The Pastor and Hospitality: Why hospitality is at the core of biblical evangelism


Really quick intro about myself. Live in Seattle area, north of Seattle. Actually grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. I'm from the great frozen north, where practicing hospitality can be quite hard unless you're stranded in a ditch and you need someone to help pull you out. Then people can be very hospitable. Other than that, it's a little bit challenging.

My wife and I have been married for 16 years and we have four kids together, all girls. I'm surrounded by a princess posse all day long, ages five through 13, almost 13. When I think of hospitality, there's a few images that kind of pop into my mind right out of the gate. When they emailed me, and Dave asked me if I would want to speak on this, I said, Hospitality. Okay. The first image that comes to mind for me is my grandmother. She's about 80 years old, and she, for as long as I can remember, was always into the hospitality that meant she studied where the forks and the knives went. Which cup you put in which area, and I remember as a kid being like, is Grandma insane?

She had books by Emily Post and Ms. Manners, you guys know what I'm talking about? My mom would actually be like, "Oh, Aaron, before we go over to Grandma's house, remember to not put your elbows on the table."

This was what hospitality meant in some of my earliest formative years. I'm like, that's terrible.

When I think about hospitality, I also think about one of the men who was a founding elder of our church at Sound City. Being from Texas, he would always talk about southern hospitality and how he wanted to bring more southern hospitality into our church. Then he would always go on these rants about how southern hospitality is sham, and it's a fraud, because everyone welcomes you in, and they're all nice to your face, then you leave and they all talk bad about you behind your back. He's like, "It's just not even real. That's not real hospitality."

The other thing that I think about is, in Seattle, in our context, we have this thing called the Seattle Freeze. Other than Trevor, has anyone here heard of the Seattle Freeze, anyone familiar with that?

Okay, it's a real thing, you can google it. There are articles about it. The Seattle Freeze is basically, we care about everything. We care about the environment, we care about whales, we care about land rights, we care about whatever social justice thing is happening, we just don't care about you. When you walk through the streets of Seattle, it's this thing, the Seattle Freeze.

Here, my wife and I were touring downtown yesterday, we're walking around, and people would be like, "Hey, how's it going?"

In Seattle, people will look at you like, "What is wrong with you?" If you do that to them. It is a very cold, inhospitable culture. Lots of reasons why, a lot of people have transplanted there from around the country, everybody feels like a stranger. The weather doesn't help things, it's gloomy, it's rainy. People who are like, into depressing emo music move to Seattle, and they don't like things like friendliness and eye contact. 

The Seattle Freeze, and it's a real thing and we wrestle against that in our culture. We're up in the suburbs, which adds even another layer of complexity because people drive out of their garage to their work, go to work, they drive back into their garage and they go to their favorite third place, which is Netflix.

We're dealing with this stuff. For me, when we think about hospitality, what I want to think of is, I don't want to think of those things primarily. I don't want to think about my dear Grandma. I don't want to think about southern hospitality, as much as I love good home cooking. I don't even want to think about the Seattle Freeze. I want to think about the heart of the gospel.

That's kind of the central idea that I want to get across to you today, is that hospitality is not something a pastor or church should do. It really is intrinsic to the heart of the gospel itself. I find that hospitality is best defined in contrast to fellowship.

I want you to think of two categories here. You've got, look at the gospel project here for kids, it's good. You've got over here on the one side, you've got fellowship, but then over here on the other side, you've got hospitality. Hos ... pital ... ity. My brain goes faster than my hand can write.

Fellowship. This is your Acts chapter two sort of description, right? You're familiar with this passage that says they devoted themselves to the apostles, ching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers, awe came upon every soul, you guys know this passage, right?

All who believed were together and had all things in, what's the word? Common. As they were selling their possessions, belonging, distributing to the proceeds of all, you had need day by day, attending the temple together, breaking bread in their home, they received their food with glad and generous hearts. Praising gods, having favor with all the people, and the lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

The word in there, there's two words in there, there's the word fellowship, which we see back in verse 42, and there's the word, having all things in common. Those words are etymologically related. Fellowship is the word koinonia. It's actually where we get our word for Koine Greek. Are you guys familiar with the common Greek. The common language of the day, because of this great guy named Alexander and the Greek world, they spread the Greek language throughout the entire region. Everyone had this language in common.

It's a commonality. When you think about biblical fellowship, which is a good, and valuable and necessary part of the Christian life, you have to remember that it starts with something in common. Whether that's the gospel itself or whether that's like we've talked about, some theological convictions, or in certain parts of the world, you have something in common, a sports team or a particular band. People come together because they have something in common.

