Making Room for People
The highs and lows of making new friends isn’t just a rite of passage we associate with childhood or the tumultuous waves of middle school. I’ve found that each new life stage brings with it a surprising “aha” moment that building new relationships can be hard.
Remember that time you moved or started over in building a new community, and struggled to feel understood? Or maybe a life transition ushered in a season of isolation, where organic connections just don’t happen naturally. Becoming a stay at home parent, taking a new job, moving far away from family, or becoming an empty nester could all leave you feeling, once again, that unwelcome feeling of loneliness.
I’ve found myself there more often than I want to admit. And while often it is just part of life, there is one place where it just isn’t acceptable- the church.
The community of believers is marked by love for one another, a spiritual fellowship that defies demographics and cultural division. We expect to find this in established churches, but in church planting it can be more complex. Naturally, when new visitors, skeptics, new believers, and strangers are part of a new and growing church, there is a huge opportunity for hospitality.
Throughout the Old and New Testament, the idea of hospitality is a clear command and distinguishing point for believers. The Greek word for hospitality is translated, “love of strangers,” and is used in the New Testament three times as a command to all Christians. Paul puts in this context of building a Christlike community: “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality,” Romans 12:10-13.
Now if hospitality as a requirement makes you feel a little nervous, you aren’t alone! We might feel insecure about finding the perfect four-course meal, when we can find time in our schedule, or how in the world we are going to get the house clean enough for company. But thankfully, biblical hospitality doesn’t require a perfect meal or pristine home.
Showing love to strangers can take a lot of different forms- each believer with his or her spiritual gifts will have a unique way of reflecting Christ’s love in relationships. As we seek to build the Church, we are called to use our gifts for the good of others. It is absolutely beautiful to see this in action.
Hospitality may look like befriending a new visitor after church, hosting a new family at your home for a meal, meeting up with a young mom and her kids at the park, or meeting for coffee to hear more about someone’s tough week. Maybe it is an intentional commitment to keep an eye out for someone needing a friend, and resisting the temptation to stay in the “safe zone” of our close friends at church. Maybe it’s keeping a lookout for people the Lord brings across our path, and ear open to hear how someone might need encouragement or care.
I like to think of hospitality as “making room for people”; in our homes, our hearts, and our schedules. When life is busy, it’s all too tempting to use the margin for my own desires. Personally, I know how my selfishness resists the idea of “sacrificing” my schedule or free time. In certain seasons more than others, it can be harder to feel like we are “giving up” free time and budget to prepare food or the home for guests. And yet, I’ve seen it over and over to be a return on investment! So often, I’ve see an openness in relationships, the feeling of being cared for and prepared for, that gives way to vulnerable conversations, opportunities for the Gospel, and greater connection to the Church. All because of an open heart and home.
Hosting life groups in our home has been one of the single best ways to move from “strangers” to connected church members through our time at Shiloh. I treasure the memories of getting to know so many of our friends and sweet souls at Shiloh over a good meal together and conversation. In our early years, when our kids were younger, we hired a babysitter for our life group with young families. Now as our older kids are the ones babysitting while the adults discuss some deeper thoughts, I marvel at what the Lord does in these seemingly usual but truly sacred gatherings.
When it comes to hospitality within church planting, here are three ways to consider how we can love the strangers among us:
- Pray for eyes to see and ears to hear. Individually, as a family, and within the leadership structure, we can pray for the Lord to help us see needs around us and respond with courage and love. We can pray for the Lord to show us ways we can connect with new visitors at church, as well as throughout the week as we interact with the souls God has placed around us.
- Commit to creating a culture of “making room for people” in your gathering. In each stage of a new church’s growth, the challenges can differ but the solution is always the same- meet others around us with Christ’s care. Welcoming each new visitor, skeptic, church shopper, or newer believer extends far beyond the front doors of the building! Outside of church, we can encourage each other to make room in our hearts and homes for the precious souls around us. When we commit our way to the Lord and trust him, he promises to act (Psalm 37:5).
- Trust the Lord to use our efforts, and look forward with confident expectation to what He will do. As we bring our few loaves and fishes to Jesus, he multiplies our meager efforts because of His greatness. No act of obedience is wasted!
What has been one of the best ways you’ve seen the Lord grow your church community? Share in the comments! We’d love to hear what loving strangers looks like in your particular season of life and in your church context.
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