Be ready with a meal or a bed when it’s needed. Why, some have extended hospitality to angels without ever knowing it! – Hebrews 13:
A friend and colleague recently told me about the writings of Christine Pohl. I have ordered her books and watched several of her lectures. Pohl is an academic and a passionate Christian who believes that in an age of isolation and loneliness like ours the essential Christian message of hospitality and an open Table is exactly what the Church is called to embody. It was a strange experience to listen to Pohl, I have been thinking and acting on this vision throughout my 27 years of ordered minister but have rarely heard anyone tie all the pieces of hospitality together, buttress it with academic work and strong Biblical exegesis. I am eager to share this vision with Bethany and Brunswick Street when I return from my vacation.
But as always with seminary lectures and texts how do we put these theories to work at the church level, how do we live out this mission in a way that is more than a Minister and a handful of leaders coming up with a strategic vision, feeling satisfied and the rest of the church life continuing on as per usual?
I found this helpful video that breaks down Pohl’s thoughts into 7 ways local congregations can live out the unique brand of hospitality spelled out by Jesus and the early church.
1) Hospitality must be modelled by the leadership and owned by the congregation. Amen! If people don’t see this “strategic plan” lived out by the church leadership a cynic would say it is more a marketing strategy and less a witness of the agape love of the Christian church.
2) Welcoming churches partner with a “bridge group” that doing hands-on work in the community. You see churches around the world partnering with groups like Habitat for Humanity, refugee sponsorship agencies, Mental Health coalitions, this partnership gives the church with a heart for mission a tangible way to make connections.
3) Hospitable churches invite people into service and leadership from the outset. When I visit new people and they indicate a passion for a ministry that exists inside the church I will hear people say, “Let’s wait and see if they are serious.” I think that is the wrong approach, equipping, encouraging and connecting new people to mission and leadership in the church starts the moment they walk through the front door.
4) Welcoming congregations eat together. Time and again we often think of our potlucks as afterthoughts or extra work when they often function more as ministry than the program or event they were intended to “lead into”. Eating together is not “fuel for the event” it is THE event.
5) Keeping the vision alive, offering a theological rational for the practice of hospitality. Some people in the church suggest that welcoming new people and explaining why we are doing it is “repetitive and boring” and want to move on… And yet while they may feel already connected and aware of the “why” of welcome many others in the church are not. It is a message that never ceases to be relevant to the life of church.
6) Hospitable churches are ecumenical and network with other faith communities to express the true welcome of Christian witness. If you don’t know the church across the road, the Minister at that church, it’s time to go for coffee, to share a potluck meal together.
7) Creating a “space for grace”, which means everyone in the church who is practicing this challenging work needs a break from time to time and that not everyone in the church is yet ready to live out this ethos. Grace in this context is both patience and Sabbath time.