As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
– Luke 10:38-42
My wife and I are extremely introverted people. We can go days without speaking much to anyone and remaining home hanging out just the two of us. Like typical introverts, we love people but need our space after a few hours.
A few years ago we were led to begin having people in our home on a regular basis. This was the beginning of The Crowded House Network. Our home was our sanctuary of safety and God was leading us to have people in our home as often as possible. He was calling us to exercise a gift of hospitality neither of us had or even wanted.
As we began to open our house to friends and strangers every Tuesday night the rhythms and patterns of our day, and eventually entire life, began to change. From daily schedules to the placement of furniture, our lives started to be filtered through the lens of other people. We began to ask ourselves, how can we best organize our lives and resources to create spaces of welcome and inclusion in our home?
Here are three things we have learned about opening our home as a space for mission in our neighborhood:
Hospitality and Entertaining Are Not the Same Thing
In the story of Mary and Martha, Martha is focused on entertaining. Mary is focused on hospitality. Martha wants the house and food perfect. Mary wants to spend time with Jesus.
As Crystal and I have been on this journey, we have learned that having our home be perfect and dinner starting on time are not the point of having people in our home. In fact, having everything perfectly together actually creates a barrier to hospitality. Having the home perfectly arranged and the food on time lead to entertainment. When my kids jump in people’s laps, guests experience the food being prepared, and the vacuuming didn’t get finished, our guests experience hospitality because they experience us. This is who we are, this is our life, and you are welcome to be part of it. We are not called to entertain, but to offer authentic hospitality to a superficial and fast-paced world.
Hospitality is About Presence, not Efficiency
Poor Martha is focused on the execution of the event in a timely and efficient manner. Mary is focused on being present with Jesus. Jesus affirms Mary and rebukes Martha.
In our home we focus on being present with our friends and enemies. The agenda for the night is set aside for what is happening with the people or person right in front of us. It would be easier to focus on tasks and an agenda but that is not what we are called to. We are called to the people who are present in front of us, so they supersede our agenda for the evening. Through the practice of hospitality we have learned the best thing we can offer our friends and enemies is our presence.
Hospitality Changes You
Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened. She would never be the same. In her hospitality she was transformed by the person she welcomed as a guest.
My wife and I are different because of the people who are welcomed into our home. They have challenged our beliefs and our practices. They have affirmed our gifts and pushed to find new ways to use those gifts. They have adopted our kids as their own. They have revealed to us who Jesus is and what He is up to in the world. As we have sat in the presence of friends and enemies, we have experienced the sanctifying movement of the Holy Spirit. We opened our home as a missional outpost in our community and we ended up being the ones who have experienced Jesus in new ways. Practicing hospitality is dangerous because it will never leave you unchanged.
The Journey is Worth It
My wife and I never dreamed of creating our home as a place of hospitality. We were perfectly content with our home being a place for us to share with no one else. But that is not what God has called us to. God has called his people to radical hospitality. This journey has not been easy and it has not come naturally. The journey has been hard and trying, but it has been good. I cannot imagine life any other way.
May we become families that offer radical hospitality to friends, neighbors, strangers and enemies. May people find rest and encouragement in our homes. May the people who cross the thresholds of our front doors experience the presence of Christ in and through our presence and hospitality.