the church? What is motivating all this talk about hospitality?

Hospitality is a constant and consistent theme throughout the Bible. God commanded the Hebrews to remember their exile and oppression in Egypt and allow it to motivate hospitality to foreigners. “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:34 ESV) Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you is a command of hospitality and not new to the New Testament. (Matthew 7:12)

1 Peter 4:9 is specifically about Christians allowing Christian workers, traveling ministers and fellow followers of Jesus to stay in their homes as they traveled. “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (ESV) It also highlights a general biblical principle to love one another sacrificially, as serving one another is akin to serving Christ. (Matthew 24:34-46)

Speaking biblically, hospitality is treating strangers and friends alike. It is welcoming one another into our homes and lives. Hospitality is a sacred duty. But what is motivating all of this emphasis upon it today?

Positively, I think many Christians are waking up to the fact that we cannot continue to do church in the 21st century the way we did it in the 20th century. Declining church populations have woken some of us up to the reality that our churches aren’t as welcoming as we thought they were.

We’re realizing that we who are called by Christ to build communities of radical grace and extravagant welcome have often been exclusive communities, defined more by our detesting sin than our love of sinners.

Negatively, I think sometimes we just want to get more people in the pews. Beware of false hospitality. Don’t swing wide the gate, set the table for a few more, and smile big, only to stop loving once the numbers go up a bit.

Don’t let the renewed interest in hospitality become just another church growth gimmick like free gas cards a decade ago and apple pies for visitors a decade before that.

I’m praying that hospitality — loving strangers and friends alike — will become the defining characteristic of Christianity, Christians and churches in our community and wherever the name of Jesus is proclaimed.

Chris Surber is the pastor at Liberty Spring Christian Church in Suffolk. Email him at chris@chrissurber.com.