Week 1 of the equity-based hospitality study
- To provide an overview of hospitality in the Bible.
- To invite you to begin practicing biblical hospitality in your life today.
Anchor verse: Genesis 18:1-8
What does hospitality mean?
Show hospitality to one another without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9).
If we are going to show biblical hospitality, we need to understand its definition and how to live it out. So what does hospitality mean? And how does hospitality today compare to hospitality in the Bible?
As a young child growing up, I believed hospitality meant serving at the coffee counter at church. There was a sign up sheet to be a part of a ministry where you served coffee and donuts. This was called the “hospitality” ministry. As kids, everyone wanted to help out in that ministry because it meant free donuts!
Congregations today are still on the lookout for the best welcoming practices for their guests and training up people to smile and host those new faces walking through their front doors (strangers).
Common definitions of hospitality
To understand what hospitable behavior means, we can look to the dictionary’s definition of hospitable (underlining, italics, and bold added):
- Oxford Dictionary:
- the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.
- Merriam Webster defines hospitality:
- Hospitality: hospitable treatment, reception, or disposition
- given to generous and cordial reception of guests
- promising or suggesting generous and friendly welcome
- offering a pleasant or sustaining environment 2 readily receptive: OPEN, hospitable to new ideas
- Hospitality: hospitable treatment, reception, or disposition
The concept of openness in the third definition named for hospitable adds a valuable layer to our understanding of hospitality. To be open is to be without barriers, readily accessible to welcome anyone at any time.
Let’s take a look at the word open
- Having no enclosing or confining barrier
- Accessible on all or nearly all sides; being in a position or adjustment to permit passage
- Not shut or locked
- Having no barrier (such as a door) so adjusted as to allow passage (be able to adjust in the moment)
Practicing equity-based hospitality starts with a foundational understanding of what it means to be hospitable.
Open is to be without barriers and to be readily accessible.
This is the opposite of keeping up with the neighbors, making sure your home is just perfect or having the right “stuff” at your church welcoming counter.
Hospitality in the Bible
Hospitality is an ancient tradition dating back to long before Christ. The Bible is full of stories of hospitality. And ultimately, the Bible as a whole tells a hospitality story about God’s incredible welcome of broken people into God’s family.
This ancient tradition expanded with Christ as he modeled loving and welcoming all who came to him.
For insight into the early origins of biblical hospitality, let’s read from Genesis 18.
The Lord appeared again to Abraham near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.
“My lord,” he said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while. Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.”
“All right,” they said. “Do as you have said.”
So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, “Hurry! Get three large measures of your best flour, knead it into dough, and bake some bread.” Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served it to the men. As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees.
Here we find Abraham. It’s a hot day. Land is arid. The morning work is done. Now it’s the middle of the day when the heat is at its blistering peak. Dust is everywhere the roads are made of dirt and are in continual use. Abraham is resting. The women possibly are resting as well. We can only imagine the dust and heat combined would make anyone want to rest at that time of the day.
Then travelers appear. It would not have been unusual for Arab travelers to come and seek shelter as there were no hotels. Hospitality came from people who were camped. Abraham asked the travelers to stay. “Please if I have found favor in your sight…” Hospitality did not just wait till someone asked for a cup of water. Hospitality was seeking how to meet needs before the need was apparent. It was an honor to serve, care for, and shelter the stranger. It was being ready in a moment’s notice to welcome the stranger.
Jesus’s words in Matthew 25:35-36 give us examples on how to live out hospitality. Here hospitality is pointed to those in need as well as strangers:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
What is biblical hospitality?
As Abraham models in Genesis 18, biblical hospitality is a sacred duty to treat strangers and friends alike, welcoming one another into our homes, communal spaces, and lives. Like Abraham, are we ready to welcome people into our homes and our church communities? Are we ready to embrace both friends and strangers as God’s oikos?
In English, oikos can be translated as “household” or as a nuclear family unit. Yet, in the Greek community, this word took on a broader role, encompassing neighbors, coworkers, friends, and anyone else with whom you were connected.
As Ann Arbor Christian Reformed Church puts it in their vision statement:
“Oikos is people dwelling intentionally in relationship for a shared purpose. Oikos refers to the deep conviction that, when we welcome someone into our house or church, we treat them like they belong—because in the kingdom of God, they do belong. In a world where isolation, brokenness, and loneliness are all too common, we welcome them to fully dwell in a community whose members need each other and respond to those needs through covenantal fidelity. We welcome them to see themselves as uniquely created in God’s image, and through embracing this image to reveal more of God to us.”
