In This Issue: Could it be the key to evangelism in our day?
- Editor’s Note
- Hospitality and the Great Commission
“In a progressively post-Christian society, the importance of hospitality as an evangelistic asset is growing rapidly. Increasingly, the most strategic turf on which to engage the unbelieving with the good news of Jesus may be the turf of our own homes.”
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Today we’d like to share with you an article by David Mathis of the Minnesota-based ministry Desiring God. It explores a topic we’ve written about before, but offers a fresh look at the timeless principles.
Mathis, also an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, co-edited the book Finish the Mission: Bringing the Gospel to the Unreached and Unengaged. Our September edition of resource reviews mentioned that this book was coming out, and now it’s available. Sound interesting? Purchase a copy or download the PDF version for free from the Desiring God website.
I also wanted to recognize that 15 of you responded to our invitation to partner with us financially. Wow! I’m happy to report that our expenses for the year are completely covered. Thanks!
We also received a number of inquiries about our request for volunteer help. I have not followed up on those offers yet but am much encouraged by the interest. We praise God for the chance to serve you and serve with you.
Hospitality and the Great Commission
Source: David Mathis, Desiring God blog, October 2, 2012
The twelve of us sat in silence, on the edge of our seats. You could have heard a pin drop.
I had pilgrimaged from Minnesota to muggy Orlando, and her stifling August humidity, for a week-long intensive course on evangelism with Steve Childers.
With only a dozen students on board for five nine-hour days with one of the country’s top church-planting strategists, it was a rich week, to say the least. During these precious hours, the Beijing Olympics were playing second fiddle to learning about the advance of the gospel around the world and in personal conversation.
Time and again Childers had thrown us curveballs. He knew how to keep us on our toes. But now he had us nothing short of captivated.
The Key to 21st-Century Evangelism
“You know what the key to evangelism in the 21st-century will be, don’t you?”
He wasn’t talking Global South, but the Western hemisphere – and America in particular.
I’m sure he could see on our faces how eager we were for his answer. Wow, the key, we were thinking. This is huge.
He paused and smiled that memorable Steve Childers world-evangelism grin. He waited. Still waiting. Still paused. Still nothing. I was almost ready to burst with, “Just c’mon already!”
Finally he lifted the curtain.
Then another long pause to let it sink it.
Hospitality and Post-Christendom
In a progressively post-Christian society, the importance of hospitality as an evangelistic asset is growing rapidly. Increasingly, the most strategic turf on which to engage the unbelieving with the good news of Jesus may be the turf of our own homes.
When people don’t gather in droves for stadium crusades, or tarry long enough on the sidewalk to hear your gospel spiel, what will you do? Where will you interact with the unbelieving about the things that matter most?
Invite them to dinner.
For several of us in Childers’s class, the lights went on after his dramatic revelation. Biblical texts on hospitality were springing to mind. A theme we’d previously thought of as a secondary fellowship-type-thing was taking shape as a significant strategy for evangelism in a post-Christian milieu.
Love for Outsiders
The New Testament word for “hospitality” (Greek philozenia)
comes from a compound of “love” and “stranger.” Hospitality has its origin, literally, in love for outsiders.
One of the more memorable texts is Hebrews 13:1-2: “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Yes, love the brothers, says Hebrews, but make sure you don’t forget this. Don’t neglect to love strangers as well.
Love for fellow Christians is important, essential – some call it “the final apologetic,” based on John 13:35 – but there’s a way in which it may not be all that impressive. Loving those who love you – “Do not even unbelievers do the same?” asks Jesus (Matthew 5:47). But showing love to outsiders, now that rings of life-change. That has the fingerprints of your heavenly Father all over it.
Seeking to Show Hospitality
In Romans 12, as the apostle Paul points us to important flashpoints for how our lives should look when claimed by the gospel, he says, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Romans 12:12-13).
It could be that this charge to hospitality is another way of saying “contribute to the needs of the saints,” but it seems more likely to be a summons to demonstrate kindness to outsiders – like the kind Publius showed Paul in Acts 28:7 on the island of Malta: “Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days.”
Outsiders from around Town
Keep thinking through the New Testament mentions of hospitality, and see that it’s no peripheral theme. Hospitality even finds its way into such a prominent place as both lists of elder qualifications (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8).
Are we listening? When was the last time we turned down a man from joining the council because he wasn’t hospitable? It’s important enough in Paul’s mind to mention it to both Timothy and Titus for their elder selection.
It matters tremendously how the elders orient toward “outsiders.” The elders set the tone for how the church will engage with nonbelievers. The church of yore may be taken aback to read that an elder “must be well thought of by outsiders” (1 Timothy 3:7), but as Christendom crumbles, we begin to see this value in new light. If the elders who are to be “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3) don’t themselves show up on the front lines to engage with the city’s unbelieving, it’s unlikely the flock will embrace the mission the shepherds are avoiding.
Christian hospitality serves Jesus’ global mission by inviting in traveling missionaries. John’s third epistle commends this kind of care (3 John 5-8).
So let your hospitality include not only unbelieving neighbors and co-workers, but also furloughing missionaries sent out for global gospel propagation. John Piper calls it “strategic hospitality“:
“Strategic hospitality … asks: How can I draw the most people into a deep experience of God’s hospitality by the use of my home … ? Who are the people who could be brought together in my home most strategically for the sake of the kingdom? …
“Strategic hospitality is not content to just have the old clan over for dinner again and again. It strategizes how to make the hospitality of God known and felt all over the world, from the lonely church member right here, to the Gola farmers in Tahn, Liberia. Don’t ever underestimate the power of your living room as a launching pad for new life and hope and ministry and mission!”
David Mathis is executive editor for John Piper and Desiring God, and elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. He and his wife Megan have twin sons (Carson and Coleman) and live in Minneapolis. David is editor of Thinking, Loving, Doing and Finish the Mission.