In 1979 Bev Shellrude, on staff at our church, surveyed the hospitality habits of about 45 people in our congregation. One of the questions asked was, "What are the reasons you either do not practice hospitality or do not practice more of it?" Here's what she found. Sixty percent were too busy-by far the number one reason. The second reason was tension and fatigue from the work of preparing for hospitality (22%). Eighteen percent said "cost" and 16 percent said they were dead scared.
If this survey were repeated at this time and for the whole congregation, I don't believe the results would be substantially different. "Busy"ness would, I am certain, remain number one.
Every one of us is busy all the time. The only question is: "Are we busying ourselves with things that are important or with things that are not of much consequence? Is our "busy"ness making a difference for eternity or is it contributing largely to temporal things that are destined to perish?"
One activity that certainly contributes to eternity is the ministry of hospitality. As we noted, hospitality is more than simply using our homes to entertain, more even than simply getting together for a good time with other Christian friends. It's the use of our home as a tool for ministry; to build relationships with strangers who are Christians and who are primarily involved in the ministry of spreading the gospel both here and overseas. Further, "hospitality at home" is more likely to lead to "sustained contact" with the missionary after they leave. These two things together-hospitality when they are with us and sustained contact when they're not-form the third ingredient in countercultural living, the ministry of refreshing and encouraging.
But unless we're convinced about the global importance of this ministry of refreshing and encouraging, the suggestions I give you to overcome the practical issues of busyness, fatigue, cost and fear, will not prove of much use. We must first get to the point where we want to refresh and encourage cross-cultural workers as part of our obedience to Global Vision.
This requires two things. First of all, we need to change our attitudes towards things within our home. Howard Hendricks, Professor of Christian Education at Dallas Seminary, talks of the time when his children were young and they had a swing in their backyard. There were many other backyard swings in their neighborhood. But there was one big difference. The grass under everyone else's swing was a lush green carpet. Under the swing in Hendricks' backyard there was a huge brown patch because all the kids in the neighborhood played there. He said, "Very early in life my wife and I had to make a decision. Were we going to raise grass or children?
We answered children and, therefore, the grass had to take second priority."
If we are ever going to use our homes as more than just private castles of retreat, but as tools for ministry, we have to adopt Hendricks' attitude towards things within our home. Our home furnishings, for example, must be seen not as things to admire but "not touch," but as things that we use. Every time we buy new things for our home or redecorate our home, we should ask ourselves, "What kind of an atmosphere am I attempting to create for those who come in to my home as guests? Will it communicate warmth? Will it communicate an invitation to use what is there or will it produce tension and keep them on tender hooks lest they or their children damage something?"
Many years ago, a young couple in our church invited us to their home quite often. I was never at ease there because one of the hosts was very edgy about my children touching lamps, pictures, and other objects. Now don't get me wrong. We should expect guests to respect our property; we should expect them to train their children to be careful. The issue is, are we willing to let our things wear out as we serve people? The focus of the world is: Love things and use people to get more things. God says: Love people and use things to serve them. There's a big difference between the two. Your furniture is going to wear out; your carpets are going to get stained once in a while. Your wallpaper is going to get dog-eared, and the mirror is going to get smudged. But while these things are wearing out, hopeful they are building in the lives of people eternal treasures that will never wear out. Without this kind of countercultural thinking towards things in our home, we may "entertain" but we'll never use our homes for hospitality.
We also have to change our attitude towards people within the home. The goal of hospitality is refreshment and encouragement. If we're not already encouraging and refreshing one another inside the home, it's highly unlikely that strangers coming into the home will feel any degree of refreshment and encouragement.
In Hebrews 13:1-6 there are three commandments that seem at first to be unrelated. First it says to, keep on loving each other as brothers ('philadelphia' in the Greek). Then it says, do not forget to entertain strangers ('philoxenia' in Greek), which means hospitality. Then there is a statement in verse 4 about sexual purity in marriage. "Marriage should be honored by all and the marriage bed kept pure." Scholars tell us that the correct way to translate the original is, "marriage should be held honorable in all things." In other words, all aspects of marriage should be treated with honour, not the least of which is the treating of our spouses with honour in our home. Our spouses, of course, are the "brother" or the "sister" closest to us in our home and whom we should serve. Then in verse 5 it says, "keep your lives free from the love of money" ('philarguros' in the Greek, which means love of silver), "and be content with what you have." Love the stranger, honour marriage, be content.
How are these three related? Working our way backwards, we see a very interesting link. If we're not content, then we're going to need things which will require more money. In this society, that almost always means both people in a marriage have to work. In some cases it's an economic necessity; but, in many cases, it is driven by discontent and wanting more money for more things.
