What does hospitality look like in speech and in action?

A few years ago I had a disagreement with a politician about words. He was using a phrase that had been understood in the popular media at the time as a kind of ‘slogan’ with a particular emphasis. I assumed that was what he meant by using this phrase; he assured me that he had a more nuanced perspective to communicate. The key to our disagreement was that he then said it was my responsibility to listen and understand what he intended to communicate, and my problem if I didn’t get what he meant. Conversely, I suggested that it was his responsibility to understand how I would hear what he was saying and to use words to ensure that I would receive his intention. In the end we had to agree to disagree, but it is a conversation I have often thought about since.

Does the onus lie on the speaker or the hearer to make sure communication is clearly understood?

And what does that have to do with hospitality?

Missiology 101 tells me that as someone who has a good message to proclaim, the onus is on me to make sure that my words are being heard and understood by those I am seeking to communicate with, rather than expecting or assuming that they will know what I intend. We call it “contextualisation,” that is, making sure our message is communicated in a way that makes sense to those who are receiving it. To me, this is a form of hospitality. I invite someone into the conversation in a way that is welcoming when I focus not so much on what I want to say, but on what they will hear and receive.

I think hospitality is often misunderstood. The mental picture many people have is of inviting someone into their home. Which is a lovely, welcoming thing to do. However, there is an important caveat. In many ways, our home is our “turf.” It is the place where we feel most comfortable, and where we do things our way. If we invite someone in to that, but expect and assume that they will “fit in” with us, are we truly being welcoming? Or is hospitality about making the other person feel comfortable, choosing to accommodate ourselves to their way of doing things, making sure they feel at home?

True hospitality is the attitude of making someone else feel at home rather than simply being in our home.

What would it look like to live that kind of hospitality in speech and in action?

My church has recently started partnering with a Christian community who speak a different language to us, many of whom are refugees and have left everything they have known behind. I see their joy in their eyes as they come into a place where they can speak their own language, and eat food that is familiar to them, and feel comfortable knowing that they understand what is expected of them. I imagine that in nearly every other aspect of their lives this is not the case. Everywhere they go they are expected to fit in with us, speak like us, do things our way. And yes, that is part of the process of learning to live in a new culture. But what if instead of the church being just one more place where they are the outsiders who are expected to find ways to fit in, what if we as followers of Jesus chose to be the ones who learned their language, ate their food, did things their way? What if we went out of our way to be the ones who were uncomfortable so that they might feel at home?

That’s a challenge. That will be more difficult. That’s the kind of hospitality that is costly as we sacrifice our own comfort and ease for the sake of the other. That’s the kind of hospitality of a church whose early leaders chose to become like outsiders in order to share their hope with those on the outside. That’s the kind of hospitality of a church whose head is a God who condescended to become a human being in order to demonstrate his great love for humanity.

7 thoughts on “What does hospitality look like in speech and in action?

    1. Surely this hospitality in action is present in every page of the four gospels. Jesus’ embrace of others for who they were, without making them conform to any pre-selected criteria or conditions for acceptance, is what enabled those trapped by sin and systems to respond to the love of God Jesus announced, proclaimed and lived. Repentance follows forgiveness and acceptance, as all those whom Jesus loved unconditionally responded. He did not make them fit in, as you say, and he, himself, did not fit in – precisely because he accepted those who did not fit. It makes a difference to the way we respond and treat others if we know that God is at work reconciling the world to Himself, as Jesus himself knew. Imitate me, Paul said, as I imitate Christ, who himself was imitating God in his hospitable action.


    2. I want to add and delete to my post.
      1. Change my second to last sentence to. Does this comply with the gospel?
      2. Add. Ask our father how he sees the situation, after all conversing with him is as important as prayer.
      3. Please delete “I can not” from my last sentence.

      Thank you.


  1. It would be good to invite Frank Tucker to comment (Intercutural Studies).

    There is a Baptist Church in Hobart (Tas) which is an example of what Melinda is discussing. It has a large Burmese community and it is such a joy to visit that church.

    I appreciate and endorse the use of hospitality to describe, and fix in place what God’s churches should be doing; however, my question is, and I will start with the Hobart church where I did not see poor Australian or other migrant people there as a result of Christian hospitality.

    Does it take a migrant crisis influx for churches to start offering hospitality? There is a crisis with the poor! Please read me carefully for I am not saying look after our own first. I am saying that these churches should have been outside of their four walls years ago.

    Why are we offering them hospitalty? are they Christians or are we trying to convert them and if so are we being open about it. (Frank Tucker has an opinion on that)

    Depending on the socio economic and demographic of some areas you will see an absence
    of poor people in the churches. I know people will go where they feel comfortable and do not go where they feel uncomfortable or unwanted. They should receive and feel the hospitality in all of God’s churches.

    How would Jesus cope with that?

    I cannot, and I am convinced that it is one of the biggest problems facing the Christian world.


  2. It’s often easier to be the host.

    Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house rather than inviting him to his own house.

    The disciples in Luke 10 were not arrange their own premises but base themselves in the home of a local person of peace.


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