The ministry of Southbridge Fellowship does not end once the materials are stowed in the trailers on Sunday afternoon. At the conclusion of the services our church disperses to homes and neighborhoods where opportunities to connect people to Jesus for life change expand astronomically. Through the hospitality of small group meetings, social gatherings, teas or cookouts the work of ministry continues.
The dictionary defines hospitality as “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, and strangers.” Hospitality happens when I welcome another person into my world and make him feel at home there. Grandma taught hospitality through her motto “treat folks like family”, and Grandma loved her family.
How important is hospitality? Paul’s list of best practices for believers (see Romans 12) includes “practice hospitality.” Peter understood the inconvenience that hospitality might create for the host. It was at his house that four guys ripped a hole in the roof to lower their injured friend to Jesus. Peter repeats Paul’s instruction and adds a ban on grumbling.
Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 1 Peter 4:9 NIV
Do we consider our homes as platforms for ministry? Stewardship becomes reality when we recognize the possibility and potential of the resources God has placed in our hands. Faithful stewards come to grips with questions like:
- What material goods do I have?
- Who owns these things?
- Why do I have this stuff?
- How might I use it for God’s glory?
The logical next step for a steward is servanthood as he applies his resources in ministry. Scott Sauls writes in Befriend, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hidden battle.” Look around. Who’s hurting? Who’s lonely? Who has struggles, and how can we help? As we welcome and accept others God works through us to make a difference one life at a time.
Stewardship and servanthood are key ingredients in hospitality. If we don’t see ourselves as managers of God’s resources, if we aren’t operating in love out of a servant’s heart then the practice of hospitality becomes a duty, a chore, and not a delight.
Let’s answer some questions about the practical side of hospitality in hosting a small group.
1. Does hosting a group mean opening my home to complete strangers?
Sometimes, yes, but as hospitality is practiced those strangers morph before our eyes to become friends and then settle into our hearts as family. It’s a God thing, something He does.
2. Are my house and furnishings good enough to host a group?
Refer back to the discussion of stewardship. Folks are not coming to judge your decorating scheme or to see the size of your flat screen TV. Those things have a way of fading in importance as hearts connect over the Word of God.
3. What about preparation?
The nightmare of hosting my entire family for Thanksgiving—the extensive cleaning and the 72 hours of non-stop food preparation—chases away my desire to be hospitable to anyone. Won’t I be doing that every week?
Hosting a group does require work. There’s the spiritual work of praying for the group members and preparing for the discussion. There’s also the preparation of the meeting space.
Keep the preparations simple so the Martha syndrome does not take root and destroy the joy. Shawn and I compiled a checklist of items to help in our preparation, and we share the work. I did such a good job vacuuming and mopping to prepare for group in our first year that Shawn declared me Floor Manager and gave me the jobs permanently.
We don’t cook broccoli or fish the night of group, and I make sure the trash is emptied. These are simple things to consider but their impact is high if neglected.
4. What will my neighbors think about the weekly invasion?
Tell the neighbors of your plan to host a group of friends once a week and invite those neighbors to join you. Explain there may be some noise as people arrive or leave. Encourage them to notify you if there are problems such as folks blocking driveways or mailboxes. Maintain a good relationship with the neighbors and remind the group to keep loud outside conversations and horn tooting to a minimum when leaving.
Shawn and I sit up past bedtime on group nights basking in the joy of fellowship. At one time we were anonymous attendees of Southbridge Fellowship. Now, we have people.
Our people! That has a nice ring to it doesn’t it?