Christians are no different. In fact, we would say we have the greatest thing in common, which is we've been redeemed through the blood of Jesus. We're part of this family. Fellowship is an important part of the Christian life, but by itself is incomplete. This is where hospitality comes into play. Matthew 25:35, you remember Jesus talking about the final day of judgment. He talks about, I was hungry, you gave me food, I was thirsty, you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.

I was a stranger. The word underneath that in the Greek is "Xenos," it's where we get our word for xenophobia. In Hebrews 13:2, one of the more fascinating verses in the bible, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers," There it is again, "For thereby some have entertained angels unawares."

What a fascinating verse. This biblical practice of fellowship is, we've got something in common already. This is you on a Sunday morning, you're standing at the connect desk, someone shows up, they say, "Hey, we just moved into town. We've been looking for a good gospel church, we looked through your website, we liked your doctoral state, we listened to a couple of sermons, we think this might be a church that we could plug in."

How easy is your job at that point, right? Oh, this is going to go well. We have something in common. Contrast that with, in our world, we go to pick up our kids after school in the afternoon, you strike up conversation with another mom or another dad, and they start talking about their Wiccan friend, and their Wiccan beliefs, maybe that's just a Seattle thing. You guys know what Wiccans are, earth worshipers, it's not too uncomfortable ... you have three? In your neighborhood, or ?

audience: No that is like, in the county adjacent.

Speaker 1: Oh, right. There are three Wiccans total in the county, gotcha. Yeah.

audience: There might be in all of Kentucky.

Speaker 1: This is when you strike up some conversation, they start telling you about their odd earth worship, or maybe for you guys it's the agnostic or the atheist, I don't believe in any god or whatever. They start having these conversations, and what's always funny to me, at least in Seattle, with politics and religion, people will start talking to you with the assumption that you already agree with them.

The gym, working out with a group of people, and someone brings up politics, and the way they start talking about it is, they couldn't believe that there is such a unicorn animal who exists that would vote for Donald Trump. City of Seattle, very liberal, very progressive, you would never see a Trump sticker in the city. Bernie Sanders was too conservative for a lot of people in the city of Seattle.

We have a bona fide socialist, not a democratic socialist, a socialist on city council who won running as a socialist. They approach you like, oh, don't we have this thing in common? You're sitting there like, I don't believe your religious beliefs, I probably don't share some of your same moral convictions. You're already now at odds. You've got an opportunity to either retreat or to press in.

That's really, at the core of biblical hospitality. The two are definitely inter related, okay? You can see this in Romans 12:13. The apostle Paul wrote, contribute to the needs of the saints. That's your fellowship part. You're giving, you're contributing to whatever the saints need, and seek to show a hospitality.

I would even go so far as to say, if you have one without the other, as a church or as a, just a disciple of Jesus, there's a healthy imbalance there. Fellowship without hospitality, what do you have? You have a clique. Everybody's got everything in common, it's us four, no more, we're really happy in our little clique.

If you have hospitality without fellowship, what do you have? You've got people whose needs aren't being met. You're missing out on growth, edification, iron sharpens iron, all of that sort of stuff. 

Here's how I define hospitality in light of the difference between the two. Hospitality is taking upon yourself the responsibility to help someone move from unknown to known. To help somebody move from stranger to family. When you recognize that there is not that commonality there, it's pressing in and saying, I'm going to do the heavy lifting. I'm going to do the hard work of finding where there is a commonality.

Finding where there can be a bridge, and I'm going to do the work of bringing you close to me. Does that make sense? Is that helpful, have you guys heard that contrast before? Okay. I'm not making any of this up, hopefully.

The real question though is how. It's funny to me, when you're going to practice hospitality, what's one of the first things we talk about? It was actually common in at least two of my illustrations, right? My Grandma and the guy from Texas, the pastor from Texas, it's always this invitation to a table.

It's always an invitation to a meal. It would be weird if when you first met somebody, and found out you didn't have anything in common, you invited them to go swimming. That would be strange. Hey, you want to put on your swimsuits and expose, especially in the pacific northwest you've got a lot of pasty white flesh? Let's go swimming. No, you usually start with a meal. 

You start with, why don't we go get coffee? Why don't we go get food. Why don't you come, gasp, into my house? By the way, in Seattle, that's a big hill to crest. Come into my house. Come have a meal with me at my house. Parts of the south or the Midwest, you're probably more practiced in that, but for us, that's a big hurdle to overcome.