Once that happens, certain consequences are inevitable. If both spouses spend most of their day working, by the time they come home they have little time, energy or inclination to even cook meals for their own family let alone strangers. As for the money they have earned, they want to save it for whatever has caught their fancy recently, not to increase their grocery budget ministering to others. Both spouses working also means there's little time to develop relationships within the home, because developing harmony between couples and honoring our marriages takes an investment of time.
All of this creates an atmosphere not conducive to hospitality. The last thing a missionary or a stranger who comes into our homes for refreshing wants to do is to sit at meal times in awkward silence, listening to spouses taking digs at each other. (I've been in situations like that.)
Under these circumstances, if we ever have to show hospitality, we will do it only when compelled and we will grumble. It's no wonder that Peter says, "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling." That's the link between the three apparently unrelated commands in Hebrews 13:1-6.
This doesn't mean we all have to be perfect before we can do anything! The issue is not perfection. Remember that one of the differences between "entertainment" and "hospitality" is that the former is motivated by pride, a desire to impress people. But even if we avoid the danger of wanting to impress people materially, there is a danger of wanting to impress people spiritually so that the missionary or the guest who comes into our home, goes away saying, "My! what a beautiful family! What a lovely marriage! What perfect children!" That, too, we must resist. The issue is not material or spiritual perfection, but a general harmony of purpose within a home, a willingness on the part of all to say, "We want to use our home for ministry; we want to pursue peace and harmony within the home so people can indeed be refreshed when they come into our home." If you do that, jump into it, warts and all, and people will respond.
Once we change our attitude to things within our home and to relationships within the home, then we may be able to redirect our "busy"ness to things that are significant in eternity.
Then there is the obstacle of tension and fatigue of preparation. "Hospitality just gets me too tired," say some. Look at the familiar story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. They had invited Jesus into their home and Mary was sitting at Jesus' feet. Martha was busy with all the work. This passage has been used to teach many things. Sometimes it is used to emphasize the importance of private devotions, how necessary it is for us to sit at Jesus' feet and not be distracted. That was the good thing that Mary chose, rather than Martha. That's one way to apply the passage. But people react differently to this passage. Those who are more meditatively inclined side with Mary. Those who are workers side with Martha. "Somebody's got to do the work. It was very insensitive of Mary to choose that particular time to sit at Jesus' feet!"
All of these legitimate observations miss the thrust of this passage in verse 38. "As Jesus and his disciples were on their way He came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to Him." So it seems that Martha owned the home. She took the initiative to invite Jesus in. Presumably she saw a need in the Lord Jesus' life to come apart for a little while and be refreshed. But then she became so distracted in all the preparations, that her whole focus shifted; so much so that she ended up complaining to the one she wanted to minister to. She said, "Lord, don't you care?" In other words, "I've got needs and you aren't ministering to me!" By this time she was so angry with Mary that she wouldn't even talk to her. Instead, she asked Jesus, "You tell her to come and help me!"
The whole focus turned 180 degrees. In this context Jesus' words take on new meaning when he said, "Martha, Martha, you're worried about too many things. Only one thing is needed." What was that? To follow Mary's example of sitting at his feet? Yes, but why? Since Martha's initial purpose had been to minister to Jesus, maybe He was saying, "By listening to me, Martha, you will be truly refreshing me!" Martha's intention had got lost in the process of preparation.
You can see how this applies to the whole question of preparation fatigue. Suppose you, as a wife, invite a missionary (or a Christian worker or a visitor) to your home and then get busy doing all the work, while your husband sits in the living room asking him all kinds of questions about the mission field. Slowly your temperature starts rising on the inside. "Why doesn't he come and help me a little bit? Why doesn't he leave that missionary alone for a little while? And what about the missionary? Can he not see that I need some help? Why doesn't he tell my husband to get up and help? How's he going to love all those people in Africa if he doesn't care about my needs?" Now, admittedly, this is a bit of an exaggeration, but I don't think it's too far from the truth.
What guests need when they come into our homes, more than anything else, is a listening ear. If we give them a listening ear we can serve them leftovers and they won't even notice it.
Why do missionary guests need our listening ears? They have just come back after four years on the field; their lives are full of stories, adventures, heartaches. How much time do they get to share in the church? Three 20-30-minute sessions, perhaps, along with the admonition not to go beyond their allotted time. (When one of my missionary friends went to a large evangelical church, she was given only five minutes). So when they come into a home where there is somebody willing to listen, they begin to share their hearts and so become refreshed.
Another reason listening to them in our homes is important, is that not all missionaries are dynamic speakers. They can't hold an audience of 700 people enthralled for 30 minutes like some people can and do. But get them inside our home over a cup of coffee, and we begin to see the depth of their commitment to Jesus Christ and the passion of their hearts for the lost in a way we never will from behind the pulpit. In fact, inside a home, dynamic ones are sometimes very difficult to listen to for their voices are often much too loud! The quiet, soft, gentle ones really touch our hearts.
