It’s a spiritual gift – a charismata – to be shared with others within the body of Christ, right? Well, that’s what I thought -- and how could you blame me, when I tended only to focus on passages like Romans 12:13 ...”contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality” (NASB, italics mine).
And so this was exactly what I grew up believing – somehow thinking that hospitality was for those “inside” the community of faith…until more recently, when the scriptures and the history of my own faith-tradition revealed something quite different.
For example, consider Hebrews 13:2
”Don't forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” (NLT)
and also Matthew 24:44-45
"Then they will reply, 'Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?' And he will answer, 'I assure you, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.'” (NLT)
And certainly, Jesus himself didn't limit whom he extended hospitality to! So why should we? In fact, I have come to believe that the most common path into the community of faith in Christ is through the loving, enfolding hospitality of Christ-followers who are committed to helping people “belong” before they ever “believe.”
According to scholars like Hunter, the early Methodist movement (which is the faith-tradition I’m connected to) extended this kind of hospitality to spiritual seekers, even before they professed faith in Christ:
"…eighteenth century Methodism grew remarkably among England’s working poor people who did not fit into the refined Church of England culture, whom Establishment Christianity largely ignored. John Wesley went to great lengths, through observation, interviews, and correspondence, to understand England’s unchurched populations. Methodism, like Celtic Christianity before it, took root and became contagious almost everywhere in the open air. Wesley’s movement practices the ministry of hospitality and welcomed seekers into fellowship of Methodist class meetings, and even into membership in Methodist societies, before they believed or had experienced anything. Most of them 'caught' the faith from the fellowship" (George G. Hunter III, The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again, p. 98.
Despite the testimony of church history and scripture itself, the modern evangelical church has treated hospitality as more of a domestic pursuit among Christians, than a missional pursuit among the general population. Yet a ministry of hospitality which welcomes seekers into our communities of faith is exactly what’s needed to reach people in today’s culture. Maybe in part, it’s the lack of missional hospitality being extended by followers of Christ that’s behind the reason why, statistically, the majority of “Christians” in any given city are not involved in ANY church.
The Celtic Christians practiced missional hospitality.
The early Methodists practiced missional hospitality.