Biblical Hospitality – 3 Reflections of A Powerful Concept in Ministry
Recently I attended a course on biblical hospitality in my bible college. When we talked about the concept in class, we mentioned that this is a very much needed concept in our Christian communities today. By itself, it is insufficient but without it, we will find our Christian experience incomplete. Therefore, it became imperative for us to reflect on biblical hospitality.
In this post, I will share three reflections on biblical hospitality and why it is so important for the church today.
God’s hospitality is the starting point of biblical hospitality
The Scripture talks about God as host right from the beginning with Genesis 1. When we read the first chapter of Genesis, we can ask ourselves, why did God create the world in that order? There are many theological answers that we can come out with but one of the most practical answers is that God needed to prepare the world for mankind. He had to ensure that everything was ready before Adam and Eve came into the picture. We can say that God took time to stock up the ‘pantry’ with food and prepare the home for mankind.
He even offered the gift of protection over mankind as a host. As we read Psalm 23 from a fresh angle, we find that God the Shepherd is a host who offers protection. For those who dwell in His house, He is the host who restores us, comfort us and provide for us. This is a place where we will not be found lacking.
In that sense, therefore, we have to ask ourselves what we can learn from God about hospitality. If God takes the time to prepare the place for mankind and is willing to accept everyone who is willing to enter His house, then as His people, we have to ask ourselves how we can practice the same thing in our ministries. After all, all of us have a story to share about God’s hospitality in our lives. The chief story of all is how God received us into His family. I have shared mine here too.
So for me, this means that it is my responsibility to prepare all my teaching materials properly before I go for my classes so that my students can gain the most learning out of the teaching. My wife, in fact, makes me do this quite a lot. She will ask me to go through my materials with her. From there, she advised me to use certain terms or focus on some issues to speak into the lives of the students.
This also similarly requires me to be willing to accept anyone who may ask weird questions into the class. I remember in my previous Apologetic class, I had quite a variety of students. I even had a Ph.D student in science who questioned me about quantum physics. But the experience made me think, how do I help these people so that they really learn and gain something that will be useful for their own personal spiritual lives and ministries. This is truly a question that I have to continue to ponder.
Biblical hospitality takes a holistic approach
There is a need to think holistically about the different types of space when we exercise hospitality in ministry. The physical space pertains to the physical surrounding of the location. The emotional space looks at whether the “guests” will find it safe to be emotionally vulnerable. The social space deals with the social interaction between the host and the guests. The intellectual space looks at how the host can challenge the “guests” to grow intellectually. And lastly, the spiritual space handles the spirituality of the “guests.”
In most small group ministries, the host tends to be the small group leader while the “guests” are the members. Sometimes the guests are the visitors whom the group is reaching out to. In a teaching ministry, the host is the teacher and the “guests” are my students. When I studied biblical hospitality, I think this challenged me to think holistically about my teaching space.
So, when I am teaching my classes, I have to think holistically about the space. Is the classroom conducive for discussion and sharing among the students? Can the students see the screen and the materials that I will be writing on the whiteboard? It goes as far as ensuring the students seated at the corner of the room can see my powerpoint slides. To bring things further, it is also asking myself how I can improve on my delivery so that it provokes deeper reflection from the materials? After all, we do not just want to teach the materials. We need to be teachers who truly impart and help our students make sense of the materials in their own personal lives and ministries.
This brings me to my next reflection.
Biblical hospitality does not end upon departure
Most of us think about hospitality ending at the point of the departure of the guests. If I am hosting someone, I will probably see the person to the door. And that’ll be about it. At my best, I sent my ex-girlfriend to the LRT station. Sometimes, I sent her to her home from my home. However, if we study the Bible, we see probably more than that.
One key word in the Scripture is the word “propempo.” The word translates to “send/sent” (Acts 15:3, 1 Cor 16:11, 2 Cor 1:16, 3 John 6), “accompanied” (Acts 20:38, Acts 21:5), “help” (1 Cor 16:6, Titus 3:13) and “assist” (Romans 15:24). If we study the occurrences of the word in the NT, we find that they have to do with the end of the hospitality process. Some of the ways of sending off includes sending in a manner that honors God, accompanying the guest to their transport and helping the guest on everything they need. Therefore the key point here is that we do not just send off people. We have to ensure that they are well-supplied before they reach their next destination.
In my own teaching ministry, this means that teaching does not end with assignment. The course does not end with me finishing the grading. I have to structure my classes such that my students continue to learn after the course. And they are able to gain enough for them to continue their journey of discovery. This is a process of empowerment. I will need to work out specific details of how this can happen. One way that I have done this before was providing my full notes to my students from more restricted countries. But this is one point that increasingly convicts me as I grow my own teaching ministry.
One last word about biblical hospitality
There are many more things to share about biblical hospitality. But I think one more point is that we need to understand is that this is not a spiritual gift. We do not need to “have the gift of hospitality” in order to practice hospitality in ministry. In fact, to think that hospitality is a spiritual gift is a misreading of the Scripture. This is not just something that is limited to ushers or leaders. When we read the verses associated with hospitality in the NT, we find that these are generally imperatives to Christians. This means that hospitality is something expected from the Scripture to the church. So we need to continue to think about this and understand what it entails for our ministry.
All in all, I have learned much from my study in biblical hospitality over these two weeks. I hope to share more insights into this matter. And you can read up more on Davina Soh’s book on biblical hospitality. But perhaps you can share your thoughts here with me. I will love to read your comments.