Hurry, or Hospitality?


Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, ESV)
Do you ever feel the tension between serving others and loving others?  If you're like me, you've likely equated the two.  We serve because we love.  We love through serving.  Luke's story here gives us a different definition of love, told from the perspective of hospitality.

To this day, I struggle with the practice of biblical hospitality.  Like many, I tend to see hospitality like Martha saw it: working hard, attending to the details that are supposed to make for a comfortable, welcoming experience.  At home, if we are having guests over for dinner, the house (at least the living and dining spaces and main bathrooms) needs to be clean and clutter-free.  I want to have prepared a healthy, tasty meal (with dessert!), preferably served on our nicer, matching set of dishes, with coordinating table linens, and so on.  I want to offer a comfortable place to relax and socialize after the meal.  For longer evenings, where perhaps a board game or two is involved :-), I'll be sure to clear the table, put food away, and leave enough counter space to serve coffee—and maybe even an extra course of dessert.

All in all, hosting families for dinner (especially when you have several small, needy children yourself) requires a considerable investment of time and effort.  To me, the bonds of fellowship that are created or nurtured are well worth the investment.  There are few things I treasure more.  And so the burden of hospitality upon my soul is really quite light.  But who besides us finds themselves at times budgeting too little time for preparation, trying to squeeze too much into one day, and so scurrying about frantically for the 2-3 hours prior to the arrival of their guests?  And who besides us experiences a spike in blood pressure as well as relational tension between them and their spouse and children, only to be masked with superficially happy faces the moment that doorbell rings?  If you can relate to this, you can also relate to Luke's story. 

Hurry is a preoccupied state of mind in which we are "anxious and troubled about many things," thus distracted from what is most necessary—relational presence.  My wife and I have given each other pep talks prior to large family gatherings we've hosted, reminding each other that receptive souls are the greatest gift we can give to our guests.  If our home isn't the cleanest and best-organized; if the food we serve is mediocre and getting cold by the time we sit down to eat it; if our place settings don't coordinate very well; if the bathrooms haven't been cleaned in over a week; and yet we exude genuine warmth, peace, and sustained interest in our guests, they are likely to enjoy themselves more than if we had pulled out all the stops but left our souls a cluttered, distracted mess.

Are you with me?  Stay with me just a little longer.  I want to reflect in like manner on the hospitality we show in our churches.  

The more time I spend reading God's word, the more consistently I see the priority He places on the practice of hospitality.  I am guilty of emphasizing the physical space and the "programmatic" elements that make for a "home-like" experience (e.g., clear direction/communication, well-maintained and conscientiously-decorated facilities, good signage, effective spatial arrangements).  I have a gift for noticing details that many others (excluding guests, whose perspective is fresh and sensitive) will overlook.  And so it is easy for me to give myself over to curating the space, the movement, the public communication, and the sequence of events.

Churches need a host of sorts to attend to the sea of details which really do communicate volumes to our guests about their value (or lack thereof) in our eyes.  Yet what I'm realizing is that you cannot have Martha (the detail-oriented event coordinator) and Mary (the relational connector) in the same person at the same time.  I find myself conflicted about my role as Lead Pastor on Sunday mornings in a congregation of roughly 160 weekly worshipers.  One one level, being the lone, full-time staff person at our church, it makes sense for me to wear the "event coordinator" hat since there is so much involved both behind the scenes and during the gathering.

On the other hand, wearing this hat prevents me from connecting with people relationally during that time.  The best I can do is be superficially friendly, and I'm not very good at being fake. (Sorry.)  I find that I am spending the vast majority of my time doing non-relational tasks—planning, designing, coordinating, administrating, studying, writing—things I am gifted to do and enjoy doing.  And yet I sense that people (especially newcomers) want a relational connection more than anything else.  If I was confident that they were finding that connection with folks other than myself, I would likely not feel such pressure.  But how does a newcomer such as myself convey the nature and necessity of biblical hospitality to our flock without substantially modeling it himself?  Perhaps this article will be a step in that direction.

Questions to Consider:
  1. Pastors, how do you model and lead your congregations in the practice of biblical hospitality?
  2. Laypeople, what are your expectations regarding your pastors' practice of hospitality?  In your opinion, is his time and attention on Sunday mornings more profitably directed toward directing, coordinating and evaluating the details of the gathering, or toward meeting, greeting and conversing with people (especially people he doesn't know very well or at all)?
  3. What habits do we, as congregations, have that make it difficult for our guests to feel at home among us (i.e., understanding what's going on, when, where, why and how; being noticed; feeling valued and embraced)?
  4. What actions can you take in order to help reshape those habits into the habits of genuine hospitality (i.e., relational connection, presence, awareness of needs)?

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