Actually it's interesting. I just went to Africa for the first time earlier this year. I went to Uganda, and we have a member of our church that started an elementary school there. One of the things that we were going to do, we were going to do this prayer walk around some of the villages. Very remote area, and we're walking around, we were with some local pastors, they're like ... just watch this.

We walked for hours. We walked for about five hours. We probably met 100, 120 people, and without fail, every single one of them invited us into their home, offered us something from their crops, gave ... This poor Seattle boy, my mind was blown at just the level of hospitality that exists in other parts of the world.

That was like, man. Even that, there was a lot of people, there's a lot of animism, paganism, witchcraft, even there, there's lack of commonality. The language barrier, the different skin colors, all of that. We're still trying ... they're being hospitable in one sense, but we're trying to do that hard work of trying to build a bridge, to help open up the door for the gospel of Jesus. Think about how much imagery in the bible revolves around a table.

Think about how much in the bible is about a table. Abraham and Melchizedek, sitting together after Abraham goes and rescues his fool of a nephew. Think about King David going and getting Mephibosheth, the son of his enemy, King Saul, inviting him to reside at his table permanently. Not just a stranger, but an actual, bona fide enemy, come and eat with me.

Think about Elijah and the Syrian army. You guys remember that story? They all get blinded, Elijah goes out, he invites them in, he feeds them a meal. This army was sent specifically for the purpose of killing Elijah. You know that you're doing something right when the army doesn't want to attack the king, it wants to go attack the prophet.

He invites them in and feeds them, you think of Jesus sitting with tax collectors and sinners. That was one of the critiques against Jesus, is that "You eat with these people who are outcasts and are sinners."

Think about Jesus telling the parable of the great banquet. Jesus is saying, "Here's what the end of the age, here's what the kingdom is going to look like. All the important people, they don't want to come to the party. Go out to the highways, go out to the hedges, and compel them," Jesus says, "To come in."

Peter going to Cornelius, moving outside the Jewish centric mindset and following God to invite the Gentiles to come in to the family of God The wedding feast at the end of the age in Revelation 19. It's people coming to a table to sit with Jesus. I think of the verse in Ephesians 2 where it says, You are no longer strangers, there's our word. We're no longer Xenos. We're no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and the members of the household of God.

If we're members of the household of God, we get to eat at the table with our heavenly father. How good news is that?

This is actually at the heart of the gospel. If we think about our relationship with God, it could be said, that the story of the gospel is Jesus taking upon himself the responsibility of moving us from a stranger to family. That's what Jesus did. Jesus practiced hospitality in his ministry, to go and find those who were at one time alienated, who had nothing in common, and to bring us in, to make us brothers and sisters by inviting us to the table. Isn't that actually what he does? He invites us to the table. 

This bread is my body, which is broken for you. This blood is poured out for you. When you do this, as often as you do this, do this in remembrance of me. Church leaders, your practice of hospitality is far greater and far deeper than just, A good thing to do, a nice church growth strategy, make your church warm and welcoming.

It may do all of those things, but my conviction is that hospitality really is at the core of the gospel itself. When we practice hospitality ... Yes, fellowship as well, but when we practice hospitality, to go find those, to go build those bridges, we are imaging god, and we are living out the gospel, indeed, which by God's grace, we hope would lead to opportunities to share the gospel in word.

That's my biblical case for it. Now, I'll just share with you briefly a couple of the primary objections, and then we'll open this up for Q and A and discussion time. Here are the, I think the big four that I get.

I'll try to address them the best I can, and we'll come back to them. The number one objection that I hear from people is, "Aaron, that's fine for you. You area raging extrovert, but I am an introvert and I struggle to break that, you know, that barrier with people."

Actually, the first time my wife and I came to a sojourn event, Brad House, who's one of the board members, I've known Brad from his time in Seattle, and Brad says, Man, I'm so glad to have you here. He goes, "do you need me to like, introduce you to people? Then he said, Actually, nevermind, you are both aggressively social. You'll figure it out."

Those words, my elder team still calls me. YOu're the aggressively social. I think that's good? I don't know. Here's the thing if you're an introvert, you struggle with that. Man, it's sometimes hard for me to get past that barrier. It's hard for me to spark up the conversation, let me just offer you a couple of thoughts.

