By Chris Surratt
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say, “I just don’t have the spiritual gift of hospitality.”
I have even said it about myself.
I don’t know about you, but when I think of someone gifted in hospitality, I picture Martha Stewart on the cover of a glossy magazine. Everything in the house is beautifully laid out and impossibly perfect. That’s just not me.
It’s probably not you either, but that’s okay. You don’t need perfectly prepped centerpieces and fresh-squeezed juices to fulfill the Bible’s vision for hospitality.
The “why” of hospitality is more valuable than the “what.” While external expressions of hospitality—a clean house, good food, and nice people—are important to creating a complete small group experience, it goes much deeper than that.
Paul lays out the basis of biblical hospitality for us in Romans.
Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:9–15)
We can see clearly here that hospitality is not only for people with the full range of home canning equipment, but something to be pursued by every Christ follower.
All the actions and attitudes laid out in this passage were exemplified by the life of Jesus. Because He first loved deeply, honored extravagantly, and remained patient always, we are commanded to do the same.
First Peter 4:9 further commands us to “Be hospitable to one another without complaining.” These selfless acts are to be done with joy.
To understand why that is, we need to first understand what hospitality really is. While there are certain acts like making the casserole or opening your home that are indicative of hospitality, the characteristic itself has a deeper meaning and implication than these actions.
The word hospitality comes from the combination of two words: love and stranger. Literally, hospitality is the love of strangers. This is a powerful description of what the gospel is.
When we were strangers and aliens, God took us in. When we were without a home and family, God brought us into His. When we were without hope in the world, God adopted us as His children.
In the ultimate act of hospitality, God provided a way to welcome us through the death of Jesus Christ. God is perfectly hospitable, and therefore, hospitality is a characteristic built into the spiritual DNA of all who have experienced His divine hospitality.
Hospitality, then, is that characteristic that compels us to put aside our own interests, to lay down our own desires, and to place the needs of others ahead of our own, just as Jesus did with His life and death.
We can see examples of welcoming strangers and outsiders throughout the Bible.
“‘For I was hungry and you gave me some- thing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in.’” (Matt. 25:35)
Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it. (Heb. 13:2)
“You must not oppress a resident alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be a resident alien because you were resident aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Exod. 23:9)
Because God has shown us hospitality through the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, we are to mirror that through our love for one another.
This is essential to the gospel, and I don’t know a better opportunity than in a small group of believers. So how do we practically live this out in our small group?
1. Be open to inviting strangers into the group.
This is not the case for every small group; a few groups, like recovery groups, will need to stay closed for accountability and confidentiality. But most groups can be open to offering community to those who need it most.
The expectation of group members inviting others into the group will need to be discussed at the start of the group life and made a part of the group covenant.
2. Remember that everything speaks.
Walt Disney was famous for insisting that everything in his amusement parks sends signals about what the organization values. This applied all the way down to how the pavement changed between the different sections of the park.
He said, “You can get information about a changing environment through the soles of your feet.” Our hospitality in the small group starts with how the environment speaks to the new member.
Was there a smiling face at the door? Did group members welcome the new person in? Did the condition of the house show we care about the comfort of our guests?
3. Be the first to serve and the last to eat.
In his book, Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek makes the case that good leadership is the willingness to put the needs of the people before your own.
He says, “Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of the leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest.”
This can be as literal as allowing your group members to always get their food first, or it can be a mindset expressed by making yourself physically and emotionally available when they are in a crisis.
4. Pray consistently for the group.
Extravagant hospitality begins with seeking God’s favor and provision on the group members. Prayer sets the stage for life-changing moments to occur through the action of love toward friends and strangers.
As you build your group roster, take time each day to pray for each member by name. Once the group has started, occasionally send a text or direct message to a group member of the same sex to let them know you are praying for them that day.
Our love of friends and strangers alike will set the foundation for a gospel-centered small group. For the small group leader, hospitality is not just an act to be performed; it is a posture to be assumed.
Hospitality is definitely not one of my spiritual gifts. Fortunately for our groups, it is one of my wife’s. She is amazing with people and seems to always know how to create the perfect setting for our groups.
If you struggle in this area, look for a cohost who can help fill in that gap—but never let this be an excuse to carry around an inhospitable attitude.
CHRIS SURRATT (@ChrisSurratt) is a ministry consultant and coach with more than twenty years of experience. He served on church staffs prior to becoming the discipleship and small groups specialist for Lifeway Christian Resources. He is the author of Leading Small Groups: How to Gather, Launch, Lead, and Multiply Your Small Group, from which this is excerpted and adapted with permission from B&H Publishing Group. You can follow his blog at ChrisSurratt.com.