Week 7 of the equity-based hospitality study
- Understand how to exercise care and practice intention in who leads, plans, and presents.
- Customize your content and approach as a leader according to the people you’re communicating with and their context.
Luke 24:1-12: Women at Jesus’s tomb
I remember realizing that if no one is following me, I’m not leading. I also realized that when people are following me, it matters where I lead them. Leadership is not about creating an environment where people fit in. It’s about creating an environment where people belong. There needs to be care for content as well as context. These go together with the other values of equity-based hospitality.
The role of servant leadership
Leadership is not to be taken lightly. Leadership is a gift of trust from the followers. Leading means serving, and Christ gives us an example of servant leadership. Christ came and called followers whom he served, cared for, equipped, and comforted. He sent them out without him and then regrouped and equipped his followers when they came back. Christ was the greatest servant leader of all.
“The servant-leader is a servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead,” writes Robert Greenleaf, founder of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.
The first question anyone pursuing leadership must ask is this: “Are you ready to serve, or do you just want to lead?” We have examples in government and church where leaders are looking for praise or desiring influence without ever serving. I’ve been on too many mission trips where no one wanted to serve. Instead, they wanted to teach, preach, and be in the limelight. They wanted others to do the work, others to be the “deacons” who cared for the members on the team. This does not model servant leadership. Instead, it models pride leadership. Pride leadership makes it all about “me” and not about the “we.”
Robert Greenleaf has written extensively on servant leadership. He states, “A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong … Caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built.” This is a vision of Christ serving his people.
Our Christian faith is based on the premise that Jesus’s ministry of reconciliation brought forth two ideas. First, our relationship with the Creator was restored and reconciled. Second, that Christ restored unity with God’s people in community.
“But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.
For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.” –Ephesians 2:13-16 (emphasis added)
You may not think you are hostile towards others who are different from you. But we can ask questions of ourselves such as: “Am I serving strangers or those different from me? Am I walking in unity with diverse groups? Am I creating spaces of belonging, instead of just fitting in?” When walking in equity-based hospitality, servant leadership is represented when we are making it about the “we”.
What does care for content and context mean?
“Content” isn’t just corporate jargon for the digital age. It’s the substance of any message you bring, including the gospel. Content is an expansive category that includes the many different ideas you communicate in your relationships with others. Care for content is about considering what content you’re sharing and how the person or people you share it with will receive it.
Content goes hand-in-hand with context. Some things about the content you share with others remain constants no matter who you’re talking to or where you are. For example, loving God and loving your neighbors should always be part of the content you embody in every context. But how you communicate hospitably has everything to do with your context.
Your context is the space you’re in and the people you’re with in that space. It’s the emotions in the room, the stories that led people to this space, the group dynamics, the cultural backgrounds represented, the gender of the people around you, the age range, and even the lighting and decor of a physical space. Leading with care for these factors helps you to be more hospitable.
A few examples of areas where content and context matter
Let’s take a moment to consider intergenerational relationships, where content and context matters a great deal. There can be such pleasure in intergenerational relationships. Generations get the privilege of being in relationship with one another. It really can be exciting. Yet, this does take intentional work. It’s not about being comfortable; rather, it’s about empathy. Each generation should have empathy for the other and truly listen to one another. The phrase “one another” occurs about a hundred times in Scripture. Mostly, these references are around binding us all together and how we ought to relate to one another.
When we take a moment and consider the context of each generation, we can have a better understanding of what content is needed. (And note that the context of each generation may vary significantly based on factors such as location, socioeconomic status, etc.) Many older people have experienced wars in which everyone knew a family or friend who had died. They may have experienced polio and the newness of that vaccine, for example, as well as other horrific events that younger generations have only read or heard about.
My father-in-law recently told the story of friends who had polio; it was an era during which signs on windows and doors told who had it and who did not, and they felt the vaccine was a miracle. But they also have lived a life of living in power. They had the power to build here, in the United States. Older generations built systems, developed savings and company structures where there were pensions, then 401k’s. Older generations received education that might be considered basic by today’s standard.
Younger generations may or may not remember the events of September 11, 2001, that scarred and transformed the United States in a number of ways. They have not lived through world wars, but they have experienced two defining recessions as they entered young adulthood. Their world was shaken by the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Health care can be difficult to receive. It’s not automatic that a company will have a 401K. College prices are keeping many young people out of college or putting them in exorbitant debt. Their stories need to be heard as well. Faith practices and relationships with Christ are expressed differently based on the experiences people have lived through.
