“If there is any concept worth restoring to its original depth and evocative potential, it is the concept of hospitality.” –Henri Nouwen, “Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life”
Okay. I’m going to step on some toes … including my own. Have you noticed that we all are very screen-oriented? Our “devices” have taken over family gatherings, lunch dates, and play time. Our faces are buried in our iPads, cell phones, and laptops to the point that we are missing a lot of conversation, interaction, and relationship building. I was at a local restaurant and even the process of my receiving the bill for my dinner, my transaction with my debit card, and my assigning a tip to the server was all done on a little box. Once my meal was brought to me and the server made the obligatory “check back,” he was finished with me and moved on. The rest of my experience was handled on a device with a screen. Just a few years ago, my wife and I took a vacation to Rome. We wanted to go to Florence for a day trip and thought we would catch the train. When we got to the train station, there were no attendants to help us find our way. We meandered our way through, figured out the system by means of a overhead screen, and made our way to Florence, Italy without saying a word to a single soul–with the exception of my own panicked conversation to my wife as to which direction Florence would be. And just the other day, our family was together sitting in a large family room, and everyone was on their own devices. I even think some were texting each other in the room! I love technology, and like I said, I’m a guilty party here, but what I have noticed is that our digital world we live in has affected our hospitality quotient. There are many times when I would rather just e-mail someone rather than picking up the phone or setting up the meeting. While it is much more efficient to probably just e-mail, I miss the opportunity to engage with another human being.
Some of you are saying, “Indeed … that’s why I text and e-mail.”
That may be true, but can I raise an issue here? The lack of engagement with human beings is what I think allows our ability to be hospitable slip away from us. Please hear me. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have our devices and use them effectively, but I am saying that we should not allow them to consume us to the point that we are no longer engaging with each other in conversation and relationship … because when that happens, we are no longer offering ourselves to each in Christian hospitality. We are losing our ability to relate to real people. Those of us in the ministry … that’s what we are all about! (And by the way, if you are a believer in Jesus, you all have been called to be a minister in some way.)
When we think of hospitality, we don’t think first of welcoming guests.
We generally think about having a family meal, putting on all the appropriate festive ware, and making sure the food is prepared adequately. Or, we think of the hospitality industry who are very hospitable to us … as long as we have our Visa cards with us and a few dollars available for tipping. We recently were on vacation and found ourselves in a very nice hotel. We are mostly Hampton Inn type people, but this time, we found a good deal at a really nice hotel–one that had valet service, concierge, and bellmen. I thought to myself, these people know how to roll out the red carpet and welcome guests. Of course they do! They have been trained by the best people in the industry and their livelihood depends on it.
How would you feel if I said that hospitality is a spiritual obligation? Or, an expression of our Christian love to a guest? We in the church should know about true hospitality better than anyone because we have been richly trained by the scriptures in how to reach out to our guests … without the expectation of a tip.
The Apostle Paul says throughout his letters to the church that we are to “greet one another with Christian love.”
What does he mean by that? I think one thing he means by that is that we are to see Jesus in the person who is our guest and to allow our guest to see Jesus in us. Mother Teresa was asked how she was able to reach out, to touch, and to bring healing to the destitute of Calcutta as she did throughout her ministry. Without hesitation, she responded, “I see Jesus in each one of them.” This is true Christian engagement. Every person who walks through the church door has a name. Every name has a story. Every story matters to God … and they should also matter to us.
“When we offer hospitality to [guests,] we welcome them into a place to which we are somehow connected–a space that has meaning and value to us.” — Christine Pohl, “Making Room”
Christine Pohl in her book, “Making Room” acknowledges the fact that hospitality in the church early on was a fundamental expression of the gospel. This should not be totally left to those who are greeters in the church or on the Welcoming Team (or what we call our Ambassador Team.) This is all our responsibility. In the early church, hospitality was a spiritual gift that those in leadership in the early Christian communities needed to possess. When we invite someone into our space and are personal to them, offering respect, acceptance, friendship, and a comfortable environment, even if it is for a brief moment, we have extended Christ to another. This requires having an openness of the heart, attentive listening, mutual sharing, time, and resources.
Here at MPCC, we are becoming a more hospitable environment for new people–our guests!
Those of you a part of the MPCC family, you will notice that we are setting some things up in our main parking lot. First, there are special guest parking for those who will be arriving to our church as guests, looking for a place to park their cars. Secondly, there will be a designated Guest Connections area outside (on most weekends) where people can be appropriately greeted on their first visit with us. You will see more activity in the Commons area, all to help make people feel welcomed and a part of what’s going on here as they enter our spaces. Third, we ask everyone to see themselves as an Ambassador, greeting anyone carrying a bright “blue folder.” If you see someone with a bright “blue folder,” they have a lot of information they need to know who we are, a coupon for a drink in our Connections Cafe, because they are our guests for that day … and who knows, may become part of our family. We want MPCC to be a safe place for new people.
Let’s not lose our ability or desire to engage just because we live in a digital world.
We can still have our iPhones and be connected to our Facebook pages and Twitter accounts … but let us be aware that, even though there are creative ways to utilize these in reaching people, there is nothing that can replace a smile, a warm handshake or embrace, and a true eye-to-eye greeting with another, welcoming them and ushering them into the very presence of the Living God.
If you are a part of the MPCC Ambassador ministry, here is a video link of what I talked about during our training on Sunday, August 28, 2016.