What is Hospitality and Why Does it Matter?

In 2009, a group of lead pastors in the Denver, CO, area came together to think about how they could best serve their community. They also invited the local mayor, Bob Frie, and asked him, “How can we as churches best work together to serve our city?” His answer inspired a successful joint-church neighboring movement in the Denver area: “The majority of the issues that our community is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a community of great neighbors.” (From The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon)

The Oxford Dictionary defines hospitality as, “The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.”

Hospitality and being a good neighbor matters. I remember some of our neighbors when I was a kid, sowing the seeds of Jesus into my life. Hospitality does not need to be a Martha Stewart event with everything spotless, homemade, and picture worthy. People are more comfortable in a clean home, but your willingness to regularly invite people over is more important. If you have kids or other special circumstances, people will likely extend you grace when they come inside! And hospitality can start in your front yard, back yard, or even while you are walking around the neighborhood!

1 Peter 4:8-9 (NIV)

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.

Shortly after Sam and I got married, we decided to host a dinner for Father’s Day. My dad and brothers were coming over and I was so excited. I purchased ribs and cleaned the apartment. However, when they arrived, I hardly spent any time with them because I used the time to cook! I thought I could cook and entertain at the same time; but I could not. I was not even a Christian yet, but I knew that I had foolishly wasted that valuable time with my family on something that was not valuable. I learned the importance of preparing a meal before guests arrive! Everyone is busy and if someone makes time to see me, I need to respect them and make the most of our time together!

This lesson is also taught in the Bible in Luke 10:38-42 (NIV):

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. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Mary and Martha were sisters and friends of Jesus. They had the unique and amazing opportunity to have him over for a meal. Mary sees the value in the visit and just sits at his feet and listens to him speak. But Martha misses the value of this rare gift and instead busies herself with the meal preparations. She gets mad at her sister and asks Jesus to make her sister help her with the meal. But instead Jesus gently corrects her and tells her that Mary has chosen the better option.

Sitting with your guest, listening to them, and taking care of them while they are in your care is a special service. Serve them well. Hospitality in America vs. other countries can be drastically different. America is not known for its hospitality. When people come over we tell them to make themselves at home and serve themselves. We often ask them to bring a side or dessert. What if we just counted it a privilege to serve people? Have them over and let them sit and rest while we get them a hot cup of coffee? If it’s possible to prepare for a visit in advance, have different coffees/teas available and maybe even a nice creamer or half n half? If you have time, make some simple homemade cookies? What if we told our guests not to bring a side item and use the opportunity to just serve them? Tired adults often appreciate a little spoiling! Let your service shine the light of Jesus onto your guests!

Luke 14:12-14 (NIV)

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Many years ago, God made it clear to me that I needed to make room in my schedule for hospitality. This started as giving cards, gifts, or meals to people as needed. It sometimes involved calling or visiting people. Eventually God also made it clear that I had a responsibility to reach out to my neighbors as well. If you are too busy to reach out to your neighbors, then you are too busy! Pray and ask God to reveal to you what are His priorities and what are NOT His priorities in your life.

There are many, many verses on hospitality all throughout the Bible, both Old and New Testament.

Matthew 25:42-46 (NIV)

42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Here are 20 easy ways to reach out to your neighbors:

  1. Attend neighborhood gatherings or HOA meetings
  2. Intentionally greet and talk to neighbors when you see them outside (gardening in the front yard serves several purposes – it regularly gets you outside!)
  3. Consider putting a picnic table in your front yard (inspired by the book, The Turquoise Table by Kristen Schell)
  4. Have the kids regularly play in the front yard and invite the neighborhood kids over
  5. Invite the neighbors over for coffee or hot tea; invite them over to watch a sports event or favorite show
  6. Invite neighbors with no plans over for your holiday gatherings
  7. Take the neighbors out for their birthdays or bring them birthday gifts; attend the neighborhood kids’ birthday parties
  8. Invite the neighborhood to visit your church on a Sunday morning or to a special event like Vacation Bible School, AWANA, or a weekly Bible study
  9. Take female neighbors for a ladies night out; invite the guys to go see the latest action movie
  10. Organize a potluck or block party
  11. Bring new neighbors baked goods
  12. Host a neighborhood Bible study during the summer (When we did this, we called it Dinner and Bible Study Tuesdays and provided a free meal and free materials. Neighbors and their kids just had to show up at 6:15 pm, and we ended at 8 pm sharp. We used a 7 week Bible study called A Call to Joy by Billie Hanks, Jr., that could be used for men or women at any level of spiritual maturity.)
  13. Allow trusted neighbor adults or teens to babysit your kids! This also develops relationships. Or offer to babysit for your neighbors!
  14. Consider supporting the neighbor kids and their fundraisers!
  15. Stay active in your neighborhood Facebook groups and offer helpful advice when needed – who is a great plumber? Landscaper? Contractor?
  16. Strike up conversations at the neighborhood pool!
  17. Wave and smile at your neighbors when they drive by
  18. Hand out candy on Halloween. This is a great time to also hand out kid-friendly gospel tracts or invitations to church!
  19. Give your neighbors Christmas cards
  20. Make a simple neighborhood directory with names, contact info, and birthdays. Then distribute copies to all the neighbors. This keeps everyone easily connected.

Remember that we are the example of Christ to our neighbors and they have the chance to intimately see how that is lived out through YOU. Are you friendly and merciful when their dog poops in your yard? It’s OK to kindly ask for it to be removed from your lawn. Just be careful not to alienate the neighbor; who knows what is going on in their life? Extend the same grace that Jesus has extended to you! Is your neighbor going out of town? Offer to get mail/water plants/pet sit/put trash at the curb. Is there a single mom who needs some help? Offer to babysit. Remember what is at stake here – that every person would know their Creator! Regularly pray for, LOVE, and befriend your neighbors!

Luke 10:27 (NIV)

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Ready to get started? Or want further resources? Here are some great books on this topic: The Art of Neighboring, The Turquoise Table, and The Gospel Comes with a House Key. Pray about this ministry and allow God to lead your efforts! It may be uncomfortable at first but well worth the risk!

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