Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2
What we read in the book of Hebrews is echoed throughout the New Testament: Hospitality is an essential element of Christian character. It may be aspirational—meaning, we’re not always as hospitable as we either want to be or need to be—but it is most definitely not optional. We don’t get to choose whether or not Jesus expects us to practice hospitality toward strangers. He does. The extent to which we do this is a matter of obedience.
Hospitality is on my mind these days for two specific reasons. There could, obviously, be a whole list of legitimate reasons for thinking about hospitality: How we welcome and make room in our lives for strangers who don’t talk, look, or believe like us; how we welcome and make room in our lives for strangers who don’t vote or politick like us; how we welcome and make room in our lives for strangers who don’t occupy the same social or economic turf as we do. There are plenty of compelling reasons for all of us to be concerned about Christian hospitality—or the lack thereof—these days.
When followers of Jesus do not practice hospitality to strangers, we are disobeying Jesus. Nevertheless, what’s got hospitality on my mind right now are two upcoming events in the life of Providence—one upcoming in just a few weeks, the other in a little over a year. I’ll take them in reverse chronological order.
Providence will host the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina’s annual gathering in 2021. The dates are March 18 – 20. We’ve done this before. The most recent time was 2015. In fact, that event marked my first visit to Providence. As a stranger on campus that day, I can tell you that Providence people showed a great deal of warm, welcoming hospitality. Everyone I met was friendly. When I asked for directions, I always got a helpful answer—and, sometimes, an escort. Your hospitality made an impression on this stranger. So, I know we can do it because we’ve done it before. A year from now, we’ll get to do it again.
What this means is that we’ve got some getting ready to do. One of our deacon ministry teams for this year is tasked with making preliminary assessments of the prep work that needs doing. These deacons, along with our ministry staff, will be going to this year’s CBFNC meeting in Raleigh to look, listen, and learn. We’ll begin meeting with people from CBFNC later this year. As plans develop, you’ll begin hearing about ways to offer Christian hospitality as a volunteer for this statewide gathering. There will be lots of strangers here next March. They’ll need plenty of Providence people on hand to welcome them. I can tell you from experience that this is something we’re good at.
So, that’s next year. On Sunday, March 1, of this year, we will welcome a bunch of fresh new faces to worship when our kindergartners join us in the Sanctuary. This is a big deal for these girls and boys—not only going to big church, but learning how to worship God with great joy, deep reverence, and an abundance of gratitude. They will be watching to see how we do it. They will be listening to hear how we do it. They will also be adjusting to strange new surroundings and challenging new expectations—in particular, the expectation that they sit still and listen for extended periods of time. That’s hard for adults to do. It’s even harder for kindergartners.
As people who are more at home in a worship service environment, then, our job is to offer Christian hospitality to these small new people in our pews. That means smiling when we see them, learning their names and telling them ours (so they’re no longer strangers to us), letting them know that we’re glad to have them with us—and stifling the urge to exhale loudly, frown, or shake our heads when these kindergartners occasionally act like kindergartners.
If we want worship—and, by extension, church—to be a place where our children feel nurtured, loved, and significant, then that’s the tone we need to set by the hospitality we offer. When I visited with these boys and girls a few Sundays ago, I was asked how they can be helpers in worship. I gave them three jobs, plus a bonus task. One: Show up. Two: Sing loud. Three: Listen quietly. Bonus: Bring a friend. They all nodded to let me know that they understood. If our kindergartners can be helpers like this in worship, then maybe they will end up being examples for the rest of us. And, in the process, who knows? We just might find ourselves entertaining angels.
May the peace of Christ be with you!