When I was a senior in college, one of the pastors invited me to his house for lunch after church. He took me into his office and pulled books off the shelf one-by-one. He gave a little summary of what each one was about and why it was edifying. I thought it was strange at the time. Was he trying to impress me with his books? I really didn’t care about his books. He might as well have showed me a slideshow of his family vacation.
But he knew what he was doing. He opened up his home to me. He fed me. He took an interest in me and cared about my spiritual walk. The books were simply his way of encouraging a young man to grow in Christ. Thirteen years later, that single act of hospitality remains prominent in my memory and I am thankful for it.
Pastors must be hospitable (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8). It’s a necessary qualification. But why? Business men, politicians, CEOs, professors, and other leaders can all achieve great success in their industries without showing hospitality. So why is the practice of hospitality a prerequisite for the pastorate?
I can think of four reasons.
1. Generous hospitality is a reflection of God’s magnanimity toward his people.
Our basketball coach once asked us if we should play the game happy. We all stared at each other in silence. He told us with a scowl on his face why happiness on the court was not an option. As the season progressed, I realized that he was not a happy coach and we were not a happy team. Our disposition was a reflection of his leadership.
Pastors must be hospitable because the way we lead and love is a reflection of the God we serve. God is exceedingly generous. He acts hospitably towards his creatures. In Eden, God gladly gave Adam and Eve permission to eat from every tree of the garden, withholding only one for their greater good (Gen 2:16–17). When Adam and Eve disobeyed, God graciously clothed their nakedness (Gen 3:21). To Israel, God gave a bounty of manna from heaven (Exod. 16). To everyone, God gives the warmth of the sun (Matt. 5:45), rains from heaven, and fruitful seasons, satisfying the hearts of mankind with food and gladness (Acts 14:17). To those in Christ, God gives us a seat at his table, making us partakers of a family meal (Mk. 14:22–25; 1 Cor 10:17).
God’s people are to reflect God’s magnanimity in the way they treat others. Living under God’s law, Israel was to represent God to the watching world with sacrificial, neighbor-loving acts of hospitality. They were to share their bread with the hungry, bring the homeless into their houses, and cover up the naked (Isa. 58:7). Jesus said that the same kind of compassionate hospitality—feeding the hungry, giving drink, welcoming, clothing the naked—would characterize his true disciples (Matt. 25:35–36).
All of God’s people are to practice generous hospitality because God has made us after his likeness in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24). But pastors especially must be hospitable. In the list of pastoral qualifications described in Titus 1:7–8, Paul juxtaposes “hospitable” with “greedy for gain.” Practicing hospitality is the antithesis of greed because it means gladly giving away time, energy, resources, and convenience for the good of others. Through hospitality, pastors manifest the kind of self-giving, servant-leadership exemplified by our Lord Jesus (Mk. 10:45; Phil. 2:4–11). He gave his life so that he could prepare a place for us in his Father’s house (Jn. 14:2–3).
2. Generous hospitality keeps the focus of our work on people.
If the goal of pastoral ministry is to organize great programs, create effective marketing campaigns, manage facilities, build a brand, and construct a strong social media platform, then pastors don’t need to be hospitable. But pastors are not in the business of organizational management. In fact, we’re not in a business at all. Pastors are shepherds of people (1 Pet. 5:2). Our work is primarily people-work.
When a faithful shepherd loses one sheep, he doesn’t immediately turn to a marketing campaign to get five more. He leaves the other ninety-nine to find the lost one (Matt. 18:12–13). God has entrusted pastors with the responsibility to care for the souls of each individual member of the flock (Heb. 13:17; Acts 20:28). Richard Baxter wrote,
Doth not a careful shepherd look after every individual sheep? And a good schoolmaster after every individual scholar? And a good physician after every particular patient? And a good commander after every individual soldier? Why then should not the shepherds, the teachers, the physicians, the guides of the churches of Christ, take heed to every individual member of their charge?
A pastor will not be able to spend equal amounts of time with every individual member, but through hospitality, pastors can personalize ministry to specific people in specific ways. In our living rooms and around our tables, we are able to share in the specific needs, burdens, struggles, and joys of the people God has entrusted to our care.
It’s worth repeating: Our work is people-work. If we care about numbers more than individual persons, media to the unknown masses more than ministering to members, Twitter feeds more than feeding others, or building influence more than building relationships, then hospitality will fall by the wayside. Pastors are to be hospitable because a spirit of hospitality rightly prioritizes the care of people in the work of ministry.
3. Practicing hospitality fosters discipleship through emulation.
An older Christian couple’s act of hospitality strengthened my marriage. After dinner, I watched the husband do the dishes and sweep the floor with a cheerful spirit. I felt convicted. Watching him forced me to ask myself if I was serving my wife in meaningful ways around the house. Unbeknownst to him, his example encouraged me toward becoming a better husband. It’s clichéd but true: some of the best lessons in life are caught rather than taught.
Pastors are to be examples of Christian maturity worthy of emulation (1 Pet. 5:3). Paul told Timothy to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). It’s hard to set an example if we’re only around people on Sunday mornings. We must invite them into our personal space. Through hospitality, we put our lives on display for others to see. We give church members (and others) the opportunity to see us follow Jesus in ordinary, everyday circumstances. Hospitality thus becomes a platform for discipleship as others see how we practice what we preach.
4. God cares about our joy.
Every time we were asked to do respite foster care, I hesitated. Respite care meant we had to take someone else’s foster kids for a period of time while the foster parents were traveling. Accepting respite care meant accepting lots of noise, many interruptions, difficult children, a messy house, and more demands on my schedule.
But here’s the reality: every time the foster children left our house, I was sad to see them go. By God’s design, serving those who could never repay me enlarged my heart and gladdened my soul. Showing them hospitality allowed me to experience what Jesus meant when he said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
God doesn’t require pastors to be hospitable to burden us with another responsibility. God cares about our joy, and he knows true joy is found in self-forgetfulness and selfless service. “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noon day” (Isa. 58:10).
Pastors, be hospitable. We shouldn’t spend all of our time buried in books. Instead we should talk about those books with others, perhaps even over a meal. Simple acts of hospitality could leave impressions that last a lifetime.
 Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, 91.