WANTED: THE STATUS QUO
Many years ago, as our nation grew, the people opened their doors to all men, wherever they were from. The words of Emma Lazarus, written as an inscription for the Statue of Liberty, said this:
Give me your tired, your poor.
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these…the homeless, tempest tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Our country extended a friendly invitation to people it never knew. It wasn’t the first time a kind invitation went out to a stranger. People had adopted the practice of being kind to strangers long before the discovery of America or the building of the Statue of Liberty.
Although the inscription was written partly as an invitation to immigrants to our great country, a similar invitation should also go out to people we hope will become a part of our churches in America!
A special kindness is needed to get people in these doors and to keep them here. There are several phrases we each use that help describe this same basic kindness.
Keep a light in the window!
Put out the welcome mat!
Keep the door open!
Kill the fatted calf!
I’m glad to see you!
I’m talking about the act of hospitality. It is just one of many required jobs for a pastor.
“A bishop…must…be given to hospitality.” 1 Timothy 3:2
“A bishop must be…a lover of hospitality.” Titus 1:7-8
Pastors must show hospitality. But the responsibility for this is not to rest only on his shoulders! Scripture teaches us that we must all show hospitality.
“I beseech you brethren,” Paul wrote in Romans 12:1. One of those things he beseeches the brethren, all other Christians there in the church at Rome, is that they be given to hospitality, according to Romans 12:13.
When speaking about brotherly love, the writer of Hebrews said, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrews 13:2
I have no doubt that every person displays several aspects of hospitality every day. But, just the same, there may be some areas where the need to show this quality remains an unmet need.
One of the greatest needs of churches today is that of showing a full measure of hospitality. It’s a good measure of preventive maintenance to think about the need that every church should remain hospitable.
Many people think that hospitality is nothing more than a matter of love. Others think it is just a matter of being friendly. Actually, it is much more than that and the need for hospitality reaches farther than most people think it does.
May I give you an example of what I mean? In the typical friendly church, Frank and Sally Visitor get a warm handshake and a nice seat for the service. Later on, four or five people may go up to Frank and Sally and say, “Hi, how are you doing? Hope to see you next week.”
The attention makes them feel important, so Frank says to Sally on the way out, “This sure is a friendly church. Let’s go back next week.” The following week, Frank and Sally Visitor are greeted with, “Hi, how are you doing? Hope to see you next week.”
Two months later, do you know what they’re getting when they attend? “Hi, how are you doing? Hope to see you next week.”
Four months later, they are still getting the same “friendly” greeting, but one Sunday Frank asks Sally, “Honey, do you know anyone at church?” She says, “No, but it sure is a friendly church.” Frank concludes, “Well, if you don’t know anyone and I don’t know anyone, maybe we should go to a church where we can get to know somebody.”
Next week, they search for some friends.
If they happen to come back one last time, the friendly church gives them a wonderful greeting. “Sure is good to see you. Hope to see you next week.” When they don’t return, many churches see the visitors as the ones with the problems. Sometimes they are. Sometimes, though, they aren’t the real problem—we are the problem.
We have left out the vital principal of full hospitality. A church has only one chance to make a first impression. Church growth studies have found that visitors make up their minds in the first eleven minutes about whether or not they are returning to a church. The way we treat visitors quickly tells them, to their own way of thinking, how important they are to a church and if there is enough hospitality to go around. That means, church members, we have a very narrow window of time to show hospitality.
How can we use this short time to either plant the seeds for showing hospitality later on or actually show it as soon as a visitor comes?
This is the popular notion of hospitality…
Greet people by shaking their hands, then move on.Ask a name, introduce yourself, then move on.Smile and shake a hand at the end of services, then move on.
While any church member who does these things shows a measure of hospitality, there is much more to meeting the needs of visitors than just shaking a hand or exchanging a name or smiling at them…..and moving on.
The fuller meaning of hospitality
It is far more than greeting people and looking pleasant or just being nice to them.
Showing hospitality involves being gracious. This is like the gracious woman that retains honor, spoken of in Proverbs 11:16. She was filled with kindness, favor, and was pleasant to others.
Showing hospitality involves being friendly, as a man who has friends and shows himself friendly, spoken of in Proverbs 18:24.
Showing hospitality involves wishing another person well and treating this other person as a companion.
