the key to evangelism: hospitality?

Steve Childers of Reformed Theological Seminary stated recently that the key to evangelism in the 21st century will be hospitality.

I can’t help but think one thing….

Hospitality has always has been the key to evangelism.  But not in the way one might assume.

While talk of hospitality in evangelism brings to mind Christians having non-Christians into our homes, inviting pagans to dinner is not exactly what I read in the New Testament.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m not at all arguing against being kind to strangers.  Inviting the neighborhood over for a barbecue is a great way to build relationships.  So is hosting the little league end-of-the-year party.

But my understanding of hospitality’s primary role in evangelism is exactly the opposite.Rather than me inviting non-Christians into my home, the key to evangelism seems to be non-Christians inviting me into their homes.  

Hospitality towards Christians by unbelievers leads to salvation.

Matthew 25:31-46 — The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

All the nations will be judged by what standard?  They will judged according to how they have treated the least of the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.  Indeed hospitality and kindness to strangers seem to be of great importance in this passage, but I wonder if we’ve not often misinterpreted the text.  If I understand correctly Jesus’ intent is to speak of how those who are NOT the people of God (hence “all the nations”) will be judged.  And the measure seems to be by their treatment of the people of God who are hurting.

Luke 10:1-16 — The Sending of the Seventy-two

Jesus sent disciples out in pairs to peacefully greet those who had not yet received him.  If these evangelists were accepted with hospitality, they were to remain in the homes of the welcoming strangers.  If not they were to leave.  Gracious acceptance of these disciples is equated with warm acceptance of Jesus himself, and even the Father.  Hostility — or even indifference it seems — is identified as the rejection of Christ.  

To my knowledge this idea of unbelievers’ hospitality leading to salvation is present in every situation in which Jesus sends out missionaries.  [It is also interesting to note that the following parable is about the kindness and caring of the “good Samaritan” in contrast to the lack of concern shown by the people of God.]

The idea is also present throughout the book of Acts.  Just a few passages to demonstrate this principle as applied by Paul and others:

A few other passages to demonstrate the opposite — the rejection of Jesus’ disciples amounting to the rejection of Christ himself.

**********

Hospitality is indeed the key to evangelism.  The unbeliever’s salvation hinges on his willingness to accept into his life the people of God.  Here are a few reasons I think this idea is important:

  1. The focus of evangelism is not attractional, but incarnational.  Believers are to go into their communities, rather than remain at home (or in the church building, or in their congregation’s private coffee house or basketball gym).  Inviting and receiving is not our task, but going and being received is.
  2. Salvation of the unbeliever is not the responsibility of the missionary.  My function is merely to announce in the community the kingdom of God — in word and in action.  Acceptance or rejection of Christ and his kingdom is up to the unbeliever, and salvation is left to God alone.
  3. It just makes sense.  No man can come to the Son accept that the Father draws him (rough “quote” of John 6:44).  And the drawing of God in the life of a non-Christian manifests itself in the form of hospitality and kindness to the people of God.
  4. As a result Christians are able to rather quickly identify where and with whom we should be investing our time and energies when it comes to evangelism — among those who are accepting of us.

May you be well received by strangers and unbelievers, and may they enter into the kingdom of God as a result.  

And may we leave our front porches and foyers in order for this to happen.

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4 Comments

Filed under evangelism, missiology

4 responses to “the key to evangelism: hospitality?

  1. Jason

    I find it funny I’m reading this while you’re on the way to my house. Are you trying to tell me something mu nzila ja Shisukuma?

    I agree though. Do you think there is reciprocity in the process as well, or do you think it is as one-sided as you make it sound in your post? I’m not saying it is or is not, simply because I’ve not thought about it but for 4 minutes here while at the computer. But what do you think?

    More in tune with your post, doesn’t this mean that we will have to more graciously accept these invitations? I feel like Westerners have a really impoverished view of gracious acceptance, for lack of a better term; so while part of the problem might be staying in the foyer and on the porch, the other half of the problem might be the 30-minute argument about who pays for dinner or the 20-minute harangue about what we should bring to your house when we come. Just graciously accept already.

    Good to see you made it back to blogdom.

  2. Brett, here is an excellent post that addresses the issue of hospitality and the great commission, too:

    http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/hospitality-and-the-great-commission

    Thought you and your readers would find this useful!

    John

  3. Nic

    I liked the expression “going and being received is” – it sort of implied it’s our responsibility to get out there and be invited, and maybe one should wonder if one is never invited into someone’s home.
    Hospitality is kind of two way, one giving and one receiving, and it probably is both us being hospitable and us receiving hospitality. There’s also a cultural aspect to hospitality too, it works differently in different countries don’t you think?
    Nic

    • nic, you’re very right indeed. what might be considered hospitable in one country might be rude in another.

      i — as an american (or perhaps even a southern american) — truly enjoy being told by a friend upon my arrival at his house, “make yourself at home. drinks are in the fridge, and you know where the cups are.”

      but if i told one of my tanzanian friends that — no matter how close a friend he might be — i would likely have become, in his eyes, the worst host he’d ever experienced in his life.

      funny how cultures can be so different.

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