Number one, make sure that you're not using that as an excuse for conviction. This really is a gospel issue, this really is a priority in our lives. I would also encouraging you towards pacing. If you are an introvert, I know enough about introverts to know that that doesn't mean you don't like people, it means that you need some more time on your own to so to speak, recharge your batteries.

Jesus himself did that. It says in Luke that Jesus would often withdraw to lonely places to pray. Jesus needed some alone time with the father. Then he'd go catch up with the disciples later, walking across the lake and scaring them to death. If you're an introvert think about pacing. Think about intentionality. When and how you're going to do it. If you're a preacher or you serve on a church staff, and you know you've got a long, tiring day coming up on Sundays, maybe you shouldn't be inviting people over on Saturday night, because that's going to drain you and deplete you.

Maybe you need to do it on a Thursday night, so you've got some time on a Friday or a Saturday to kind of get away, pray, or recharge your batteries. Introverts, that's one of the great misnomers. If you're an introvert, I'm trying to defend you here as an extrovert. If you're an extrovert, repent of judging the introverts, right?

Introverts are people-people as well, but you need that time to reset and recharge. Be intentional, think about your pacing, but make sure that being an introvert isn't an excuse that's keeping you from the work of the gospel, okay?

We can come back to all these, too. Here's another objection I hear. "I just hate small talk."

Okay, fair enough. Who loves small talk? Anybody gone home, "how was your time with the guys?"

"It was great, we talked nothing of substance whatsoever." Actually, I shouldn't lie. I have enjoyed that, because as a pastor you're often talking about nothing but deep and heavy things. Sometimes it's good to just talk about the Seahawks for two hours.

Let me just say this about small talk, okay? Think of it as one of those little ... I don't know what the right word is, a little bolt or a little piece of that bridge that you're building. YOu're trying to do this work of building a bridge, and small talk is just a little piece, but it can be helpful to moving the conversation forward, whether that's talking about the weather. Talking about the community, talking about sorts in your region, talking about a concert you went to recently. Small talk can be helpful of moving the conversation forward.

Let me offer it to you this, too. Don't let it stay at small talk. I want to encourage you to foster genuine curiosity about people. Genuinely curious. What does this person live, what is their experience been? What have they experienced in recent times?

IF you're brave, you can go there. How are you processing all of this stuff in the nation now with racial tensions? What do you think about politics? You can actually go deeper with people more quickly if you're approaching it from a question, and getting to know them. I'm genuinely curious about you, I'm genuinely interested in what makes you tick.

People are more willing to go deep in conversation than we sometimes realize. They don't necessarily want you to come on and start laying all of your opinions, and your perspectives on them, but when you start asking questions, people are often willing to open up.

Think of Jesus with the Samaritan woman, the woman at the well. Their conversation went pretty deep, pretty quickly, right? You have five husbands, and the one you're with now isn't ... it went pretty deep pretty fast. Got your marital history and she tries to distract and talk theology, and he doesn't let her off the hook and she ends up becoming the biggest evangelist for Jesus in her home town.

Why? Because Jesus said, "What about your husband? What's going on? Tell me about your relationships."

In my experience, I have found that people are far more willing to open up to share when you start asking questions. It's incumbent upon us as believers to actually develop genuine curiosity. I just want to know. 

Some of you are naturally curious, that's great, use that. Some of you need to foster that and develop that a little bit more.

Third excuse I use, objection. I'm afraid. I'm genuinely freaked out. Three possibilities. Number one, if your fear is fear of the unknown, fear of the other, you may just need to repent. Xenophobia is actually a sin. If you are scared to have [inaudible 00:21:42] of a different ethnicity, different political party or a different background, or a different life style or a different sexual orientation, you need to repent of being afraid of them.

God has not given us a spirit of fear. He's called us to love. He's called us to love who? Our neighbor, Our friends. He's called us to love our enemies. Based on all the biblical categories of who we're called to love, you find me somebody that doesn't fit into that category.

They all do. Some of you may just need to repent of your fear. I'm going to keep people at an arm's distance because I'm afraid to get to know them. Others of you, it may be a, "I need to pray. I need to get my heart right with the lord and not give place to fear and remember that the lord is your strength and your protection."

We actually had a conversation recently in our community group, we have one member in particular who is very gifted with hospitality and evangelism, and mercy.

This plays out in where he ends up striking up conversations with homeless people almost everywhere he goes. He wanted to care for them, wanted to love them, and their spouse really struggled with that because there was fear. What if they track us down and kill us?

We had to have conversations about ways he could love his wife better, but ways that she needed to not give so much place to fear. 