Care for content and context also needs to be looked at with gender in mind. Including women in leadership means that times for meetings need to happen around men and women’s schedules. A church where I served wanted to have women elders and leaders. Usually, elder meetings were held once a month at 6:00 a.m. No one could get a babysitter at that time. Plus, this is the time many women are getting their kids ready for school. Meetings at this time were not inclusive toward women. I heard of a similar situation in another church where elder meetings took place at 11:00 a.m. That implied that only retired people or stay-at-home parents with kids in school could be a part of this elder board. Consider the times of your meetings. Are they at a time when most can attend?
Related: For further study on men and women working together, check out the Building God’s Church Together Bible Study.
Planning gatherings with care
When serving one another is a goal, you understand the importance of exercising care and practicing intention in who leads, plans, and presents.
How do we do this when it comes to our organizational events? Simply, for every event, start with the end in mind.
Every other Tuesday, the Reformed Church in America’s equity-based hospitality ministry hosts a dismantling racism prayer gathering over Zoom. Our aim for these gatherings is to create a transformational space that is both hospitable and accountable. People of color can freely be themselves and share openly, and white people can pray their godly sorrows for how others have been treated.
Here is what we say at the beginning of each gathering: “Welcome to our Dismantling Racism Prayer Gathering. Thank you for making time in your busy schedules to unite prayerfully around dismantling racism. We claim this sacred virtual space as one of trust, vulnerability, humility, and unity.” At each gathering, there is acknowledgement that this work is uncomfortable, both personally and communally. It is not easy; it is slow, intentional, and deeply transformational. With soft hearts, we engage this work actively and prayerfully, following the leading of the Holy Spirit. This gives care and context to our time together.
Take a moment and visualize who will be at your event. The goal is to customize your content and approach according to the audience and their context. Know your audience, who is present, and who you are missing. Who is not at the table yet? What would they need to feel welcomed?
When creating an event of any kind, consider inviting someone in for consulting; this person should be someone who is similar to those whom you will be serving. Consider wise counsel on how to create spaces for others to belong. The importance of wise counsel from diverse voices also helps to make sure we don’t offend. We can learn from our mistakes, but let’s also gain wisdom from others so that we can pro-actively learn and not make some of our mistakes. This offers fresh perspectives which helps you grow.
Here are some questions about physical space and visible aspects that we want to consider when we are caring about the content and context that will be most hospitable for our audience.
- Can a wheelchair or walking assistance device easily navigate your premise? Having people use a ramp by the back door is not equity-based hospitality. Having a front entrance with a well-maintained ramp is more inviting.
- Do you have easily marked spots for wheelchairs within the building? Can people in wheelchairs sit anywhere they want, not just in the back or on the side of the gathering space?
- Do you have close handicapped parking and/or a golf cart to help people easily enter your building?
- Is your music welcoming to all? This can be tricky with generational musical tension. Consider different services if your congregation is big enough. If not, intentionally weave not only multigenerational music, but also multi-ethnic music into your service. Do you need a drum box where you can control the beat? Remember drums can hurt people with hearing aids.
- Consider the volume of your music as well as the brightness of lights. Consider how long you stand during worship. Some people cannot stand for a 20-minute set. (If they sit, they are usually looking at the backside of the person in front of them. This makes for an awkward worship experience for many of our elderly attendees.) Note that many young people relate to worship often with a concert-type of experience. This is how they worship.
- Is your worship team diverse? If you commit to playing diverse music, you will attract a diverse talent pool.
- If children are in the room, have busy bags and acknowledge the children in the room. Expect some disruption.
- Are your church meetings or small groups held at times that might interfere with children’s schedules or family life?
- Do you display diversity in your print material? Are your slides on a Sunday morning a representative of God’s kingdom, not just one group of people?
- Are your presenters diverse? Greeters, worship teams, teachers/preachers, childcare workers, etc. all need to be from diverse groups. This takes intention in recruiting.
- Are your messages diverse? I’ve sat in churches where the preacher either primarily taught to the men or specifically taught to the women. Visualize your whole congregation when preparing for a message. Imagine walking in their shoes as they listen to your message. How is it being received by all?
- Read the Road to Emmaus story as found in Luke 24:13-35. What did Jesus open their eyes to understanding? Why was this hidden from them until that moment? What changed after that?
- Read the beginning of Luke 24 with the story of the women at the burial site of Jesus. What leadership was formed from this moment? What was the context of this story? How does it impact how we lead?
- Where in your leadership can you be intentional in serving others? Who can you raise up to lead? Is this person diverse from you?
- Is there a group of diverse people you can raise up in leadership?
- Spend time in prayer reflecting and journaling about your leadership. How can you better care for content and context?