Hospitality is central to the Great Commission, but not in the way that we typically think.
We normally think of Christian hospitality only in terms of how we can open our homes, how we can minister to the poor and how we can properly welcome strangers into our church communities. These are all valid forms of Christian hospitality, but there is another vein of hospitality which is widely forgotten.
Jesus modeled this when he sent out the twelve disciples in Luke 9:1-6 and the seventy-two disciples in Luke 10:1-12. Jesus sent them out with no money and no extra resources – they were at the mercy of those to whom they were ministering. Those who truly believed Jesus’ message would be revealed by their willingness to extend hospitality to the disciples. In other words, the reception of the message was as important as the reception of the messenger. Andrew Arterbury says, “The townspeople’s response to these strangers, Jesus’ disciples, will function as their response to Jesus himself.”
In large part, our Western missionary and evangelistic endeavors only focus on the hospitality we can give to others. For example, many churches offer events to the community in which free things are given. I’ve seen backpacks, Christmas trees, food, water, bikes and even video game systems given away to the community in Jesus’ name.
But when we only focus on this kind of evangelism we don’t give an opportunity for others to respond to the Gospel message with their whole being. Sure, they may offer their mental or spiritual assent to accept Christ, but the opportunity to physically accept Christ isn’t given. In a way, we’ve stunted their growth by always insisting on being in the position of power when it relates to evangelism.
Admittedly, being at the mercy of others is a very difficult aspect of hospitality to practice – I still have a lot to learn! But I’m trying to apply this, even if it’s in a small way. At a recent conference at which I was scheduled to speak, I made a conscious effort to be hosted by others rather than providing for myself. My hosts offered to put me up in a hotel, but I asked to be hosted in someone’s home instead. I also purposely planned my trip to stay an extra day and be hosted by someone else who would feed me and take me to the airport on the following day.
I admit, it all sounds a little funny in our culture, but I wanted to personally connect with my hosts rather than only connecting with them at the pulpit. I wanted to open up my life to them in more of an informal way, sharing about the North Korean underground church around the dinner table while breaking bread together. I wanted to allow my guests to serve the persecuted church, by first opening up their homes and accepting me.
When we understand this type of hospitality, it also helps us to put the Great Commission in proper perspective. We learn that we have to give the proper space to the Holy Spirit and proper space to the recipient’s response. In other words, it’s not all (or even mostly) about us and our delivery of the message!