A few months ago Tenth’s Growth and Maturity Commission wrestled with a difficult problem. Several leaders came to report on the ACTS Community Dinner, our monthly ministry to the homeless. The report was generally favorable. On the second Sunday of every month anywhere from sixty to one hundred guests hear good Bible teaching and sit down to a wholesome dinner, hosted by members of Tenth and other service-minded Christians.
We do have one difficulty, however, which is that although many homeless enjoy the dinner, they do not always feel entirely welcome at Tenth. There are a number of possible reasons for this, and we spent a good part of the evening discussing them. Some thought it was mainly a matter of ignorance. Although most Tenth members are generally aware that we feed the homeless, we have rarely explained how important it is–even for those not directly involved in the ministry–to welcome our guests. Others thought it had more to do with social class. Tenth has always been a middle-class congregation, and by definition, the homeless belong to the underclass. Then there is racism, which may also play a part; while most of the homeless in Center City are African-American, a majority of Tenth members are Caucasian.
Of these hindrances to hospitality, the easiest to address is ignorance. Back in December we ran a Tenth Press article on the importance of gracious hospitality, and in recent months we have tried to remind you to practice hospitality by welcoming the homeless. The ACTS Community Dinner is an evangelistic ministry. Effective evangelism ordinarily requires friendship, and friendship begins with a warm welcome. Some Tenth members now make a point of greeting the homeless while they are waiting for the Community Dinner, or when they enter the church.
The barriers of class and race are more difficult to address because they involve deeply-rooted patterns of sin. But then hospitality is always a spiritual issue. It is characteristic of the sinful nature not to welcome the stranger. Replacing this hostility with hospitality requires the gracious work of God’s Spirit. Here Jesus Christ is our greatest example. When we were estranged from God, Jesus came to welcome us within the embrace of God’s love. By virtue of his work on the cross and through the empty tomb, we are no longer strangers but God’s friends. Now Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us, our eternal home. We were strangers, and Jesus invited us in.
Now it is our privilege and responsibility to offer hospitality in Jesus’ name. Jesus said, “I was a stranger, and you invited me in” (Matt. 25:42). What he meant was that every time we show kindness to strangers, we are doing it for Jesus’ sake. The ACTS Community Dinner is not the only place at Tenth where we need to show hospitality. City Light, Tenth College Union, TwentySomething, Tenth International Fellowship–every week these ministries have visitors who need to be welcomed in Jesus’ name. Our sextons show hospitality every Saturday night when they prepare our building for worship. Our deacons and deaconesses show hospitality by protecting our worship environment–passing out bulletins, welcoming visitors, handling emergencies.
The deacons are assisted in their work by an army of Greeters. But even if you do not serve as a Greeter, there is one thing you can do that makes an enormous difference, and that is to meet one new person every Sunday. I have tried to make a point of doing this ever since I came to Tenth. Sometimes the person you meet turns out to be a long-time Tenth member, which is fine, because the two of you really ought to get to know one another. Other times the person is a visitor. In that case you should chat for a while and then introduce your new friend to someone else, preferably someone who lives in the same part of the city or shares a common interest. Every new visitor you greet strengthens our outreach, and every old member you meet strengthens our fellowship.
Another place to offer hospitality is in your own home. Most Americans treat their homes as places of refuge rather than centers for ministry, so hospitality may be going out of style. However, it was very common in the New Testament, when believers broke bread together in their homes (Acts 2: 46). The first Christians understood that regular hospitality is a vital part of congregational life. As Peter said, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Pet. 4:9). As far as I can tell, Tenth members offer a fair amount of hospitality, but not as much as we could, or probably should. This is one area where we look for leadership from our elders, since hospitality is one of the qualifications for that office (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8).
Finally, hospitality is an important part of outreach and evangelism. How will people ever come to know Christ, unless we invite them into our lives? And how will the poor ever be enriched, unless they are welcomed in Jesus’ name? Jesus discourages us from limiting our invitations to people who can reciprocate. Instead, he tells us to welcome those who are unable to offer us anything in return. Jesus said, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-13).
In other words, we should welcome the kind of needy people that Jesus himself welcomes into his kingdom. We are called to “practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13b) because we serve a Savior who shows kindness to strangers.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. © 2023 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org