Showing hospitality involves winning one’s favor, gaining one’s good will, or striving in some way to please this person. This involves helping others with real needs and in a sincere way when it is possible to do so. It means being a host and treating others as special guests, as Paul was treated in Romans 16:23. Finally, it involves loving strangers, receiving guests, and being generous to them.
Now that we know what it is, how do we show it or show more of it? Church members are to show this hospitality one to another. 1 Peter 4:9 How many times have we decided to have nothing to do with some other person or family within the church? Do we show hospitality because we want to or because we must show it?
HOW DO I SHOW HOSPITALITY TO OTHERS?
The best way to do this is to examine how Bible characters showed hospitality.The scriptures are filled with example after example of men and women that showed hospitality to other people, angels, and even the Lord Himself.
Abraham is an example, as seen in Genesis 18:4-33. He entertained angels that appeared as men, and showed them hospitality. Notice what Abraham did. He met them at the door of his tent. He had a respectful attitude toward them. He wasn’t content with just greeting them and sending them on their way…he wanted to spend time with them. He conversed with them. He had a time of fellowship with them over a meal. He befriended them.
Lot, who had lost his testimony with members of his own family, showed hospitality to angels at Sodom. Though they appeared as men, notice how Lot treated them, as seen in Genesis 19:2,3. He didn’t wait for these visitors to come up to him. He went up to the visitors. He showed them respect. He engaged them in conversation. He opened the doors of his house to them. He enjoyed a time of fellowship over a meal with them. He befriended them.
Abraham’s servant was sent to find a wife for Isaac from a city of Nahor in Mesopotamia. Notice how the servant was treated by Rebekah and her family, as seen in Genesis 24:15-20, 25-31. Also notice the greeting of hospitality. Rebekah was considerate of his need for water. She made herself a servant to the stranger. She went the extra mile for the stranger by doing more than he asked. She humbled herself in his sight. She made the servant feel like the most important person around. She engaged the stranger in conversation, which was much more than a handshake or a “God bless you.” She opened the door of her father’s house.
Moses was treated with hospitality by Reuel, his future Father-in-Law, after Moses helped his future wife water the flock, as seen in Exodus 2:17-21. Notice how Reuel showed hospitality to Moses. He reached out to Moses and he didn’t wait for Moses to reach out for him. He invited him to his house. He fed him. He made Moses feel important and accepted him as he was.
The Levite who sojourned on the side of Mt. Ephraim was shown hospitality by his father in law as one would expect, but what about by someone else who didn’t know him? He left that house, deciding to go to Gibeah or Ramah. As it began to grow dark, they found themselves at Gibeah. The man tried to find a place to lodge, but no one would take him into the house for lodging. He finally decided to spend the night in the street. Notice, however, how an old man returning from his work in the field found this stranger and showed him a great measure of hospitality, as seen in Judges 19:15-21.He approached the stranger. He engaged him in conversation. He invited him into his own home. He enjoyed a time of fellowship around a meal. He became his friend.
Elisha was a stranger to the Shunamite woman, but think about the hospitality she showed this man of God, as seen in 2 Kings 4.
Job summed up his hospitality by his actions, that spoke louder than words, according to Job 31:32. He never met a mad he didn’t like.
“The stranger did not lodge in the street; but I opened my doors to the traveller.”
There are many other examples of hospitality we could find in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
The behavior we have seen from Bible characters reveals something of great importance to us about the need to show hospitality today.
We must learn to show hospitality to visitors when they come. Be gracious, friendly, treat them as a companion, help meet their real needs, treat them as special guests, and love them. We must learn to follow the examples we see in the Scripture of other great men of God who showed hospitality. Go meet the visitors, don’t wait for them to come to us. Meet visitors at the door, if possible. Respect visitors, without making them feel strange or part of the outside group.
Spend time with the visitors. Don’t shake their hands and run. Converse with the visitors—don’t simply exchange names. Be a friend to visitors and let them be your friend. Maybe we treat visitors too much like they are strangers!
We should treat these visitors as a vital part of our lives, because we really care about them.
How often do we meet a stranger, a visitor, we don’t like or we make think we don’t like? Love that visitor anyway. Isn’t that what our Lord did? And isn’t that what He has done for us?
Hospitality is a way we should treat those around us, from a biblical perspective. If we don’t use its principals when meeting visitors in our church services, we might lose them. Let’s not be hearers of the Word only but remember to be doers of it too.
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