I can’t remember a time when I didn’t attend church. Even though my parents would later admit that they really weren’t Christians in my early years, we still went to church almost every Sunday. It’s just what we did. It’s what our nation and culture did. It was engrained in our society. As we have explored recently, all that has changed dramatically.
Even though we went to church every week, I don’t really remember why other than that was just part of our regular weekly routine. To be honest, I don’t remember anything special about it, and didn’t really want to go. Every Sunday morning was a battle of wills, me vs. my parents. They always won and sometimes had to drag me to the car and into the church building.
Everything changed when I was about 11 or 12. My mother, sister, and I accepted Christ, got saved, and were converted. However you want to say it, there was a dramatic transformation in our household. Going to church took on a whole new meaning. I was excited about my faith and new relationship with Christ. Around that time, we started attending North Atlanta Presbyterian Church. It was a small church that met in school gymnasiums. We didn’t have a building of our own. This was the first time I really ever felt that I belonged to a church. It was like a family. It wasn’t just church on Sunday. Small groups from that church would get together in homes for fellowship. We shared meals, played games, laughed, studied the Bible, and had discussion. It was a special time.
This was the first time I had experienced what the ancient Greeks called “Koinonia”, which means fellowship or communion. Communion isn’t just a sacrament that we participate in once a month or on special days. It’s the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level. Our fellowship was based on our common faith in Christ, but it went much deeper than that. The people of North Atlanta Presbyterian opened their hearts and lives to us. Their hospitality was like something we had never experienced before. It was radical, “radical hospitality”.
I mentioned “radical hospitality” in a devotional a couple of weeks ago, as a vitally important element necessary for church health and growth. Basically if the church wants to grow, it must be radically hospitable. When we first think of the word radical, our minds conjure up images of rioting in the streets, terrorists, and crazy people doing crazy things. But, the definition of radical isn’t that extreme at all. The definition is “something very new and different from the usual or ordinary”. So, what is “radical hospitality” look like?
We find a great example in the Bible from the book of Acts. This is not long after Jesus death and resurrection. The disciples are still in Jerusalem and Jesus makes an appearance. He actually makes around 40 appearances, but on this occasion while he was eating with them, he gave them this command:
“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 1:4-5 NIV
Something big is about to happen, not only would they be filled with the Holy Spirit, but they will also witness the dramatic beginning of what we call the church. Acts 1 tells us that the disciples were all gathered in one place, and when the Holy Spirit descends on the disciples there is a “sudden sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting”. Once filled with the Holy Spirit the disciples started speaking. The spirit enabled them to speak in such a way that everyone understood them, even those who spoke a different language. Acts tells us that the people that heard them were bewildered, amazed, and perplexed; some people even thought the disciples were drunk. Peter steps up and explains that they are not drunk, but filled with the Spirit of God. He shares the message of Christ, and around 3,000 people accept the message and are baptized. They became a community of believers, followers of Christ.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47 NIV
They were together, had everything in common, they met together “every day” not just on Sunday’s or the Sabbath. They took care of each other, even selling their own possessions to give to those in need. They ate together, laughed, worship, and enjoyed each other’s company. As a result, they grew in number daily. It was about relationships, being together, mutual support, and encouragement. One of the remarkable things about the growth of the early church was that it occurred during a time of great persecution and opposition. Following Christ was not a popular thing to do, and yet it grew exponentially in crisis.
Radical hospitality goes beyond the usual and the ordinary. It is inviting, welcoming, encouraging, loving, and sensitive. It acknowledges and notices others existence. It’s willing to push past the awkwardness of the unknown to know and be known. It’s willing to take risks and face rejection. It’s not creepy or fake. It has to be authentic and genuine. It goes beyond pettiness, criticism, and the incivility of our culture. It makes an investment in people’s lives without expecting any return.
In Luke 14, we find an example of radical hospitality. Jesus is eating a Sabbath meal with one of the top Pharisees or religious leaders. Jesus notices that guests are picking the best seats or places of honor at the table. Jesus gives them all a lesson in radical hospitality. Here is part of Jesus’ address to the dinner party.
“Then he turned to the host. “The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be—and experience—a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned—oh, how it will be returned!—at the resurrection of God’s people.” Luke 14:12-14 MSG
I recently heard this statement from a podcast: “Instead of asking how we can get people back to church, we need to ask how do we get the church back into the community.” Instead of expecting people to come to us, we go to them. Radical hospitality is outward not inward. Again it is “un”-usual and “extra”-ordinary.
Hope you have a great weekend!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Management