The Definition of Hospitality


I married into a hospitable family. My husband’s parents has lots of stories to tell about the foreign exchanges students who lived with them growing up, the missionaries they’ve hosted, random kids they’ve taken in here and there. And it’s not just John’s parents but his entire extended family as well (the picture on the left is from a few years ago). A Crozier party isn’t a full-scale party unless there are some unexpected or even uninvited guests to be welcomed and squeezed in at the table. Hospitality is something that flows out of them and I find their example very inspiring.

Last Sunday at church we had an interesting discussion about how alike and how different Christians are from non-believers. We talked about the good and bad aspects of being similar to our culture and the good and bad aspects of being different from non-Christians. I was reminded that we have so much in common with every person we run into, and yet have such key differences in our lives (for example: hope).

I came home thinking that one of the things that highlights both our similarity and our difference from our culture is the call to hospitality. When you boil everything down, the willingness to engage with the other and seek common ground should be a defining mark of the Christian. It certainly was of Jesus. He engaged with anyone and everyone: women, children, Samaritans, Jews, Gentiles, healthy, sick, rich, poor – you name it.

In Transforming Conversion, Gordon Smith comes back to this theme of hospitality several times. I’ve blended some of his thoughts into a definition:

God calls us to welcome the other (Romans 15:7) in the radical hospitality of accepting the other, receiving the other, and not demanding that the other conform or change or be likable or agreeable before they are received. A crucial sign of this hospitality is that we listen to the other – which surely is an act of service . . . We listen to their story, to their joys and sorrows, to their longings and points of disillusionment . . . We respond to the other with a deep regard for persons – for who they are now, and for who they can and might become.

My in-laws welcome all kinds of people into their home without fear. If we as Christians can offer this kind of hospitality to those around us, it will allow us to highlight common ground among diverse people but it will also differentiate us by our listening and our love.

Being welcoming and really listening doesn’t have to mean large parties. You don’t have to have a perfect home and a perfect meal. It can be as simple as a conversation at the mall or work. It can mean finally meeting a neighbor you’ve never spoken to. Don’t let the idea of “hospitality” keep you from practicing it!