Hospitality: Spiritual Disciplines

I sometimes joke that I have the spiritual gift of feeding people, and it’s true that more times than not, entering our home will result in some sort of edibles placed before you. It’s the way Scott and I are wired—to have people into our home and, of course, to feed them.

But is hospitality for everyone? Or just for those of us who find it enjoyable or part of our calling?

Some fall into the trap of thinking they can’t be hospitable because their home isn’t big or clean enough, or they aren’t a good enough cook. Others become crippled by a combination of perfectionism, pride, and comparison, concerned about not measuring up to the standards of others.

Hospitality, though, is about much more than good food and a nice house, in spite of its typical portrayal. Hospitality is not about what is provided as much as how it is provided. Hospitality is all about welcome. It’s about extending open arms to other people and inviting them into a safe and warm space. Hospitality is about expressing the welcoming love of Christ to others—both friends and strangers. So, the most lavish banquet in the best decorated of homes could express little of the biblical sense of hospitality based on the attitude of the host, but simple bread and water could incarnate the welcome of Christ himself.

Christians look to the welcome of God as the inspiration for hospitality. He has welcomed us into the intimate circle of family and spread before us a rich banquet table—all while we were still in rags, unable to reciprocate, and still his enemy. The transforming power of the welcome of God through Jesus Christ should move our hearts to extend a mirrored welcome to the world. This attitude can take form beyond food and beyond the walls of our houses.

There is something precious about welcoming others into our homes and giving them a place at our table. We invite them into the intimate circle of our family life, just as God invited us into his family. There is something mysterious and powerful about eating with each other—perhaps part of the reason why at the center of the Christian worship tradition is a shared meal, Holy Communion.

Hospitality can be extended to friends and family, as well as those we would consider strangers, different from us, or even in some sense our "enemies." It can become a vehicle for reconciliation and peace-building, tearing down walls as we join around a shared table. 

Thinking of hospitality as a spiritual discipline, at least in my experience, makes it less of a luxury or an if-there’s-time option and more of a priority. It also makes me expectant to learn more of God’s heart as I do it. We see God more fully as we act like him.

In the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Adele Calhoun shares some ideas to encourage hospitality:

  • Pray for the people you invite into your home.
  • Reach out to those beyond your family and close friends.
  • Host an exchange student or someone coming from out of town.
  • Spontaneously invite others for a meal.
  • Host a “craving potluck” and ask people to bring something they crave. Don’t try to make it perfect.
  • Let your guests help while they’re in your home.
  • Host a leftovers gathering, in which people simply bring what’s in their refrigerator
  • Create a standard list of conversation questions, which will put people at ease and invite people to open up.

Hospitality does not need to be a grand ordeal, though it can be. It need only be an expression of welcome to another.

How do you practice hospitality?