Here's maybe the most common one, or the most helpful I can give you. There's fear, you might need to phone a friend, and bring them along with you. Jesus sent the disciples out how? Two by two. If you're wanting to put into your life a biblical practice of hospitality, bring a friend with you. Somebody that you already know a little bit, somebody that's maybe trying to grow in this as well. That actually is just a practical help, too.

Then you can say to somebody, "Hey, we're having some friends over, do you guys want to join us?"

We're going to get together, we're going to have a meal. We're going to get together and do some dessert, or we're going to get together. You want to come over and join us? Then you actually have an opportunity so people don't maybe feel like they're being singled out. Bring a friend along with you.

Somebody you know you've already got something in common with. That way it can help you allay some of those fears. The last one is maybe the most common, and it's simply, "I don't have enough time."

I don't have enough time. There aren't enough hours in the day. Let me ask two questions about time. What might you need to cut out? It might need to go. Where can there be fat that can be trimmed, it doesn't need to be a part of your life? Sometimes, I'm not trying to shame anybody or guilt somebody, but could I just see your Netflix watching, your history over the last couple of weeks? Then you tell me how much time you don't have for, not only hospitality, but reading the bible, praying, loving your family? I don't know.

Some of us, it's Netflix, it's diversions or it's whatever. Maybe some things need to be cut out, maybe. Not trying to be prescriptive here. Here's what I have found to be even more helpful, is, what natural rhythms do you already have in your life that you can combine with hospitality?

I have another woman in our community group, she met a neighbor recently, and they were talking. This neighbor apparently doesn't drive. She usually takes the bus, transit, like a real good Seattlite, they recycle, they compost, they take the bus, they're going to go to Seattle Heaven.

This woman in our community group said, "I have to go to the grocery store later this week, would you want to go together, we could do our grocery shopping together?"

Just stay at home moms combining natural rhythms of life. For me, I've got a couple different natural rhythms. I go to to the gym. I do it in a group setting so I can talk with people and not just have my headphones in. I love to do cigars. Yes, I go to the gym and I smoke cigars because I don't want to be too healthy. Guys in the backyard around the fire pit with cigars, that's easy to have guys who are Christians and who are not Christians come over.

We're involved in our kids' school, our neighborhood school. We have to go to the school, we have to be involved in some of these things anyways. How can I look for opportunities to combine what I'm already doing with rhythms of hospitality? If we're over at the school sermon, I can meet this other dad, and I can be like, "Hey, let's do this watchdog dads thing together."

Then I get an opportunity to stand there and talk with this person while we're helping out, volunteering with the school. What might you be able to ... by the way, that's how we got, the people who are hosting our community group right now, we met them through one of our kids' birthday parties and ... for our daughters to spend the night, and we were like, "No, we don't let our daughters spend the night at other peoples' houses," but we had the convenient excuse, "We have to get up for church in the morning."

"Oh, what church?" Conversation, boom. Now we're in a community relationship together because our kids have a rhythm in common, a birthday party. Those are the four most common objections I hear. I'd love to open it up for collaboration, open it up for questions, and let's kind of dive into this together. 

First of all, I hope I've made my case compellingly enough that hospitality, biblical hospitality, different than fellowship, some of us church folk, we slide into nothing but fellowship real easy. It's different.

Biblical hospitality is at the core of the gospel itself. Jesus comes and gets us strangers and brings us into the family. If we work together, and if we lean on each other, we can fight through some of the natural objections and things that we work through. Just a couple questions, how does the gospel stir your heart towards a lifestyle of hospitality? When you really think about Jesus coming and finding you and inviting you to the table, when you were the stranger? Just, again, not shame, not guilt, but just, when was the last time a non Christian was in your home for a meal? When was the last time you were at a coffee shop with ... you spend all your time with Christians, or do you have substantive time with nonbelievers.

I find for myself that's the hardest one. I'm a pastor. I'm pretty sure that all of our staff is Christians. The people I spend the majority of our time with, I'm meeting with people for counseling, or elder candidates, it's hard. I've hard to intentionally fight for time with non Christians.

How can, for you, your natural rhythms of life, how can they be combined with hospitality, and what are some ways that you could help develop genuine curiosity about others? When was the last time you were surprised by something somebody told you about themselves?

Let me kick it to you guys, let's open this up. What comes to mind? What other objection did I not answer? What things are you bumping up against in your practice of biblical hospitality, welcoming the stranger in?