Meditating on the objections people raise to what you’re saying, I think of Dr. Seuss and Green Eggs and Ham. Would you be hospitable here or there, could you do it anywhere? Could you, would you in a dorm room? Would you, could you in a car? Could you be hospitable in the bar? Would you be hospitable far from church? Would that leave you in the lurch? Well, let’s start with the dorm room, since we’re on the Patrick Henry College campus. Yes, you can be welcoming in a dorm room, but your job in a dorm room is to keep it clean enough that you can find your chemistry book. You need to get out of there, and the church needs to take you in daily, if you can spare the time.
Let’s say you live far away from church, out in the countryside, in a house on a 5-acre lot. You don’t have any neighbors right next door to you. I’m a little covetous, so I’m going to try to hold it back. I live in a neighborhood where everybody has a 1979 ranch house. If you have some property, make it a place your church cannot live without—and your pastor will be blessed by that. Then build from there. Remember, this isn’t liberal communitarianism. This isn’t the social gospel. This isn’t just hot dogs and chips. This is bread and fish, feeding and gathering, and at a certain point stopping and opening the Bible. For some people that’s the first time in their lives. And, singing praises to God. For some people that’s the first time in their lives. And taking prayer requests, then following up with what you’ve heard.
What about questions of personality? God makes some people extroverts and some people introverts. What if you’re an introvert and get worn out among lots of people? Absolutely. That’s where boundaries and a sense of timing come in. You aren’t doing this every night of the week. But, if nobody in your church is, that’s a sin problem.
So it’s not always you, it’s the church body. Always. But your personality is not an excuse for neglect. If you’re a believer, your discipline in practices to which God has called you will yield joy if Christ is fueling them. And if He’s not, you will hate those practices. Tests of obedience are good tests.
Please explain the difference between entertaining guests and hospitality. Entertainment is where the focus is on matching dishes and a vacuumed house. Hospitality is, “Come as you are and help me.” I homeschool a middle schooler and a high schooler, and you all know what that means. It’s not unusual for me to be screaming at about 5 o’clock. And if there’s laundry on my dining room table, which often happens, the singles in our church all know what to do: Shove it back into the dryer. If you’re a kid in the neighborhood and you’re going to eat me out of Pop-Tarts and come to my house for dinner every night, the gospel will come with a chore chart.
What do you do with the gay rights activist in your neighborhood who knows your views and does not like you? You agree to disagree, and you make dinner together, because somebody is already chopping potatoes and you can help. We can start from there.
What do your children think about your hospitality? Sometimes it is just us in the house. The last time that happened, my son looked around and said, “What’s wrong with us? It’s just us here!” The two children that are at home are great lovers of hospitality. They have an open invitation to invite their friends. That really means open. Many children have hard, stressful lives, and their parents are going through hard, stressful things. Sometimes you need to call the parents and say, “Listen, can we help you in some way? We don’t want to pry, but this is what we heard.”
How noisy does it get at dinner? I remember Kent trying to quiet down a table of 20 people. He turned to the kid who wouldn’t stop talking and said, “Bill, do you want to pray?” He was being a little sarcastic, as in “You probably don’t want to pray, shut up so I can.” But instead, Bill felt honored. He hadn’t washed his hands yet—you could still see the grub on his nails—but took his hat off, grabbed the hands of the people next to him, and said, “Let’s bow our heads and pray.” It was a beautiful thing.
Practical questions: If you can swing it financially, should you have a house with more bedrooms than your own family needs? Ideally, it’s good to seek out houses for the purpose of hospitality, but couches and sleeping bags work. It’s about making room and knowing other houses in your church community that have room.
What kinds of rules do you have to guard against potential abuse? Basics. Nobody’s in your bedroom but you. I don’t even have kids playing in the bedrooms. They go outside and build forts. I’d rather have them hurt themselves with a saw than get hurt from indoor problems. So: outside where I can see you. We review rules about adults, including members of our church. We review regularly who are our safe people and who are not. Now my children are older and can participate with this in a different way than when they were younger.
Do you face a reluctance to show love to some individuals because that might suggest showing approval of sinful activity? I was a gay rights activist, the scary person who led all of your children astray. Then there was a Christian who realized I had deep questions, and a heart not really satisfied by answers I was feeding myself and others. I haven’t forgotten those days. So, to me the challenge is not, “What do the neighbors think?” If you’re really a Christian, your neighbors will think you’re a wacko. Some will think you’re just a liberal progressive nut. Others will think you’re a pharisaical fundamentalist Bible-thumper. The question is, “Are you obeying God?”
How do you keep discipling from leading to unhealthy dependency? I do not do one-on-one discipling. This is where, with an evangelical audience, everybody gasps in horror. You don’t disciple? I disciple my children, but our home is about the gospel going out, Kent teaching, people learning to tie into a local church. So, I will absolutely walk with you through seasons, but I am not going to commit to meet with you Tuesday at 1 o’clock every day for the rest of our lives. I have seen those relationships turn codependent very quickly. I also don’t have time to do it. Homeschooling at middle school and high school is a full-time job. But I also think that sometimes one-on-one can create a context where you become a savior for someone. When we become each other’s saviors, we live like functional atheists and we steal glory from God. I have seen Bible studies retrograde into this. So beware of becoming someone’s savior. You can’t be. You don’t want to be.
For those without experience with the hospitality you’ve described, what are some of the first steps to take? Start with prayer. There’s a lot of work involved, and you might have holes in your walls. Then tie into somebody who’s already doing that. Who is really good at getting a diverse group together—and then, against all odds, opening the Bible and praying together.