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October 18, 2011

Kicking Hospitality Out of the Kitchen

Is it really about the “home arts” or something deeper?

I once attended a women’s Bible study about hospitality. We discussed how to create nice centerpieces for our dining room tables; we got ideas for finding color-coordinated napkins at good sale prices; we learned the importance of planning and preparing a nice meal; we got tips about keeping a clean house.

I left that night feeling like I must be from another planet.

I’m a self-confessed messy—my home is hardly ever company-ready. And though I do highly value what I call the “home arts” (baking, gardening, and so on), I couldn’t help feeling like it was quite a dangerous assumption to equate these arts with hospitality. Were cute centerpieces really what Jesus and the biblical writers had in mind when they spoke and wrote about this important Christian practice?

Providing a really great dinner for friends is certainly a wonderful thing to do and can be part of our practice of hospitality. But the truth is that hospitality is more about our spiritual posture than about how well we arrange our physical surroundings.

The English word hospitality shares its root with hospital—in this sense, when we offer hospitality to others, we’re in some way giving valuable care and meeting significant needs. The New Testament word for hospitality challenges our assumptions even more deeply; it’s philoxenia, which means showing brotherly love (phileo) to strangers (xenia). It’s that xenia part that’s scary! If we limit our understanding of hospitality to caring for “safe” people like family and friends, we’re missing Scripture’s challenge to us: like the Good Samaritan, we are to provide care for those we don’t know. We are to concretely extend love and welcome to those who may be smelly or scary or just plain weird. What we often associate with June Cleaver, Rachel Ray, or Martha Stewart is better epitomized by Mother Teresa and those like her whose profound love welcomed in the diseased, the starving, the dying, the stranger.

When we really look into the Bible’s challenge to show hospitality, we discover that the tame, safe discipline we’ve relegated to the kitchen turns out to be one of the scariest of all. Hospitality challenges the very core of who we are and what we’re willing to do for God.

We each may express hospitality in different ways based on our God-given personalities, but my hope is that we each take on the challenge. From messies to gifted homemakers, from introverts to extroverts, we each can offer the love of Christ to those in need of care.

When has God used another’s hospitality to minister to you? Who is God asking you to open
your life to?

Related Tags: hospitality, love, ministry


In our household, hospitality is less about decor than the simple fact that you are welcometo share in whatever we might have, whether Chateaubriand or peanut butter (the latter being much more common). Come dine with us, share an afternoon football game or a nap in the recliner. You are always welcome.

Te he problem may be that we often confuse socializing with hospitality.

Yes, and when Jesus visited Mary and Martha, Martha was concerned about the centerpiece aspect of hospitality and Jesus felt it was more important for her to be paying attention to her guest (Him). So I got two lessons - much more important to not neglect my time with Him than worrying about the house, and true hospitality may be more than the Martha Stewart place settings as you said.

Scary as it might sound hospitality is indeed Christ' way of ministering to our souls. Heaven became real to me when a female drug abuser, covered in scabs wrapped her arms around me. While embracing with quivering lips and tear filled eyes she said, "thank you for making me feel human again". As a nursing student I had come to help clean her physical wounds and God saw it fit to heal her spiritual ones instead. You might be tempted to think I ministered to her soul, but it was she who ministered to mine. I tell you, even if there weren't any heaven experiences like these make this life worth living.

Thanks for such thought provoking article, Kelli.

Several times over my Christian walk I've ended up in a new church in a new town. The early days following a move can be difficult, lonely and stressful, and the unexpected and unplanned invitation from a stranger at church to 'come over to my place for lunch' - a lunch that will be any old thing in a house which hasn't been tidied in preparation for a guest - has been a huge source of comfort and support. The measure of our Christian hospitality is not how we treat our friends, but how we treat strangers; not the plans we make but what we are willing to do when it means disrupting our plans.

Hospitality started with Abraham, Christians being cut off from their Hebrew roots willingly remain ignorant of what it all means...

There is a fabulous book-maybe out of print-by Karen Mains called "Open Heart Open Home". I read this book 25 years ago and it forever changed our view. We lived in a little garden apartment struggling on 450/week salary-but we invited friends, missionaries, and anyone else we could. Hospitality is all about one thing and one thing only-sharing yourselve at the place where you can share your life most visible-food, home, children, family. No matter how poor you are, you can share a meal. Jesus modeled meal sharing at every turn of his ministry.

I just found your post through Boundless. How funny that I just wrote a blog about hospitality a couple days after you did. You're post takes me so much deeper to the heart of the matter. Thank you.



I livein Sydney Australia and my bible study group will be starting a book on Hospitality next week, I am very much lookng forward to it

Main's book was a paradigm-changer for me 30 years ago. Also, more like 40 years ago, a gem by Edith Schaffer called Hidden Art.

Philoxenia: brotherly love to a stranger. That's it: biblical hospitality in a nutshell. Kelli makes several marvelous points.

No, hospitality is not about recipes and table decor, anymore than it is a task of women and not of men. (Notice Paul's qualifications for church leaders always put "hospitable" high on the list). Still, I somehow doubt we can take it out of the kitchen, or that Jesus' point to Martha was that she should forget all about the meal prep. They did need to eat. Table-fellowship is key to community--the celebration of God's good gifts of sustenance, time to talk, creation's beauty in color and flavor.

Martha needed to get her center, her focus, settled. Jesus, the reason, and the guide, enabler and provider of life. The work of preparation as privileged service. Kelli is so right. "Hospitality is about our spiritual posture." Not about showpiecing the stuff. Stuff is a tool, beneficial only to the extent that it is appropriately employed.

I'm rambling. Jesus' parables are loaded with images of welcome, of banquets and parties, of picking guys out of ditches, and not giving up until the last little lamb is under shelter. Hospitality is how the Kingdom is built.

Blessings on you, Kelli!

I just experienced another form of hospitality this week. My family moved from a duplex into a house, and my small group provided meals for us as we organized and adjusted to our new home. They understood it was a crazy and busy week and came to us rather than expecting us to come to them. So, hospitality may also be extended to how you treat and help people outside your home as well. How blessed I was this week!

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