Hospitality is a major biblical theme. For example, consider Lev. 19:33-34, Matt 25:34-35, Heb 13:2 and Rom 12:13. I hope the following two hospitality stories, one negative and one positive, will help you as you preach and teach on this vital topic.
Many years ago, when Fred Craddock was a young preacher out of seminary, he pastored a small church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. At that time, Oak Ridge was rapidly expanding. Lots of people were moving to town to help in the construction work. Many of the newcomers lived in a mobile home park located near the church. The trailer park was packed with newcomers, including a large number of children. Fred saw all those new people and thought his church ought to reach out to them. So at the next Board meeting Fred recommended a plan to reach out to the newcomers. “Oh, I don’t know” said the chairman of the board. “They might not fit in here very well.” Fred said, “But they live right next to our church. I think we should invite them to worship with us.” But Fred got resistance to the idea. They finally decided to table the discussion and deal with it at their next business meeting. At that meeting a member said, “I move that in order to be a member of this church you have to own property in the county.” “I’ll second that motion,” said another man. Fred was mortified and spoke against it. But in the end, the motion passed. As a result, no effort was made to reach out to the newcomers. Soon thereafter Fred left that church. Twenty years later, Fred and his wife were driving past Oak Ridge on a trip through Tennessee. Since he was single when he served that church, his wife had never seen it. So Fred decided to show it to her. As they drove to the church, Fred told his wife that painful story about the church refusing to reach out to newcomers. It took a while to find the church. Lots of new roads and homes had been built in the area. But they finally found the spot. The beautiful white frame church was sitting there as always, but something was different. There was a big parking lot out front full of cars, trucks, motor homes and even motorcycles. As they pulled into the lot they saw a big sign in front of the church. It said, “BBQ: All You Can Eat.” It was a restaurant! Fred and his wife went inside and the place was packed with all kinds of people—white and black and Hispanic. Rich and poor. Southerners and northerners. Fred said to his wife, “It’s a good thing this isn’t a church anymore. If it were, these people would not be allowed in.”
I once heard a story about a young college student named Bill. Bill had wild hair, spiked with vivid colors, and wore a nose ring. Bill always wore a T-shirt with holes in it, blue jeans and no shoes. Bill, a brilliant young man, became a Christian while attending college. He attended a Christian organization on campus, but he also wanted to find a church. Across the street from Ken’s college was a well dressed, conservative, very traditional church. One Sunday Bill decided to visit that church. He walked into the sanctuary with his nose ring, no shoes, jeans and a T-shirt, and wild hair. The service had already started, so Bill walked down the aisle looking for a seat. But the church was packed, and he could not find a seat anywhere. By now, people were uncomfortable, but no one said anything. Bill got closer to the front of the church. When he realized there were no seats left, he squatted down and sat in the aisle. Although this was perfectly acceptable behavior at his college fellowship group—trust me—this had never happened before in this church! The tension in the congregation was palpable. The preacher didn’t know what to do so he stood there in silence. About that time, an elderly man, one of the old patriarchs of that church, slowly made his way down the aisle toward Bill. The man was in his eighties, had silver-gray hair, and always wore a three-piece suit. He was a godly man, very elegant, dignified, traditional, and conservative. As he started walking toward this boy, everyone was saying to themselves—you can’t blame him for what he’s going to do. How can you expect a man of his age and of his background to understand some college kid with a nose ring, wild hair, T-shirt and jeans and no shoes, sitting on the church floor? The old man walked with a cane, so it took a long time for him to reach the boy. The church was utterly silent except for the clicking of the old man’s cane. All eyes were focused on him. Finally, the old man reached the boy. He paused a moment, then dropped his cane on the floor. With great difficulty, the old man lowered himself and sat down next to the boy. He shook the boy’s hand and welcomed him to the church.