My husband and I have officially worn out our welcome. The “welcome” word on our doormat, that is.
A few weeks ago, Ryan noted that the welcome mat at our front door was faded and shredded. You couldn’t even read any of the various multi-lingual “welcomes” that once covered it. As usual, our perspectives on this mundane domestic development were about as distant as the loyalties of Red Sox and Yankees fans or the political views of Mary Matalin and James Carville.
My immediate reaction: That’s terrible, we need a new one! Our house is a mess!
Ryan’s immediate reaction: That’s awesome, we’ve invested our resources well! Our house is always full of people!
It’s not often that I like Ryan’s perspective better, but in this instance, I’m willing to part with my opinion.
It’s true. We have worn out our welcome. And I think that’s awesome. Here’s what I’m learning: Discipleship and hospitality are closely connected. When I hear the word “hospitality,” I tend to think of teacups and doilies and good manners and well-set tables. And while those domestic niceties are certainly a dimension of hospitality, the teachings of Scripture are forcing me to re-evaluate and re-imagine the role of hospitality in our lives. Hospitality in its most raw biblical sense is not about well ordered tables but about well ordered hearts. It’s about being on the front lines of advancing God’s kingdom, saving lives, and creating safe and sacred places in the midst of uncertain situations. It’s about bringing salvation to people in need.
A prostitute across enemy lines, Rahab dared to give room and board to the Israelite spies. The Good Samaritan defied cultural stereotypes to stop for a man in need. Ananias sought out the murderer Saul (who happened to have a warrant for Ananias’ arrest) to disciple him in his first steps as a Christ-follower.
In every situation, the practice of hospitality brought the presence, power, and protection of God because one person had the guts to welcome strangers, enemies, and chaos into their lives.
I can’t think of a better way to describe ministry in today’s culture. Young adults are craving connections to one another, to meaning, and to a God who seems distant and hard to understand. If we want to pass the baton of faith to the next generation, we must learn the craft of creating safe places to pass on a dangerous message, to turn chaos into community, and to bring healing to messy wounds. And it begins by opening our door.
In Paul’s first letter to the young pastor Timothy, he gave instructions concerning the challenge and process of establishing leaders for the church. One of the traits Paul required for leadership was hospitality. Given the biblical context, I don’t think Paul was looking for “nice” men here. He wasn’t looking for men with culinary abilities, domestic skills, and subscriptions to Southern Living; rather he was looking for men who were willing to take the lead in embracing uncertainty, taking risks, and welcoming strangers for the purpose of letting God’s power and presence invade the lives of others.
What if we practiced this kind of hospitality in our small groups? What if we practiced it in our individual lives? It doesn’t require a lot of preparation and a copy of Emily Post’s etiquette book. One of my most meaningful conversations with a small group member happened recently as she sat on the floor of my bedroom while I packed for a trip. It’s really more about our hearts than our tables being set for guests.
If you are a small group leader, disciple-maker, mentor, pastor, then here’s my challenge to you today: Invite people into life with Christ by inviting them into your life, and invite them into your life by inviting them into your home. For dinner. Dessert. Games. Movies. To help you pack for your trip. Don’t just invite them in when the house is prepared for guests. Invite them in when it bears the marks of life. Wear out your welcome.