If you’ve read much of my writing here you will recall that I’m a major proponent of the concept that has come to be known as Radical Hospitality. In a previous post I defined this concept as: the abnormally gracious and exceedingly surprising way we receive, accept, nurture, and commission others in the name of Jesus Christ. It is our call as Christians to graciously accept strangers as we would accept Christ. And we do this as a response to how Christ has accepted us. Radical Hospitality is one of the distinctive marks that identifies us as Christian–we accept and love people without pretense. It is a practice marked by humility and generosity.
But what happens when we abuse the practice of radical hospitality?
Bishop Robert Schnase has now made famous the concept of radical hospitality, at least among those in United Methodist circles. It’s widely viewed as a different way of “being church” or a new way of “relating to the outside world.” In a society that is so steeped in Christian tradition it can be easy to become oblivious to the fact that often we don’t know how to relate to those outside of the confines of our close-knit communities of faith. We find that too often we’re guilty of acting as though it’s strange if someone darkens our doors who has never experienced worship, sung hymns, or listened to a sermon. This isn’t an overt act, mind you, but it’s revealed in how closed we treat our worship services or ministries within the life of the community. One must be an “insider” to understand what’s going on and we fail to recognize that “outsiders” might be in our midst. Our language of worship and organization carries with it inherent boundaries to anyone not familiar to “the way we do things.” It’s imperative that we look for ways to break down walls in our communities. Otherwise we’ll find ourselves doomed to a quiet life of exclusivity in how we do church.
Recently I’ve been in multiple meetings and group conversations where the idea of radical hospitality came up. And I’ve since noticed a subtle, yet profound flaw that is common in how we view this practice. These conversations lead me to ask: When did the practice of radical hospitality become yet another ploy to attract people to our churches?
There is a distinct emphasis radical hospitality carries with it that’s easy to miss. It is one of the marks of the Christian community. Now this cannot be confused with the imperialistic notion that we, in the Christian community, know exactly what people are looking for therefore we practice radical hospitality because it’s somehow at attractional. The emphasis of Christian hospitality is not to grow our churches. Instead, it’s part of what it means to be a baptized member of the Body of Christ. We welcome others in the same way that Christ welcomes us. It’s who we are called to be, not how we’re to grow our churches.
In the end church growth isn’t of our primary concern when it comes to radical Christian hospitality. At the same time, when we truly extend the hand of hospitality above and beyond the expectations of others, it is inherently evangelistic in character. People are drawn to and compelled by a community bold enough to live by a story different than that which the world around us says is “normal.”
Hospitality as a means to an end of church growth is manipulative and unfaithful. It puts the preservation of our institution or buildings above the lives of everyone around us. It leads us to believe that “being nice” or, dare I say it, welcoming others is a worthy task insofar as it helps serve our own purposes of preservation and self gain. And people can find that empty promise most anywhere in life.
On the other hand, hospitality as a defining practice of the community is a sign of a community willing to align itself around a narrative contrary to much else life has to offer. It dares to form a community around a story that cares more for people than it does it’s own life. This is an odd way to exist in a world that calls us to preserve and protect our own lives at all costs.
Our great fear is, however, that we won’t be bold enough to define our lives around such a practice that would lead us beyond ourselves, into something new and different, self-sacrificing and self-emptying–a life like, well, Jesus.
Next Post- Colonialism and the Life of Evangelism: A Tale of Two Stories