Radical Hospitality is the first of the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. That’s evangelism in plain Christianese. This is probably the new jargon I like the least. “Radical” is ok, but hospitality just seems weak in our current context. It seems too easily reducible to friendliness and pot-lucks, too close to the pseudo-gospel of inclusion.
Friendliness is a good thing. I’d rather my people be friendly than unfriendly. When outsiders come our way I’d like them to feel like we’re happy to see them. Too many outsiders visit churches and go away without a single friendly word. That’s horrible. But there is nothing particularly Christian about friendliness.
I like pot-lucks. Some people like their food to be pure. Meat. Potatoes. Vegetables. Salad. Fruit. I like mine all mixed up – a conglomeration of tastes and textures. The great thing about pot-lucks is the wide variety. The downside is small plates (or needing to work it off the next day). As a sign of fellowship, pot-lucks are hard to beat. But there is nothing particularly Christian about pot-lucks.
I even like inclusion. A church with more than one culture or socio-economic group cuts against the grain of mainstream culture (whatever culture that is) so well that it functions as an effective sign of the power of the gospel. But merely abstract inclusion is not the gospel.
When I think of essential practices of the church I think of making disciples who become disciple makers. We help people come to faith in Christ and begin following him. While connecting with the institution of the church is an essential part of salvation, a part too often left out in modernity, it is not the whole of salvation. Since it’s so easy to read “radical hospitality” as pertaining solely to the church (as institution), I think we need to do more.
Though I’m not excited about the phrase, I think Bishop Schnase handles the concept pretty well. He says, “Christian hospitality refers to the active desire to invite, welcome, receive, and care for those who are strangers so that they can find a spiritual home and discover for themselves the unending richness of life in Christ.” In this he seems to indicate a broader view of hospitality than the truncated common today.
One quibble: He says, “People need to know God loves them that they are of supreme value, and that their life has significance.” Other than the grammatical confusion (the plurality of “people” and the singularity of “life”), I don’t know that people are of supreme value. This is like the maxim I’ve long heard, “If you were the only one who needed salvation, God still would have sent his Son to die for you.” That sure sounds nice, but I don’t see it in scripture. There were plenty of sinners who lived (and died) before Jesus came on the scene. It has never been the case that there was only one sinner and God sent the Son to save that one person. God’s love for sinners is great, so great that God became human in the person of Jesus, dying on the cross for our salvation. That’s great value, but I don’t know if it is supreme value. I just have trouble being that human centered.
In the end, that is only a quibble. Churches know they need to win people to Christ – to hospitably welcome people into the Kingdom. But they don’t do it – at least not very much. We have pot-lucks and committee meetings, we fight over carpet, we even have evangelism trainings. But for the most part we avoid evangelism, actually representing Jesus to people who don’t know him. We need to repent and get to work.