Three Testimonies of Hospitality
“When have you seen acts of hospitality commend the gospel to outsiders (a concrete illustration)?”
Answers from Ken Sande, Donald Whitney, and Ryan Townsend
Hospitality leading to redemptive discipline was a key to my father’s conversion.
A young husband in our church who I will call Bill lost his job and could not find work for several months. When his family’s savings were exhausted and they were in danger of losing their home, our deacons stepped in and exercised the ministry of hospitality and mercy by covering the mortgage payments until Bill found a job three months later.
Several years later, Bill left his wife due to marital problems and moved to another state. Our elders initiated a disciplinary process to bring him back to his family. He had no desire to reconcile with his family, and clearly did not want to submit to our discipline. Yet in one key conversation he said, “What I want to do right now is hang up this phone and never talk with you all again. But I can’t forget the fact that the church carried our mortgage for three months when I was out of work. I just can’t cut you off after all you’ve done to show your love for me.”
We eventually persuaded him to return home and reconcile with his wife. They are still together today, thanking God for a church that not only covered their mortgage but also helped to save their family.
Years ago, as we were working to bring this husband home, I shared a general description of the situation with my father, who was not a believer. He was fascinated that our church cared enough about this family to pay their bills and fight for their marriage. When my father eventually put his trust in Christ (just three hours before dying), there was no doubt in my mind that part of what drew him to the Savior was the love he had seen in his church.
Donald S. Whitney
I pastored a church in the suburbs of Chicago from 1981 to 1995. During the eighties I preached a lengthy series on biblical texts related to hospitality. Among those affected by these messages was a couple who served as greeters. As a result of encountering the biblical truth on hospitality, they began to invite people to their home for lunch each Sunday after worship.
Typically they approached one of the families or singles visiting our church, particularly those attending for the first time. The leisure to chat at length during and after a meal—in contrast to a brief conversation at the door—provided many opportunities to talk about our church, the sermon of the morning, and/or especially the gospel. Their guests often remarked about the difference between our church—represented to them by this one hospitable couple—and other congregations they’d visited where few, if any, spoke to them. This couple’s hospitality often had an indelible impact upon international students, many of whom had never been invited to eat in an American home.
If nothing worked out with first-time visitors, the couple sought out returning visitors, then new members. If none of these were available, they turned to long-time members who might be in need of encouragement, or to those with whom they’d not recently spent time in fellowship.
These experiences not only touched their guests, but changed their own lives as well. In the years since my time in this church, this couple—now in a church in the place where they retired—has continued the practice of welcoming guests around their Sunday dinner table whenever possible. Lasting relationships have been initiated, fellowship developed, and the love of Christ demonstrated now on hundreds of occasions because of one simple commitment to add a couple of extra plates to the table one meal per week.
I remember being a new Christian and hearing about the hospitality ministry of the Smiths. This family of nine from our church would invite different folks of all backgrounds to their home regularly on Sundays. Not only did this ministry bless the individuals who were part of the Smith’s hospitality, it became a well-known part of the corporate fabric of our church, encouraging us in our familial love and modeling to members and visitors alike that we are Christ’s disciples because we love one another (John 13:35). Eating and hanging out with friends were two of my favorite things to do as a non-Christian. Christian hospitality, however, was something I had never experienced, where there was an evident joy and satisfaction in serving others and meeting their needs among one’s own home and family. This was different, and it commended the gospel.
As evangelicals, perhaps we should consider both the power of hospitality in commending the gospel and the joy it brings to all involved. The gift of hospitality is one that Christians and non-Christians alike will quickly notice and appreciate, as we serve others in love for our good and God’s glory.