September 2013 – Hospitality was a common practice of the early church and is a basic tenet of the Christian faith, as evidenced in both the Old and New Testaments (Genesis 18, 1 Kings 17, Matthew 25, Luke 14, Romans 12). Unfortunately, it seems to have become a forgotten virtue.
“For most of the church’s history, faithful believers located their acts of hospitality in a vibrant tradition in which needy strangers, Jesus and angels were welcomed and through which people were transformed,” wrote Dr. Christine Pohl in an article titled “Hospitality, A Practice and A Way of Life” in the Spring 2002 issue of Vision: A Journal for Church and Theology. Pohl is professor of church in society at Asbury Theological Seminary and author of Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition.
“But for many people today, understandings of hospitality have been reduced to Martha Stewart’s latest ideas for entertaining family and friends and to the services of the hotel and restaurant industry,” Pohl wrote.
Theresa Bowen, co-founder of A Candle in the Window Hospitality Network, told AFA Journal: “[W]e believe biblical hospitality goes much further than a mere ‘fondness for entertaining.’ It seeks to serve, to share what God has entrusted to us with those He brings [to us]. … A heart for hospitality reflects the heart of God.”
“Christians are called to be hospitable because we serve a hospitable God,” wrote editor and pastor John Starke in an article titled “When Hospitality and Hell-Fire Kiss” on The Gospel Coalition Blog (www.thegospelcoalition.org).
“Suddenly, the grounding for love and hospitality shifted – not only ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ but also, ‘Do unto others as the Lord has done unto you,’” Starke explained.
When outsiders are invited into a Christian home for a meal, a cup of coffee or an overnight stay, they have the opportunity to see the relevance of Christ in the reality of life.
The practice of hospitality is broad and encompasses a variety of ways to care for both believers and non-believers. Its purpose is to bring glory to God by seeking to meet the physical and spiritual needs of others by offering opportunities for renewal, fellowship and evangelism.
Paul Cowell, chairman of the Christian Hospitality Network, practices hospitality by caring for missionaries and pastors from around the world with excellence.
He and his wife Jean are innkeepers of Whitestone Country Inn, a bed and breakfast located on Watts Bar Lake in Tennessee. His goal is to take care of the Body of Christ by providing a “sanctuary for the soul” where missionaries and ministers can be renewed, refreshed and appreciated.
“I think one of the things we fail to do is to esteem missionaries,” Cowell told AFA Journal.
Therefore, Cowell honors them through stays at Whitestone Inn as well as overseas getaways in which he partners with churches to provide luxurious vacations for missionaries. It’s a time for hundreds of missionaries to rest and be loved on by fellow believers.
In addition, Cowell launched the Christian Hospitality Network in 2002. The network includes about 700 high-quality lodging properties, all Christian run. CHN maintains a website, www.thechn.us, where missionaries and ministers can find discounted lodging throughout the U.S. and abroad.
But Cowell is quick to point out that hospitality can also be practiced on a smaller scale by paying attention to others’ needs and going above and beyond to meet them. For example, he suggests:
▶ Leave an extra tip as a way to encourage an overworked and stressed waitress.
▶ Take missionaries out to a nice restaurant after they speak at your church.
▶ Pay for visiting missionaries to be put up in a nice hotel rather than the average motel.
For Bowen, meeting the needs of others means offering her home as a haven for biblical fellowship and edification.
“We open our doors, our hearts, our lives, offering refuge and refreshment in Christ’s name,” she explained.
She sees home-based hospitality as a way for families to play a vital role in the work of the kingdom. For example, Bowen encourages Christians to:
▶ “Let family and friends know that your home is a ‘ready stopping point.’
▶ Write to mission agencies and ask to be added to their hospitality roster for missionaries traveling through your area.
▶ Let your church leadership and the local Christian community know that you are available to provide a meal or housing for Christian workers.”
But meeting the needs of others can also happen on a front porch, in the backyard, at a park picnic table or in the corner of a local restaurant.
“Biblical hospitality can happen in any place that allows you to open your heart and lives to others,” she said. “And through these simple acts, God is glorified.”
Practicing hospitality over the years led the Bowen family to start A Candle in the Window Hospitality Network (acandleinthewindow.com), an online worldwide network of Christian households that open their homes to one another for either a meal or an overnight stay of one to two nights.
As of May 2013, the network had more than 400 members representing 63 nations. Missionaries are invited to join for free, and other participating households are asked to pay a fee of $30 a year after going through an extensive approval process to ensure safety.
“Sadly in our fallen world, there are legitimate concerns,” Bowen explained. “We would encourage everyone to balance obeying the hospitality commands with wisdom and common sense.”
While staying in the homes of fellow believers is appealing to family travel budgets, Bowen said, “We believe the greater blessing will be through sitting down with other believers and hearing of God’s faithfulness recounted around countless dinner tables.”
“The table is central to the practice of hospitality in home and church,” Pohl wrote. “The nourishment we gain there is physical, spiritual and social.”
While Cowell and Bowen focus their hospitality efforts on believers, both would agree with Pohl and Starke that biblical hospitality is also practiced for the purpose of sharing the gospel with guests.
“Hospitality and home life is an apologetic for Christianity that contains an appeal that one-to-one evangelism and preaching don’t provide,” Starke said.
“And you never know,” Bowen added. “Hospitality just might be the conduit through which God chooses to reach into a heart with the gospel.”
According to Dr. Christine Pohl, hospitality must be …
▶ a way of life, not a task
▶ deliberate and intentional
▶ cultivated over a lifetime
▶ a rethinking and reshaping of priorities
▶ rooted in a heart of willingness, not a wealth of resources
▶ practiced by people who are broken and transparent, courageous and humble
▶ offered for the glory of God and not for personal gain.