the weblog of Alan Knox

Hospitality and the Home…

Posted by on Mar 22, 2007 in books, community, hospitality | 23 comments

Roger Gehring has written an interesting book called House Church and Mission: The Importance of Household Structures in Early Christianity. Now, to be honest, this post is a little premature, because I have not read this book yet. But, as I was flipping through it, this paragraph jumped out at me:

With the catchword “hospitality” we are reminded of yet another benefit of the ancient oikos [household] for mission. The early Christian houses and house churches were places where Chrsitian hospitality was practiced by and for Christians and non-Christians alike in a very concrete way. In house churches it was possible for both Christians and non-Christians to experience the safety and security of the familia Dei. Closely connected with this was the early Christian brotherly love, which was able to unite radically different social groups into one community.

This passage alone makes me want to read this book. Unfortunately, it is currently far down on the reading list. I’m not sure why I tortured myself by picking it up and flipping through it, but at least this passage has given me something to think about.

According to Gehring, the early Christians demonstrated hospitality (literally, love for strangers) both to other Christians and to non-Christians. They demonstrated hospitality in a setting that was both familiar and comfortable – the household setting. We know from history that the family and the home was very important in the Greco-Roman world, though the importance of the home and family was declining. In fact, the Romans ate, studied, worked, and even worshiped out of their homes.

Today, the household setting is not the same as it was even fifty years ago. Many people only sleep and watch television in their homes. Their homes are places for showcase lawns, flower beds, home entertainment systems, and garages for their vehicles. Very little entertainment, communication, socialization, or even eating takes place in the average home today.

What does this mean? When I invite someone to my home – someone that I have never invited to my home before, or someone with whom I have not developed a relationship – that person probably assumes that I am inviting them to my home because I want something from them. Perhaps I am an Amway agent, or an insurance salesperson, or a politician, or – God forbid – an evangelical looking for another convert. So, when a person comes to my home for the first time – assuming they ever accept the invitation in the first place – their guard is up, and they’re waiting for the catch. Many times, even if we simply want to know them better, they assume that “religion” is the catch because we tend to want to talk about spiritual things.

Activities that once took place in the home, such as communication and socialization, now take place in the office or breakroom, the school hallway or cafeteria, the restaurant or bar or pub, or even the sports arena. These types of locations are often called “third spaces”. Perhaps, we as believers should think about building relationships with people through these types of locations – locations that are “familiar and comfortable” just as households were “familiar and comfortable” to Roman citizens.

Please, do not misunderstand me. There is something special about gathering with friends around a dining room table, or in a living room, or even in the backyard. But, just as unbelievers may not walk into our church buildings, they may not walk into our homes either. This brings up an interesting and important question – and I don’t know how Gehring answers this question (but I hope to find out soon):

Did the Christians practice hospitality in their homes because that was the social norm, or does this type of hospitality and home-based service transcend culturals and contexts?


23 Comments

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  1. 3-22-2007

    Alan,
    You raise some provocative questions regarding hospitality. We have used our home for a lot of “Christian” purposes–praise & fellowship times, Bible studies, shared meals, Good News Clubs for children. We’ve had missionaries and other brothers & sisters in the Lord stay with us for up to 3 years, and have had a furnished apartment in our home for the last 20 years or so for their long-term use, but…
    I don’t think we have ever really consciously utilized our home as a place of serving unbelievers. “Mi casa es su casa” was conditional, I guess, even though we didn’t realize it.
    Thank you for pointing out again that we are not an exclusive club designed to keep the world out.
    Kat

  2. 3-22-2007

    Alan,
    You raise some provocative questions regarding hospitality. We have used our home for a lot of “Christian” purposes–praise & fellowship times, Bible studies, shared meals, Good News Clubs for children. We’ve had missionaries and other brothers & sisters in the Lord stay with us for up to 3 years, and have had a furnished apartment in our home for the last 20 years or so for their long-term use, but…
    I don’t think we have ever really consciously utilized our home as a place of serving unbelievers. “Mi casa es su casa” was conditional, I guess, even though we didn’t realize it.
    Thank you for pointing out again that we are not an exclusive club designed to keep the world out.
    Kat

