Hospitality and Evangelism – A Lost Secret?

Domestic hospitality is a hallmark of the people of God throughout the Bible. As Pohl[1] points out, the father of faith, Abraham, and his wife, Sarah, offered hospitality from their home to the three strangers who turned out to be angels (Genesis 18:1-16). Hospitality was also expressed through the laws to ensure the poor and aliens could find food in Israel (e.g., Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 14:28-29, 26:11-13). Israelites were instructed to make a place for sojourners within their families when they celebrated the feasts (Deuteronomy 16:9-15).

Many of Jesus’ activities were tied to hospitality. He was a guest at numerous meals (e.g., Luke 4:38- 39, 5:29-32, 7:36-39, 10:38-42, 11:37, 14:1-14, 19:1-10). Although without a place of his own, he acted as a host (e.g., Luke 9:12-17, 18:15-17, 22:7-23). Sometimes an encounter began with Jesus as a guest, but he later became the host (Luke 24:13-35). The meals recorded in Luke became places of repentance (5:27-39), forgiveness (7:36-50) and mission. Many of Jesus’ most memorable parables were told during these meals and the themes of abundance and hospitality characterised these mealtime stories.

Following the example of Jesus, inclusive hospitality became a central practice for the early churches (Romans 12:13, 15:7; Hebrews 13:2). Christians received others into their homes (e.g., Acts 2:44-47, 16:15; Romans 16:23; 3 John 1:1-8). Worship gatherings were often household-based, and the image of the church as the household of God was prominent (e.g., Ephesians 2:19; 1 Timothy 3:15). Because converts came from many backgrounds, shared meals were useful for building unity and a new identity, for transcending social and ethnic differences, and for making sure that the poor were fed (e.g., Acts 2:46; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). “Hospitality was practically necessary and theologically central.”[2]

Therefore, “Open your homes to strangers,” said Paul in describing the Christian lifestyle (Romans 12:13). Bishops, elders and widows were required to show hospitality (1 Tim 3:2; 5:9-10; Tit 1:8). Although initially reluctant, the apostle Peter left behind his religious upbringing to eat with Gentiles because he realised God’s hospitality embraced all (Acts 10: 9-11:18).

But not only is hospitality with non-believers theologically valid, it makes sense sociologically as well. Sharing a meal together is more than a biological convenience. It is a profound social activity which expresses acceptance and openness. Little wonder that it is the ideal venue for faith sharing. The sharing of food is a symbol of the sharing of the spiritual bread of life.

In describing the practices of missional Christians, Michael Frost[3] identifies hospitality (the “E” for Eat in the B.E.L.L.S acronym) as one of the essential habits. When it comes to Australian Baptists sharing hospitality with non-Christians, as with many Christian practices, time poverty could be perceived as a major issue. The beauty of hospitality is that it is not an additional “church thing to-do.” It is simply the modification of something we are going to do anyway – eat! We need to avoid the self-imposed expectation of creating a special banquet for guests. The beauty of hospitality is that it invites non-believers to join a community of faith as they just “do their thing.” If we think hospitality is about impressing our guests with our food or the beauty of our clean house, we have missed the point.

NCLS research indicates that 34% of Australian Baptists intentionally share a meal with a non-Christian monthly or more frequently. What if we could double that figure over the next five years? Imagine the faith sharing that would go on if most Baptists intentionally opened up their homes to non-Christians and made their faith manifest in deed and Word. What if Baptist churches could challenge their attenders to make a habit of offering hospitality to their non-Christians friends and relatives, say, one Sunday a month after church? It could not only arrest the decline of our denomination, it might bring a new chapter to the fulfillment of the Great Commission in Australia!

This article is part 3 of a 3-part series. Click here to read part 2 Faith Sharing & Invitation Amongst Australian Baptists.

Click here to read part 1 Satellite Perspectives: A snapshot of Australian Baptists in our NCLS focussed PRAC Magazine ‘Research Driven Mission’.

[1] Pohl, Christine D. 2007. “Building a Place for Hospitality.” In Hospitality, edited by Robert B. Kruschwitz, Waco: The Centre for Christian Ethics Baylor University, 27-36.
[2] Pohl, 2007, 29.
[3] Frost, Michael. 2014. The 5 Habits of Highly Missional People: Taking the BELLS Challenge to Fulfil the Mission of God, now Surprise the World. Find out more about Surprise the world: http://www.crossover.org.au/surprise-the-world/

Ian Hussey is a Lecturer and Director of Post-Graduate studies at Malyon College, Brisbane. He was a pastor for 17 years before commencing at Malyon. He completed his PhD on the engagement of Newcomers in church attendance based on the NCLS data. He enjoys working with local churches to understand and implement the NCLS findings