Hospitality, according to the standard dictionary definition, is the friendly and generous
reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers. It is tied up with ideas like warmth,
kindness, care, service, and amenability. In this blog post, I would like to focus our attention
particularly on the relationship between hospitality and Christian discipleship. What precisely
does hospitality have to do with discipleship? How can opening up our homes to those within our
communities be a fruitful tool for Christian
disciple-making? This post will attempt to provide some answers to these questions.
The Nature of Discipleship
The Christian understanding of discipleship is naturally and fundamentally Christo-centric. It revolves around the person of Jesus Christ, as he is the object of discipleship. In the Christian framework, then, a disciple is an apprentice, a trainee, or—most simply—a follower of Jesus. Discipleship represents the overall process of becoming like Christ. Hence, a disciple-maker is one who intentionally and gradually helps to train others up in the way of Christ Jesus.
Discipleship involves a person’s whole being. It is a formative process that molds the mind, the heart, the character, and the will of the individual in the likeness of Christ. Discipleship has an intellectual dimension, as it should impact and influence our understanding; it has a heart dimension, as it should shape our loves and affections; and it has a moral dimension, as it should cultivate virtuous and godly character. All of this should have a profound affect on the will of the participant since a symbiotic relationship always exists between one’s actions and one’s essence. This means that the Christ-centered formation of one’s mind, heart, and character will organically inform what one thinks, says, and does.
Hospitality as a Means to Discipleship
Christian hospitality can be an extremely fruitful tool for discipleship, for—through the aid of the Holy Spirit—it has the potential to shape and form an individual in the image of Christ. Christ-centered hospitality possesses various capabilities that can harmoniously work together in order to produce holistic Christian formation. Three of these will now be examined.
Christian hospitality communicates important truths about God. It has a didactic character; it teaches theology—even implicitly, or indirectly. To invoke the language of the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:20, the Christian host functions as an ambassador of Christ. Through the enactment of hospitality, God is able to make “his appeal through us.” God can reveal something of himself and speak powerfully through the hospitable actions of Christian hosts.
When we open up our homes and warmly receive guests with goodwill, we are expressing the love of God to others. As God’s ambassadors, when we practice hospitality, we represent God as a relational being who profoundly desires communion and fellowship with the creatures that he lovingly designed in his image. Hospitality communicates the idea that the God of Christianity is a welcoming and inviting being; he is the God of open invitation. Through the enactment of hospitality, we are able teach our guests many valuable things about the nature and character of God—like that he is kind and caring, and that he is generous and gracious.
Servant Leadership Capability
Christian hospitality can also be a very effective form of servant leadership. To echo the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:1, the Christian host can lead by example by following the example of Christ, who is and will always be the servant of all. Through various hospitable acts of service, Christian hosts are capable of modeling values and characteristics of the kingdom that can be mimicked and copied. By preparing food, offering drinks, washing dishes, and cleaning up after our guests, we are able to model Christ-like servanthood, selflessness, lowliness, kindness, care, generosity, and love. In doing this, we can create an influential, dynamic culture of the kingdom in our homes, where guests are winsomely invited to begin to assimilate to our customs, participate in our ways of life, imitate our values, and make the virtues of hospitality and service their own.
Hospitality can create a very conducive environment for explicit and direct Christian proclamation. In living as authentic followers of Jesus Christ and functioning as faithful servant leaders, we are able to build trust with and gain respect from those who we invite into our homes. Hypocrisy diminishes the impact of our words and limits their influence; sincerity strengthens the impact of our words and bolsters their influence. People will listen to us if they trust and respect us. Also, people are much more likely to care about what we have to say if they first—on the basis of our actions—know that we care about them. With this in mind, the practice of Christian hospitality can prepare the way and open the door to effective Christian instruction. Such godly directive is far less intimidating and—in general—much easier within the warm, welcoming, comfortable environment of a home permeated by the love of Christ.
Ryan Ragozine is the Director of Thinker Sensitive. He is passionate about both ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. Ryan holds a B.A. in Theology from Southwestern Assemblies of God University and an M.A. in Theology from Asbury Theological Seminary. He and his wife are big on Christian hospitality, and they currently run a house church ministry that welcomes people from all different backgrounds and belief systems.