  3. 3-22-2007

    Alan,
    You raise some provocative questions regarding hospitality. We have used our home for a lot of “Christian” purposes–praise & fellowship times, Bible studies, shared meals, Good News Clubs for children. We’ve had missionaries and other brothers & sisters in the Lord stay with us for up to 3 years, and have had a furnished apartment in our home for the last 20 years or so for their long-term use, but…
    I don’t think we have ever really consciously utilized our home as a place of serving unbelievers. “Mi casa es su casa” was conditional, I guess, even though we didn’t realize it.
    Thank you for pointing out again that we are not an exclusive club designed to keep the world out.
    Kat

  4. 3-22-2007

    Alan,
    You raise some provocative questions regarding hospitality. We have used our home for a lot of “Christian” purposes–praise & fellowship times, Bible studies, shared meals, Good News Clubs for children. We’ve had missionaries and other brothers & sisters in the Lord stay with us for up to 3 years, and have had a furnished apartment in our home for the last 20 years or so for their long-term use, but…
    I don’t think we have ever really consciously utilized our home as a place of serving unbelievers. “Mi casa es su casa” was conditional, I guess, even though we didn’t realize it.
    Thank you for pointing out again that we are not an exclusive club designed to keep the world out.
    Kat

  5. 3-22-2007

    Alan,
    You raise some provocative questions regarding hospitality. We have used our home for a lot of “Christian” purposes–praise & fellowship times, Bible studies, shared meals, Good News Clubs for children. We’ve had missionaries and other brothers & sisters in the Lord stay with us for up to 3 years, and have had a furnished apartment in our home for the last 20 years or so for their long-term use, but…
    I don’t think we have ever really consciously utilized our home as a place of serving unbelievers. “Mi casa es su casa” was conditional, I guess, even though we didn’t realize it.
    Thank you for pointing out again that we are not an exclusive club designed to keep the world out.
    Kat

  6. 3-22-2007

    Alan,
    You raise some provocative questions regarding hospitality. We have used our home for a lot of “Christian” purposes–praise & fellowship times, Bible studies, shared meals, Good News Clubs for children. We’ve had missionaries and other brothers & sisters in the Lord stay with us for up to 3 years, and have had a furnished apartment in our home for the last 20 years or so for their long-term use, but…
    I don’t think we have ever really consciously utilized our home as a place of serving unbelievers. “Mi casa es su casa” was conditional, I guess, even though we didn’t realize it.
    Thank you for pointing out again that we are not an exclusive club designed to keep the world out.
    Kat

  7. 3-22-2007

    Alan,
    You raise some provocative questions regarding hospitality. We have used our home for a lot of “Christian” purposes–praise & fellowship times, Bible studies, shared meals, Good News Clubs for children. We’ve had missionaries and other brothers & sisters in the Lord stay with us for up to 3 years, and have had a furnished apartment in our home for the last 20 years or so for their long-term use, but…
    I don’t think we have ever really consciously utilized our home as a place of serving unbelievers. “Mi casa es su casa” was conditional, I guess, even though we didn’t realize it.
    Thank you for pointing out again that we are not an exclusive club designed to keep the world out.
    Kat

  8. 3-22-2007

    Alan,
    You raise some provocative questions regarding hospitality. We have used our home for a lot of “Christian” purposes–praise & fellowship times, Bible studies, shared meals, Good News Clubs for children. We’ve had missionaries and other brothers & sisters in the Lord stay with us for up to 3 years, and have had a furnished apartment in our home for the last 20 years or so for their long-term use, but…
    I don’t think we have ever really consciously utilized our home as a place of serving unbelievers. “Mi casa es su casa” was conditional, I guess, even though we didn’t realize it.
    Thank you for pointing out again that we are not an exclusive club designed to keep the world out.
    Kat

  9. 3-22-2007

    Alan,
    You raise some provocative questions regarding hospitality. We have used our home for a lot of “Christian” purposes–praise & fellowship times, Bible studies, shared meals, Good News Clubs for children. We’ve had missionaries and other brothers & sisters in the Lord stay with us for up to 3 years, and have had a furnished apartment in our home for the last 20 years or so for their long-term use, but…
    I don’t think we have ever really consciously utilized our home as a place of serving unbelievers. “Mi casa es su casa” was conditional, I guess, even though we didn’t realize it.
    Thank you for pointing out again that we are not an exclusive club designed to keep the world out.
    Kat

  10. 3-22-2007

    Kat,

    You have certainly been more hosptiable in the use of your home than our family has in the past. We are learning. This has been easy with believers, especially those with whom we already have relationships. It becomes more difficult when dealing with unbelievers or others who do not see the home as a place of socialization.