But most importantly, it requires a deliberate choice to exercise the ministry of hospitality. Jesus said, "Martha, Mary has chosen to do this and it will not be taken from her." What she chose was of eternal value. Turn this around in a 20th century application. What if you do a magnificent job, prepare a tremendous meal and you get a great compliment? How long does that last? Pretty soon we've got to produce another meal for another compliment. Compliments make us feel good, but they always leave us wanting more. But a ministry of listening and encouragement lives on forever.
But something I've learned from my wife, is that some people can do both; they have the talents to be able to cook a great meal, serve it elegantly and refresh the people at the same time. That's great. But here's the test. If the preparation and the desire to put on an elaborate show begins to interfere with the ministry of refreshing and encouraging, then it's time to change our priorities. That's one way to solve the problem of preparation fatigue.
What about cost? Recently a young couple, along with several others, joined us in our home for an evening together. We were having a great time when the young man turned to me, looked around and said, "Boy! an evening like this must have cost you a lot of money. We would love to do something like this in our home, but we're on much too tight a budget."
In response, I shared with him a story about another young couple once part of our congregation. They had been in our home once. Through that, and other factors, God gave her a desire to use her home in a similar way for hospitality. But the problem was, she didn't know how to cook and said, "Could you please teach me how to cook one dish that's easy to make?" She learned a dish you could serve very easily with a couple of big loaves of french bread. So that's all she does. She cooks the dish, gets the french bread (sometimes not even sliced), puts the butter out and says, "Help yourself!" We were invited to their home once; and that's where I heard the story. The simplicity of the meal didn't take away from the hospitality, the encouragement and the conversation. She handled both preparation fatigue and cost with one blow!
The very next day, after I shared this story with the couple in our home, the other couple in the story came back to visit us. I shared with her how her step of faith into hospitality had been used to encourage another couple to do the same. She laughed and said, "We're still doing it in the new church!"
Having said that, let me add that there is some cost involved. It's not necessarily financial, but emotional. It's a sad but inescapable fact that people who use their homes most often to refresh others, are seldom invited out themselves. It seems to be so, no matter where I go. It's very easy in such a case to get bitter and resentful and then... bingo! We've shifted from Mary to Martha. It's much better to choose to continue the ministry by thinking not only of the cost but of the benefits.
Cost/benefit analyses are common in our business worlds. The Scriptures are full of them too. What are some of the benefits of this ministry of hospitality? We've already seen the benefits to our guests; but benefits come back to us as we do the work of refreshing.
There is a benefit to our children. Hospitality is a tremendous opportunity to help them see the principle of working together as a team. My children are no different from yours. They have all kinds of ingenious ways of trying to get out of their regular housework duties every day. But amazingly, on the nights we have hospitality, they work almost unasked. One hospitality night I had to literally plead with one of them at 11 pm to leave the dishes and go up to bed and sleep. That certainly doesn't happen on normal days! They catch a vision, begin to feel part of a team and nobody has to tell them to do the necessary work.
Hospitality communicates values to our children. Our attitude towards our home and the things within our home contributes to the values they will have about their home some day. If our homes become a place of refreshing and encouraging, their homes are more likely to become the same. Future generations of missionaries will keep on being encouraged through our influence.
It's an eternal investment. Further, when you have people stay as guests in your home, it sometimes means a child has to give up his or her bedroom for a little while. What an opportunity to teach them not only unselfishness but partnership in Global Vision.
Then, too, because missionaries are often on the cutting edge of evangelism, they observe or participate in many of the signs, wonders and miracles that take place. When these same missionaries come to our home, our children get to hear first hand that the God of their father and mother is not a dead deity from the past but one who is living today.
Another benefit I've observed is that people who learn and practice the ministry of hospitality somehow always seem to have an enlarged capacity to keep practicing it. Even if in other areas of their lives God keeps them on even keel, in resources for hospitality, He multiplies their blessings. I think of one couple in our congregation. As they have faithfully practiced the ministry of hospitality over the last 18 or 20 years that I have known them, God has multiplied, beyond anybody's imagination or ability to predict, their capacity for such a ministry. He has entrusted to them increasingly larger houses, physical health, happy children, harmony in their marriage and always enough money to share lovely meals and comfortable surroundings with visitors. The treasures keep coming back to us.
