Missions – Rediscovering Biblical Hospitality

This is the third and final part of a seminar given at the Mission to the World (MTW) West Coast Missions Conference 2015 in San Diego, California. The prior two posts can be found here and here. 

Jesus Tells Us to Follow Him

Joining the story of God’s mission is certainly for those who leave their comforts behind and go abroad, but it is equally for those who remain local and forsake the comforts of their home to be hospitable to those around them.

Very simply, Jesus calls all people to himself. He died and rose from the dead, he ascended to heaven and will come again. He is our Savior and Redeemer. The call has been made and all are welcome to join. As Newbigin calls it the “ecclesia theou – the assembly called by God, and therefore requiring the attendance of all.”

The basic truth and action we are called to as Christians is as Newbigin says, “The Christian mission is thus to act out in the whole life of the whole world the confession that Jesus is Lord of all.” Period. Jesus told his disciples to pick up their crosses and follow him. The Christian life is a path of continually denying self, bringing God glory and serving, honoring, and loving our neighbor.

Corey Jackson, a church planter in highly multi-cultural Morrisville, North Carolina, says that the gospel needs to be our calling card – not multi-culturalism. What he means by this is that multi-cultralism is not a fad or the cool thing to do. He argues that churches need to help their congregants to first “see and then love their neighbors.”

He goes on to say:

“Help your church recognize its tendency to not even see our foreign-born or minority-culture neighbors. The cultural inertia in the majority of any society is to see and spend time with the many people who are like them. The same principle holds true for people from minority cultures, as well. We all naturally want to be around people who are like us or who share common interests with us. But the gospel changes all of that. It calls the majority culture to take a posture of cultural humility. And it calls those from minority cultures to not just find other people who share their language and values, but to engage the greater church with hope and faith.”

We have an opportunity to wonderfully and tangibly be an expression of the kingdom of God. The call to go out to all the world is still fully there. God is raising up people to leave behind their homes and families and go around the globe. But he in not just sending us out; he is also brining the world to us. We can all respond by being intentional in reaching those God is bringing to our neighborhoods.

However, before we even think about what we can do to help the immigrant and foreign-born population in our country, we need to change the attitude and approach of our hearts by reintroducing a robust theology of hospitality like the saints of old so wonderfully practiced.

Rediscovering Biblical Hospitality

In the Old Testament, sharing the table with someone was considered a meal of peace. Sharing a meal meant you were at peace with that person. If you were at odds with someone, you would go out of your way to not eat with him or her.

This is why celebrating Communion is so unbelievable. Christ Jesus broke bread and gave wine to his disciples the night before he was betrayed and crucified. Those closest to him would leave him and hide. Christ was alienated from God so that we might be welcomed by God. He drank the cup of God’s infinite and all consuming wrath, so that we might be able welcomed as sons and daughters of God and co-heirs with Christ, by drinking the cup of blessing. Christ was crucified outside of the city, alone and in a desolate area, so that we might be welcomed into God’s holy city and surrounded by the saints.

Why is inviting people into our homes so incredible? Because we are welcoming them into what should be our safest and most welcoming place. Henry Nouwen wrote, “If there is any concept worth restoring to its original depth and evocative potential, it is the concept of hospitality.”

In her book Making Room, Christine Pohl writes:

“Paul… challenged the early believers to ‘pursue’ hospitality; in fact, hospitality was a qualification for leadership in the early Christian communities… Early Christian writers claimed that transcending social and ethnic differences by sharing meals, homes, and worship with persons of different backgrounds was a proof of the truth of the Christian faith.

[Hospitality] meant response to the physical needs of strangers for food, shelter, and protection, but also a recognition of their worth and common humanity.

When we offer hospitality to strangers, we welcome them into a place to which we are somehow connected – a space that has meaning and value to us. This is often our home, but it also includes church, community, nation, and various other institutions. In hospitality, the stranger is welcomed into a safe, personal, and comfortable place, a place of respect and acceptance and friendship.”

This is our opportunity. Every person can practice hospitality. You do not have to be the most extraverted person, or skilled in evangelism. We need to discover how to share life with one another, how to listen to each other’s stories, and how to enter into deeper fellowship and communion. Will we welcome the stranger, the foreigner, the sojourner?

Finally, I want to make the case that not only should we do this because they are here among us, but also because it will enliven our desire to connect globally with different people groups. We live in a globalized, interconnected, and global-local world. The global world is here locally even as we go out into it. Do our churches, giving priorities, and strategies reflect this trend? Do our personal lives reflect this change in our city, neighborhood, and schools?

Global-local missions is when a church establishes global connections that make sense locally.

Typically, we support a missionary, ask for prayer requests, try to visit them, and ask for them to come to our church. Imagine that this missionary is in China and you discover a large Chinese population in your community. As you begin local ministry among Chinese, you will be able to ask the missionary questions about situations you face. All of a sudden, you are asking your partner for advice on how to do ministry locally. All of a sudden, the missionary you support will feel more valued and respected. As your ministry continues, the Chinese churches you are trying to serve globally can send people back to bless those you are trying to reach locally. There is a back-and-forth dynamic to the work you do in your own neighborhood and the work you support internationally.

We don’t have to make a 180-degree change from where we are at currently. But why not try one global-local connection? Discover a group of foreign-born people locally and begin praying for those people locally, as well as for their home country. Pray for new connections. As your church begins to extend hospitality, you will be much more culturally aware, becoming better global partners.

Soong-Chan Rah states, “Churches must create an environment that fosters multicultural and cross-cultural intelligence.” This takes intentionality. How do we start?

First, we need to learn to see the foreign-born among us:

  • Who lives and works around us?
  • What is the ethnic make-up of our schools?
  • Do we have international students in high school, college, and/or graduate programs?
  • What foreign businesses are around us?
  • Do our church members have foreign-born co-workers and neighbors? Where are they from?

Second, we need to find out the needs of our local population:

  • Do they need help with English? Maybe start an ESL ministry.
  • Are there a large number of refugees? Form a Good Neighbor Team to welcome them.
  • Do they need help with their immigration status? Consider being trained in Immigration Legal Services and become BIA (Board of Immigration Appeals) certified. Church members could help with all types of immigrants, helping give advice and filling out paperwork for work visas, green cards, etc.
  • Do they lack skills? Provide job training through Jobs for Life and help them find a skill training school.
  • Do they need help with finances/budgeting? Use the Chalmers Center’s Faith & Finances curriculum and host a class at your church.

With this entire discussion of missions history and strategy, we need to remember that the gospel is unchanging, but our context is always morphing into something different. Therefore our strategies should also be adjusting.

Let’s return to the illustration of the box. When we are able to understand the box of missions from which we operate and the box of the society in which we live, it will enable us to then pray for God to grant us courage to build those boxes together. We are called as God’s people to take the gospel to a fallen and broken world.

We were once strangers and God welcomed us. We have the unique and wonderful opportunity to welcome the stranger next door and when we do so, we welcome the Lord himself. Reaching the stranger, whether next door or across an ocean, requires humility on our part to see God’s great gift of hospitality to us. Our story joins God’s greater redemptive story. He is the author and perfecter. As he oversees the movement of people around the world and in the United States, we are able to join his story which he graciously uses us to write. Let us join in his redemptive story by recovering biblical hospitality and welcoming the stranger next door.


Jeff Kyle first went to China in the summer of 2004 and has been working with the China Partnership since graduating from Covenant College in 2006. He is passionate about US churches developing a global-local missions strategy. Jeff and his wife, Mary Elizabeth, live in New York City.