Radically Ordinary Hospitality

I’ve been reading an excellent new book recently by Rosaria Butterfield, called The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World. Rosaria has a gift for communication, which comes through in this book. But she also has a gift for discernment—recognizing the need of the hour for the American church. And one of the biggest needs of the hour now is a return to biblical hospitality.

Typically, when we think of “hospitality,” we think of hosting events at our house. Usually the people we invite over are Christians. Usually the event itself is rather elaborate. And because it’s elaborate, it’s comparatively rare.

In Scripture, however, hospitality wasn’t an elaborate event for other believers. It was a radically ordinary discipline that believers practiced for those outside the church. Hospitality is love and openness to “the stranger,” which is distinct from general fellowship among believers (though that is a biblically commended task, too).

Here’s Rosaria’s thesis in a nutshell:

Those who live out radically ordinary hospitality see their homes not as theirs at all but as God’s gift to use for the furtherance of his kingdom. … If Mary Magdalene had written a book about hospitality for this post-Christian world, it would read like this one. … My prayer is that this book will help you let God use your home, apartment, dorm room, front yard, community gymnasium, or garden for the purpose of making strangers into neighbors and neighbors into family.

“Making strangers into neighbors and neighbors into family.” I love that. At least, I like the sound of it. But a candid look at the rhythms of my own household don’t quite reflect that dynamic. Not yet, at least. I realized this when I saw an overview of a typical week in the Butterfield household. Check it out:

  • Sunday — Worship and fellowship, which includes a fellowship meal for church family at the Butterfield’s house for ten to thirty people on Sunday nights.
  • Monday — Sometimes delivers a meal to a neighbor in need.
  • Tuesday — Dinner, informal conversation, and prayer at Butterfield home with neighbors and church friends.
  • Wednesday — Prayer meeting at church; errands, such as dropping off a gift to a neighbor in jail.
  • Thursday — Prayer walk in the evening with neighbors. (Thursday is regular “neighbor night.”)
  • Friday — Regular Costco run with an offer to pick up items for neighbors; optional meal and fellowship with neighbors.
  • Saturday — Optional meal and prayer with church members and neighbors.

Two things strike me about that schedule. One, it sounds exhausting. But two, it sounds entirely doable. It doesn’t require more money or a specific dining room set. It simply requires us to craft our schedules so that we are open to divine interruptions. And while arranging our schedules to be available to our neighbors may be tiring, it’s something every Christian can and should do.

Now, I fully recognize that Rosaria is encouraging us from a place of particular giftedness. God has graced her with a special capacity for hospitality that not everyone shares. But every spiritual gift is also a spiritual responsibility. What Rosaria has in abundance, every believer is called to express in similar faithfulness.

If you’re like me, hearing about this kind of radically ordinary hospitality immediately raises objections. Rosaria anticipates them, and I can’t do any better than just letting her speak to each:

Obstacle #1: Lack of Margin

Practicing radically ordinary hospitality necessitates building margin time into the day, time where regular routines can be disrupted but not destroyed. This margin stays open for the Lord to fill—to take an older neighbor to the doctor, to babysit on the fly, to make room for a family displaced by a flood or a worldwide refugee crisis. Living out radically ordinary hospitality leaves us with plenty to share, because we intentionally live below our means.

Obstacle #2: Viewing Hospitality as Performance Rather Than Calling

We sometimes forget that the Christian life is a calling, not a performance. Hospitality is necessary whether you have cat hair on the couch or not. People will die of chronic loneliness sooner than they will cat hair in the soup.

Obstacle #3: Fear

My prayer is that you will stop being afraid of strangers, even when some strangers are dangerous. … How else could we teach our children to apply faith to the facts of life? … After all, isn’t the sin that will undo me my own, not my neighbor’s, no matter how big my neighbor’s sin may appear?

We live in a post-Christian world that is sick and tired of hearing from Christians. But as Rosaria points out, who could argue with mercy-driven hospitality? Our neighbors need our open-handed hospitality far more than they need to be impressed with our homemaking skills.

Reading through Rosaria’s book, I’ve been convicted to establish some new habits into my family’s home life. Perhaps you should, too. You may not jump up to the Butterfield schedule right away, but what would it look like, for instance, if you started by committing to inviting one non-Christian (or non-Christian family) into your home each month?

Strangers all around us are yearning to become our neighbors. Neighbors all around us are yearning to be family. As the family of God, let’s open our doors and open our lives to them.