What about those who are "dead scared" of hospitality? Here are some suggestions:
a) First, forget all about loving strangers, missionaries and visitors. Instead, begin with people in the church whom you already know, Christians who share the same faith as you. Invite them to your home, not to entertain them but to refresh, encourage and listen to them. You may even want to start with just one person.
b) Then begin to include people in the church that you don't know. How can you invite someone you don't know to come to your home? I think of Bob and Grace Erickson. A few years ago, when they left for an overseas assignment, George and Lucille Repetski had an open house in their home which we attended. I was amazed. For three or four hours people kept coming, one after the other. Bob and Grace had been in this church for just three years; yet, when they left, a steady stream of people came to say good-bye.
For their secret, we must go back to Bob and Grace's first year in the church. It was the loneliest year in the church, Grace told me, because nobody reached out to them. "So we decided to take the initiative." She started where it naturally made sense. She had young children, so she started befriending mothers who brought their young children into the children's church (a ministry that Grace eventually took over). Soon, she started having couples over to their home. Gradually, the people she didn't know at all, now knew her very well. Three years later, when they went overseas, it took four hours for all the people to say good-bye to them. Others of us have been sitting around here 10, 15, even 20 years complaining that ours is an unfriendly church. We need to take a look inside. By the way, the reason Bob and Grace went overseas was to use their home there for a ministry of refreshing and encouraging missionaries on the field. That is their primary goal in life. Bob even uses his corporate banking career to move from place to place to they can continue their ministry. They are a modern day Aquila and Priscilla.
c) Then move to Christians outside the church whom you don't know. Notice the gradual progression: people in the church whom you know, to people in the church whom you don't know but who naturally cross your path, to Christians outside the church. Here's where missionaries and visitors enter the picture.
What would happen if every one of us took this ministry to heart? Very soon we would run out of missionaries and visitors to refresh and encourage! There would still be hundreds of people in our congregations with nobody left to refresh and encourage in terms of Global Vision. That's where the fourth group comes in.
d) Non-Christians whom we don't know. Only recently have I begun to realize the tremendous opportunity God has given us for cross-cultural service right at home through reaching out to foreign students. In North America, there are about 400,000 foreign students; the number is expected to reach one million by 1990. For example, at York University, just a few miles away from our church, there are about 1,500 foreign students. Most of them are the cream of the crop" and usually come from countries closed to traditional missions. Coming here, they experience culture shock just like our missionaries do overseas. Tragically, they look at typical North American life around them and conclude that this is what Christianity is. Then they write home about their view of "Christianity"-a thoroughly distorted one.
To illustrate, an Indian friend of mine became a Christian through the witness of a Christian family in Chicago, where he was studying. He was a North Indian from a very orthodox Hindu family. He wrote home to tell his family about his decision to become a Christian. Their response was shocking: "If you want to be a Christian, fine, but please don't start living like them." What an impression foreign students must send back to their homes!
Not only are foreign students the cream of the crop from countries closed to the gospel, and not only do they unwittingly send back distorted views of the gospel, they are also very lonely people. Sadly, it seems that few Christian parachurch organizations or Christian university students pay any real attention to these foreign students; they basically live and get together with people of their own kind.
What a tremendous opportunity God has given to us by bringing the world to our doorstep. What an impact we could have if we would begin to use our homes to build bridges to people such as these. Here's a quick calculation based on my own congregation (you can easily generate numbers for your church or group): If we take each family unit and each single adult represented in our church, that's about 400 "ministry units." If each one took just one foreign student, we as a church would build contacts with 400 people cross-culturally without ever having to leave our suburban homes. Some will come to Christ, some never will. But they'll go home with a completely different impression of what Christianity is all about. What an Opportunity to get the whole family involved by "adopting" a student and the country that he or she comes from. It's an opportunity, too, to learn about the hidden people groups in a particular country and make them part of our "fulfillment" praying.
Have you ever thought of this very tangible way of obeying global vision right here?-befriending a foreign student and bringing them into your home?
For those who have children too young to attend university, have already completed it, or have no children at all, most universities have foreign student advisors and "host family" programs which puts interested families in contact with individual foreign students. The opportunities are unlimited. The world is at our doorstep.
For those still not convinced about the potential for significant impact in the "gap" through this ministry, Frank Tillapaugh tells the story of one foreign student from a country completely hostile to Christianity:
Christians in his country were not even allowed to have schools to educate their children. While studying in the U.S., he was befriended by a vibrant Christian family. Eventually, he became minister of education in his country. He not only stopped discrimination towards Christian children in state schools but also encouraged Christians to run their own schools and enroll non-Christian students. As far as we know, he himself is not a believer.1
No wonder Dr. Frank Hanna of Biola College, referring to this potential for ministry to foreign students, calls it the "Great blind spot in missions today."
1. Frank Tillapaugh, The Church Unleashed (California: Regal Books, 1982), p. 172.