This doesn’t mean you need to have a spotless house or Instagram-worthy desserts ready to serve at any time. “Hospitality is an offer to identify with outsiders and to treat them like insiders,” writes Scott Cormode in this article on biblical hospitality. “Hospitality is extending privilege across differences.” It’s bringing them into your family.
Biblically, we see oikos in the New Testament as a way to advance the gospel message of love. We draw the circle wide by showing the world what Christ has done for us and sharing how Christ has transformed us. In Luke 8:26-39, for example, Jesus heals a man. Grateful, the man asks if he can stay with Jesus. But instead, Jesus tells the man to go home to share what God has done for him with his community, inviting them into the oikos.
We also see Jesus bring people into his family, including the outcasts and marginalized. Mary Magdalene became a friend and part of his oikos. Mary and Martha are part of Jesus’s oikos.
People across cultures have valued hospitality throughout history. On the origins of hospitality, Christina Pohl, professor from Asbury Seminary in Kentucky, states: “Perhaps we could say that its origin is in human vulnerability, sociality, and longings for community.” This longing for community is centered around equity. If one does not feel equal and valued, real Christ-like community does not exist.
What is Equity-based hospitality?
We have defined hospitality, and we have started to explore hospitality in the Bible. Now let’s define equality and equity.
Equality vs. equity
Equality: Two things that are the same or have a similar value. When we treat two people or two groups of people the same, we make sure they have or get the same things.
Equity: Giving everyone what they need to be successful; it is NOT giving everyone the exact same thing. If we give everyone the exact same thing, expecting that this will make people equal, it assumes that everyone started out at the same place.
Equality is giving everyone a shoe. Equity is giving everyone a shoe that fits.
With equity-based hospitality we are drawing the circle wide in a posture of embracing. In this hospitable space, we bravely, intentionally work towards the vision of an intergenerational, multicultural, multiracial future freed from racism, sexism, and ableism. This is a future where systems of oppression can be dismantled and transformed, where people with disabilities can belong and serve, and where the gifts and influence of women and men of all ages, stages, and cultural backgrounds are fully included in the life of the church and beyond.
How to show biblical hospitality in your church
Here are some ways your church can integrate hospitality in your ministry, drawn from Rev. Liz Testa’s article on welcoming newcomers during Advent:
- Consider the outsider in your communications. Make sure you share everything visitors need to know about joining your church for worship and events. Simple things like your church address, the room an event will be held in, and whether there is parking are important details that members of your community may take for granted.
- Walk through a newcomer’s experience in your church from start to finish. Think through how newcomers will know they are welcome and feel included. Simple things like having a greeter in place at the entrance to welcome people and direct them where they need to go can make a big difference.
- Focus on the both/and in your planning. Young and older, families and singles, cherished traditions and new ones, day and evening.
- Host community events. Sometimes newcomers and seekers don’t feel comfortable joining regular church events but are excited to come to a community-wide event you host.
- Look at the big picture and be strategic. Consider how you can collaborate and combine events for different groups. For example, consider bringing together family and singles ministries for a shared activity.
- Share stories. Honor both treasured memories and painful experiences through story-sharing. Each person has their own story, and sharing our stories helps us understand one another and ourselves more deeply.
- Be ready for walk-ins. Sometimes you’ll have unexpected visitors. Be prepared to welcome them warmly, even and especially if they didn’t RSVP, aren’t wearing “appropriate clothes,” or don’t seem comfortable in church.
- Follow up with visitors. Hospitality doesn’t end when an event is over. Invite newcomers to come back and name one or two specific opportunities. If you have contact information, follow up within a few days to thank a newcomer for joining you and say you hope to see them again.
Read the full article for more ideas and suggestions for showing hospitality in your church. Or watch this video to see a powerful example of mutual hospitality.
- Before reading this introduction to hospitality, what was your definition of hospitality? Did any of the types of hospitality listed resonate with you? If so, think about (and share, if in a group setting) when you had a time where you experienced this type of hospitality. If not, reflect on your own definition and experience with hospitality.
- How does a community live without barriers?
- Does this definition of hospitality resonate with your understanding of hospitality?
- Give an example of equality vs. equity in your own life context.
- Write out a closing prayer to reflect your desire to move into equity-based hospitality.