The Gift of Hospitality

I grew up in a little Baptist church that was right across the street from a cotton mill. A lot of the members of our church worked in the cotton mill. I heard my pastor say “I’ll preach in overalls if it will make your friends more comfortable. I had no idea what he meant—none—until I went to work at the cotton mill one summer. (To make sure I studied in college, my dad made me work in the cotton mill.)

I knew a lot of those people because they lived in the area. Overalls were all they had. The darker blue the overalls, the newer they were. My pastor understood that sometimes a coat and tie would be intimidating. Why? Because that’s what the mill “boss man” wore. That’s what the mill owner wore. If you walked into a church as a mill worker and you saw coats and ties, you would think you were in a church for the mill owner. Sociologists will tell you that mill workers and mill owners don’t go to the same church. “I’ll preach in overalls,” the pastor said, “if it will make you feel more comfortable—if it will make you feel at ease.”

We overlook this thing of hospitality. We think it is a gift used to entertain in your home. The gift of hospitality is how you receive someone into your own life, how you accommodate them and how you help them feel at ease and comfortable with you. Then you can begin a conversation to hear their story, and you can have the opportunity to tell them the story of Jesus and how Jesus found you. You know people like this who have this wonderful gift, and you always feel better about yourself when you’re with them. You always like yourself more when you walk away from the conversation.

But too many times in church we think you have to catch “clean” fish. We want the fish already filleted. You’re like the kid from the city who goes on his first fishing trip. The line tugs and he reels it up and the fish isn’t in a box. Now what in the world would you think about an emergency doctor who, when the patient was rolled in, would say, “This patient is sick! Look how bloody this guy is. Clean him up before I work on him”? What would you do if there was a search and rescue team and a diver gets in a helicopter, looks down and says, “Look how wet that guy is. When I rescue him he’s going to get me soaked.”

We put up these barriers to make sure people are really serious, and they become walls that are too high for people to get over. We all have friends who say they will come to church just as soon as they “fix it.” They’ll tell me, “Mike, just as soon as I work this out…”

We forget how lost and confused people are. It wasn’t unusual for me to stay after Kairos and have one of those young people walk up to me and say, “You keep telling me about reading the Bible. Where do I start?” I say, “Start with the Gospel of Mark.” They would hand me their Bible and ask, “Where is it?” “It’s right here.” They’ll flip through, look back and grin, “Good, it’s a short book.” I say, “Yeah. Read it more than once.”

We forget how lost people feel, and we create barriers. Sometimes we are well-meaning, but they are barriers just the same.

What drew you to the faith? Was it not those men and women around you who lived authentically? It’s not that they lived perfectly, but that they lived authentically in front of you.

Sometimes in order to share about Jesus, you have to be willing to wear overalls.

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