    -Alan

  11. 3-22-2007

    I tend to think that sincere Christian hospitality offered in homes is winsome in any culture. Also, as Christians, I believe, we ought to be willing to open our homes to others, whatever the culture.

    However, it seems, from what I have been able to observe, that the “house church” model seems more naturally suited to some cultures than others.

    I would be interested in your (or anyone else’s) observations on this. I think it is a key strategic question in church planting.

  12. 3-22-2007

    David,

    My desire with this post was not to promote “house church”. I am simply wondering if home-based hospitality works with unbelievers today, at least in our North American context. I did see home-based hospitality with unbelievers work in Nicaragua. That was a different culture and context. It seems that in North America, unbelievers – and many believers – are not even comfortable socializing in their own homes, much less the homes of other people.

    -Alan

  13. 3-25-2007

    Alan,

    I understand you were not intending to press the “house church” issue with this post. Nonetheless, I think the observations you make and questions you ask here have potentially important implications for the “house church” issue. And I am interested in seeing where pursuing that line of questioning might possibly lead.

  14. 3-25-2007

    Alan,
    You wrote- “Activities that once took place in the home, such as communication and socialization, now take place in the office or breakroom, the school hallway or cafeteria, the restaurant or bar or pub, or even the sports arena. These types of locations are often called “third spaces”. Perhaps, we as believers should think about building relationships with people through these types of locations – locations that are “familiar and comfortable” just as households were “familiar and comfortable” to Roman citizens.”

    In reading this I think about the way we would use “third spaces” all the time with street ministry. We simply engage the people where they are and as they are. People are much more at ease in an environment they are familiar with…on “their turf” so to speak.

    Similarly, I was having lunch in a local restaurant two weeks ago when a man in another booth asked me about my cell phone. Our conversation went from our phones to business to family to contentment to pursuing happiness to Jesus. We spent (2-1/2 hours) just talking, it was a setting that he was comfortable with and he led the conversation for the most part. It ended with him asking me if we could have lunch again.

    Perhaps I should read this book too.

    Be blessed…
    Brandon

  15. 3-25-2007

    David,

    I think that the church in the US is having trouble associated with non-believers, whether the church meets in homes, rents locations, or owns its own building. Why? Because believers are not going where the non-believers are. I think that would be the “third places” that I mentioned in this post. So, I agree that this has implications for churches that meet in homes, but it also has implications for churches that meet in other locations as well.

    -Alan

  16. 3-25-2007

    Brandon,

    Excellent example! Thank you for sharing how God has placed you in “third places” in order to meet and get to know others.

    -Alan

  17. 12-19-2011

    This is a great discussion, Alan. I was just talking with my husband last night about visiting someone in their home after a death in the family. That used to be the norm, but now it seems you really have to know someone to go to their home. Sometimes people act very awkward if you “show up” at their door, but that’s what I grew up doing.

    And, one of the main issues is what you pointed out — how can we show hospitality if we’re never home? If I don’t make time in my schedule for others, intentionally, there will be no room to build relationships at my table. Great topic!

    Suzanne

  18. 12-19-2011

    This Christmas my wife and I passed out boxes of homemade fudge to about 25 homes in our condo complex that we moved to earlier this year. The purpose was to try and be more missional and to break down some barriers and get to know our neighbors a little better. We met quite a few at their doors. And a couple days afterward we received several Christmas cards and thank yous in the mails. One couple in their early 80s invitedus over for a “hot toddie,” which we accepted. We had a good time with them. But before going over it occurred to me that perhaps they were Amway salesmen or something. But fortunately, they are just a friendly couple who likes to have a cocktail each evening and invited us over to share it with them. It was a generational thing with them perhaps, as you indicated. It was fun. And the wife, who is 81 and in ill health, confided to use that every day she wakes up wondering if it will be the day she dies. They are Catholic and we looking forward to more conversations with them.

  19. 12-19-2011

    A second thought on this topic. When we lived in Southern California in the ’80s, having people over to our house or going over to someone else’s house was a regular occurrence. This was true for two reasons, I think. First, it was teh culture of our church. Second, in California everyone seemed to be from somewhere and so people were anxious to get to know one another.

