Why Mission is Basically Hospitality

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We fell in love with the idea of being missional before we actually started practicing it. It was just easier to articulate a missional theology than it was to start practicing everyday mission.

Eventually, though, we realized we needed to start somewhere. We needed to get outside our normal rhythms of “church” if we were going to learn missional living.

From Talking to Doing

We started where many people start: service projects, and we found that they were really helpful! Getting outside our normal rhythms to spend some of our time explicitly on mission was a great place to start.

Regularly “doing mission” in this way allowed our community to begin to name and address fears often associated with missional living. It got us outside our comfort zones and into places where we were not in control.

We got to experience weakness, not knowing what to do, not having answers, and feeling foolish and inadequate. That was important training for us.

From Service Projects to Missional Community

Slowly but surely, new habits began to form in our community. Mission began to seep into our everyday consciousness rather than being located only in a monthly event.

We formed missional communities that focused on ongoing missions to specific neighborhoods or relational networks.

Mission became less sporadic and event oriented and became more integrated and practice oriented. Mission was becoming the very thing we were doing with our whole lives, not just what we did when we planned a project or party for the neighborhood.

From Missional Community to Way of Life

There was one more shift that took place. In the process of leading and participating in missional communities, mission eventually became a way of life.

Now mission is a posture, a way of being that is always happening. It is a reality that constantly affects every decision and conversation.

Some people call this oikos (the Greek word for “household”) or being a “family on mission.”

Of course, we don’t practice this perfectly, but it has become habitual enough that I can say it really does reflect our way of being much of the time.

A Habit of Making Room for Others

But it can be easy to use this kind of language to get us off the hook. “I don’t ‘do’ mission anymore, I am mission,” we might say, masking the fact that our lives don’t look any different from anyone else’s. (I’m being ridiculous, I know.)

So what does it actually look like to adopt mission as a way of life? What do you actually do? What are the new habits that we can observe in a community that’s actually becoming missional in its way of being?

I’d boil it down to one word: hospitality. When you boil it down, mission is basically hospitality.

Hospitality is Not Entertainment

When I say hospitality, please do not hear entertaining. I’m not talking about hosting parties with the best china and hors d’oeuvres, putting on a show to impress people, then collapsing and hibernating for two weeks. That’s exhausting and useless. “Truly I tell you,” I can hear Jesus saying, “they have their reward.”

No, Christian hospitality is something entirely different, and it actually has a long tradition in Christian history. (You can read about it in Christine Pohl’s excellent book Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition.)

To put it simply, Christian hospitality is making room for others at Jesus’ table. Essentially, you can boil hospitality down to two steps:

  1. Have a life
  2. Invite others into it

Have a Life

Having a life means you don’t really have anything to say to anyone until you have a life that someone might ask questions about.

The Apostle Peter urges us to “[a]lways be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV), but our main problem today is that nobody asks us to give the reason for the hope we have!

Too much mission and evangelism are done based on the assumption that people come into the kingdom when we use the right techniques on them; if we say the right words at the right time, then people will say yes.

But that’s not how it works. People come into the kingdom when they see someone living it and want the life they’re seeing. When they see a compelling, beautiful life, they ask us for the reason for our hope–then evangelism and mission flow easily.

But it starts with a life of discipleship and mission. You can’t skip over the often humbling task of leading yourself and your family on mission every day.

One way we do this in our home is by praying each morning at breakfast that we would all be able to see what Jesus is doing around us during that day so we can join him in his work. Then we try to check in at dinner time to see what happened.

To have a life just means that mission must be an extension of the life you’re actually living, not a separate activity that takes place in addition to your life.

Invite Others Into It

Step two is simply inviting others into the life you’re living. Hospitality means we intentionally look for ways to make room for others to join us in our lives as disciples.

Mission becomes very simple, then: Just be a Christian and make room for others who want to join you.

One example of how this worked out for us involved making sure our kids’ friends from the neighborhood knew they were welcome in our home. This actually took quite a bit of “making room”!

They would track mud onto the carpet. The junior high kids always seemed to smell bad. They’d eat our snacks and dirty our dishes. We’d have to brief them on the ground rules (no food upstairs, no name-calling, we work to reconcile when we have a disagreement).

But we tried to make room for them. We asked them how their day at school had gone. We involved them in our little ritual of sharing highs and lows around the table when they’d join us for dinner.

They knew it was a place where adults who cared about them were present, were interested in them, and would look them in the eyes and tell them the truth.

Making Room for Others Around the Table

Here’s another rhythm you could try: Designate one night per week as community meal night. The goal is to have at least one other family join you that evening for dinner.

Have them bring some food to contribute to the meal, then just do what you normally do at dinnertime. Here’s what we do:

  1. We thank God for the food.
  2. We eat the food together.
  3. While we eat, we all share our highs and lows from the day, one at a time, and let that spark a conversation that becomes personal (feelings and thoughts, not just events and details).
  4. We all clean up together.

This isn’t a special rhythm we do only when people come over. We do this every evening at dinner. Because this rhythm involves people listening to one another and expressing interest in and love for one another, it’s a life-giving, Christian rhythm.

Mission becomes as easy as inviting people to join us in a life-giving rhythm that points us toward Jesus together. Our guests get to share their highs and lows, join us in conversation, etc. They are heard and seen, and their highs and lows are valued at our table. It’s a simple, easy way of making room for others to taste and see what life is like in a home that is seeking to follow Jesus together.

Mission is basically hospitality because all we’re doing is making room for others to join us in the same rhythms that sustain our own life of discipleship.

Strangely enough, this is how God saves the world. Gerhard Lohfink wrote this in his book Does God Need the Church?

It can only be that God begins in a small way, at one single place in the world. There must be a place, visible, tangible, where the salvation of the world can begin: that is, where the world becomes what it is supposed to be according to God’s plan.

Beginning at that place, the new thing can spread abroad, but not through persuasion, not through indoctrination, not through violence. Everyone must have the opportunity to come and see. All must have the chance to behold and test this new thing. Then, if they want to, they can allow themselves to be drawn into the history of salvation that God is creating.

Only in that way can their freedom be preserved. What drives them to the new thing cannot be force, not even moral pressure, but only the fascination of a world that is changed.

The good news is that your home can become that changed world that fascinates because that’s how God works. The kingdom is a seed that gets planted in the ground.

Reflect and Integrate

  1. How can you bring more discipleship intentionality into your regular, home rhythms? (In writing this, I realized I want our mornings to be a better time of connection.)
  2. How can you bring missional intentionality to your home rhythms? Don’t create a new event, necessarily, but think about how you can more intentionally make room for others to rub shoulders with you in your everyday rhythms.

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Ben Sternke
Ben is a church planter who also trains, coaches and consults with leaders to help them build Jesus-shaped cultures in their churches, communities, homes, and businesses using simple, reproducible tools that are proven, practical, and powerful. He does this locally through a church he is planting in Indianapolis called The Table, and more widely through an organization he co-founded called Gravity Leadership. He also writes at bensternke.com. He lives in the Indianapolis area with his wife and kids.
Ben Sternke

5 Comments

  1. Justin Donlon Jan 19, 2016 Reply

    Ben, This is a very helpful and logical breakdown of your community’s journey to incorporate discipleship activities into everyday life – thank you!

  2. Sharolyn Jan 20, 2016 Reply

    “The Apostle Peter urges us to “[a]lways be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV), but our main problem today is that nobody asks us to give the reason for the hope we have!”

    So true. This is a big challenge to me, to live well. I love your traditions of beginning and ending the day around a meal with intentionality. And I’ve got Christine Pohl’s book on my list of books “to read”.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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