If I were to ask you what one of the biggest problems facing the church today is, what would you say? I’m guessing that if I asked that question in any kind of public forum I would get a variety of different answers, and probably most of them would be very legitimate. However, what would you think if I said that I believe there is one problem that, if we were able to fix it, would solve most of the other problems facing the church today? Are you intrigued? What if I went even further and said that the solution to this problem is incredibly easy? Would you be willing to do it? If so, read on.
Throughout my lifetime as first a PK (Preacher’s Kid) and now a PW (Preacher’s Wife) I have had the privilege of getting to know many congregations all over the country on a very personal level. While there are certainly exceptions, generally speaking I have seen one large, overarching problem. To put it plainly, I believe that one of the greatest challenges facing the church today is that we have forgotten how to be a family. In our physical families we communicate often, sometimes even daily, even with those who live far away from us. We have personality conflicts, yet we work through them. We rearrange our schedules and make a conscious effort to spend time together. We don’t backbite and gossip. We are active in promoting each other’s needs and our mutual goals and not apathetic towards them. We regularly verbally express our affection for one another through encouraging words and a daily use of the powerful phrase, “I love you.” But let me ask, does this also describe your regular interaction with your brethren? If not, think about all of the positive effects of changing this one aspect of your Christianity!
One very simple way to do this is through hospitality. When I read passages like Acts 2:42-47 and see the amazing bond of fellowship that existed between the 1st Century brethren, it absolutely makes my heart sing! Day by day they were coming together and eating in each other’s homes. They were truly family in word AND in deed! There is not a doubt in my mind that this is one reason the 1st Century church was able to, “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) in a world that was so hostile to Christianity. Their familial bond and unity were unparalleled to anything the world had ever seen! Just think of what the Lord’s church could do today if we truly had such a bond!
So how do we do this? How do we promote an attitude of true familial unity in our congregations? We need to spend actual, outside of the church building, being with you just because I love you TIME together. We need to be in each other’s lives and in each other’s homes.
I am afraid that oftentimes we hear the word “hospitality” and we automatically picture a four-course meal at an immaculately set table with fine china in an immaculately clean house. As the mother of four young children I really hope this is not the standard because I would be in big trouble! One of the things I appreciate the most about my mother is what she taught me about hospitality as I was growing up. Some of my fondest memories are of our house being filled with our brethren: young and old, house clean and house cluttered, for a sit-down meal, sandwiches, beans and cornbread, just desserts, or even just to play games without *gasp* any special food at all! Yet even though what I just described doesn’t at all fit our typical image of “hospitality” our home was everyone’s home. It was always known as a place where our brethren were welcome, and where everyone within its walls were truly family. What an amazing legacy!
Another example of tremendous hospitality was extended to our family just this past Sunday. Our family has only been at our current work since February, so we are still attempting to get to know the members of our congregation. This very dear sister, whom we had not yet had the privilege of meeting, extended her hospitality to us. In this case, however, the sister happens to be 95 years old and physically incapable of hosting people in her home. Her solution? She invited us out to lunch. We were blessed to spend time across a lunch table from this sister, and my children were able to hear 95 years worth of wisdom, experience, and stories (the very tip of the iceberg anyway) including stories of her childhood growing up next door to Hoss Cartwright! (If you don’t know Hoss Cartwright, think Bonanza). What an honor for our family!
What if, like many young families, you can’t afford to take someone out to eat, and you live in a small apartment that you are afraid would be uncomfortable for others? Well, once again, the Lord’s church is a FAMILY (Romans 8:29). Some of our best times have been crammed into small apartments having fun with our brethren. Some of our bravest dear ones even invited our family of six to spend the night with them in their one-bedroom apartment (multiple times), meaning a grand-total of eight people living in a one-bedroom, one bathroom apartment, sharing meals for two days. Did I mention that our other friends frequently popped in to spend time with us during those two days? Did we have to be patient with each other at times? Absolutely! However the cramped quarters never once bothered us. We reveled in our time with our brethren, our bonds of love and family grew exponentially during those visits, and we were humbled by their willingness to be so hospitable.
Even so, if you just aren’t comfortable having people in your home, invite them out to the park for a picnic, see if you can work together with a friend and have everyone into their home, or even invite a sister to go on a walk with you or out for coffee. One thing our congregation does frequently that we really enjoy are what we call “pick-up meals.” Everyone brown bags their own food, either sandwiches etc. from home or something they can pick-up through a drive-thru, and then we all meet back to eat together. Sometimes we meet back at the building, sometimes at the park, sometimes at a member’s home. The point is not the food, location or activity, the point is to spend time outside of worship services together.
If your congregation is like most others, depending on the way your building is laid out you have either the north congregation and the south congregation, or the east congregation and the west congregation, and never the twain shall meet. You’re probably chuckling to yourself now because you know exactly what I’m talking about, but sisters this is not the way it should be. Sitting in the same building with each other three times a week does not make us a family, but recognizing the we all share the blood of Christ, and investing in that bond on a daily basis does.
Please take a minute to read Romans 16:3-16. Notice all of the adjectives that Paul uses to describe his brethren in this passage: beloved, kinsmen, mother. Is this the way that we speak of our brethren? Is this the way that we feel about our brethren? If not, why not, and are you willing to change it?
For me personally, this is actually very difficult. It makes me feel very vulnerable to reach out to people, even my brethren, on such an emotional level. Truth be told I have been hurt by doing so, and that has made it even harder. However, that doesn’t excuse me from this responsibility, and it certainly doesn’t compare to the joy I feel when I establish these types of relationships with my brethren.
Because of the fact that this is a struggle for me, it’s something I have worked very hard on over the last several years. I make it a goal to hug my sisters whenever possible, and to tell them that I love them. Several years ago we were at a new congregation, and I walked up to a sister and gave her a hug, telling her that I loved her. It completely caught me off-guard when she immediately began to tear up. I asked her what was wrong and here is what she said: “I have been a member of this congregation for over 15 years, and you are the first one who has ever told me that you love me.” Sisters, this just shouldn’t be.
- Sometime this month, show hospitality, in some form, to someone in your congregation that you don’t know very well. Afterwards, keep tabs on your relationship over the coming weeks. Does it change? Do you feel closer to them? We would love to hear about it if you would like to share with us in the comments.
- Make a conscious effort, even if it scares you and feels really uncomfortable, to tell your sisters in Christ that you love them. Once again, keep tabs on your relationship. Do you get closer? How do they respond? If you feel like it, please share your experience with us in the comments below.
In the words of Paul, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.” I Corinthians 16:23-24