    In the early ’90s we moved to a small town in Wisconsin and tried to keep up the habit. We got the feeling that people thought we were weird for inviting them over. We even had one person ask us why we were inviting them over. In the 17 years we’ve lived in this town, our pastor and none of our elders have ever invited us for dinner over to their homes, even though we’ve been very active in church. One reason, I think, is that in a small town, people who have grown up there have a social calendar already packed to the gills with relatives and school and such and don’t have much time to give to newcomers. Now that we’ve drifted into the realm of being long-time residents in this town, we have to be intentional about making time available to be hospitable to “strangers.” The biggest thing we did to help in this is to step back from church programs. That freed up a whole lot of time for us.

  20. 7-16-2012

    What I see (correct me if I am wrong), are cultures and sub-cultures. We live in part of the Western Culture. The U.S. epitomizes Western cultural idealisms. However, in our country, we have sub-cultures, such as, northern, southern, mid-western, west-coast, east coast, north-east, etc. Each of these have different flavors when it comes to family values, social graces, social barriers and whatever else you can fit in there.

    My sister lives in a rural area of N. Carolina after having grown up in northern New Jersey. Her first year there was nearly unsettling for her. People she had gotten to know at the church she had attended not only showed up at her house unannounced, but were comfortable enough to walk right in. In Jersey, that would be a social no-no. Actually, in some of our cities, that could end not so well for the “intruder”.

    More and more, people are becoming less neighborly. Rather than welcoming new neighbors, people tend to peer through curtains and size them up. Often, some new neighbors would rather not be welcomed (which sometimes is a result of where they come from). So, what to do?

    I think it is a matter of tactfully getting to know people, whether they be a next door neighbor, co-worker or one of the other soccer moms. Through getting to know them, we may find they like hiking, going to car shows, music or whatever. Maybe they simply like strolling through a mall, barbecues or watching a DVD of their favorite movies.

    All the way around the world to this…the “third places” can be an excellent option, perhaps preferable in most cases, depending on where one lives and the people whom you may be relating to. It is “neutral territory” and also can be a place or activity the other(s) enjoy, thereby expressing their importance over your own, further winning sharing rights (not to say we should do such things solely for the sake of winning the right to share, but it can open doors that less comfortable venues would not – that make sense?).

  21. 7-16-2012

    John,

    You said, “I think it is a matter of tactfully getting to know people, whether they be a next door neighbor, co-worker or one of the other soccer moms.” Yes, exactly!

    -Alan

  22. 1-9-2013

    @Alan:
    I love this topic. Reading your post and the comments encouraged me to give my comment as well. Specifically, I want to respond to this: “Today, the household setting is not the same as it was even fifty years ago. Many people only sleep and watch television in their homes. Their homes are places for showcase lawns, flower beds, home entertainment systems, and garages for their vehicles. Very little entertainment, communication, socialization, or even eating takes place in the average home today.” I am used to a community setting. In my culture it is always fun and healthy to get together (eating, chatting, playing games etc.) from one home to another.

    @John,
    I like what you shared about your sister’s experience in NC. No wonder most of the American missionaries that served in the Philippines come from the South because we have similar culture in terms of hospitality. We, Filipinos don’t mind entertaining people coming to our door unannounced or even uninvited. For instance, if I invite you to my home, and you invite your friend/s with you, it is assumed that I also invited your friend/s:-). But of course this is not always true in all situations.

    Honestly, one of my culture shocks in America after moving from Philippines to South Korea then to Tennessee is hospitality. I was not formally introduced to the congregation on my first Sunday at church and no one from church has invited me over to their home or to offered me to eat out. This is no big deal to me though…I just took it as an experience from another culture/country. In the culture I was raised to, we welcome new people/visitors at church by introducing them to the congregation by name (if it is a large congregation, first timers at church are requested to stand to be recognized). Then, we invite those visitors or people who just moved to our community to our homes to eat with us or we take them to a place/restaurant where they could have some experience of food.

    Now, I am terribly missing home and Asia after moving to the US in 2011.

    Thanks for sharing.

  23. 1-9-2013

    Violly,

    Thanks for sharing part of your story with us! You’ll often find this among the church in the US: “we welcome new people/visitors at church by introducing them to the congregation by name.” But, from what I’ve seen among the church in several states in the US, you’ll rarely find this: “Then, we invite those visitors or people who just moved to our community to our homes to eat with us or we take them to a place/restaurant where they could have some experience of food.” I hope that you will be able to teach some of your brothers and sisters in Christ there in TN about this kind of hospitality.

    -Alan