3 reasons missional hospitality is so challenging

1. We have to assume that strangers will be present in our community.

This means we can’t just preach to the converted. We have to embrace the assumption that Paul seems to make in 1 Corinthians 14 — non-Christians will be present.

So we have to embrace accessibility (the expected presence of unbelievers is a big part of why Paul puts a priority on prophecy relative to tongues).

This must go ‘all the way down’ — from our preaching and public prayer to our conversations over coffee.

Tim Keller has some great advice about implementing this. Like not assuming everyone you’re talking with automatically believes or feels comfortable with core gospel truths such as, ‘Jesus died to bear God’s wrath’.

It’s not that Keller thinks you have to make the complete argument every time you mention anything controversial (or potentially controversial). Just that it won’t kill you — and will probably benefit you — to acknowledge that some may think or feel differently.

2. Many of us have got this middle class respectability thing going on.

This can stops us opening our homes or lives to people without substantial preparation.

Maybe it’s just me, but my knee-jerk reaction to having someone over is to rush around cleaning up first. This often prevents me making spontaneous invites.

I think this can apply to our shared spiritual home and life too. Why do we always want to present a sanitised version to visitors (such as with a classic ‘guest service’)?

This is not an argument against regular church cleaning, maintenance or working bees. Nor against doing these things with a view to making people feel comfortable when they turn up.

It’s about our willingness to visibly not have it all together — something that’s among the first things we confess about ourselves when we call ourselves Christian, right?

3. We live in an age of scandal.

What we do with our personal lives and bodies will often be intensely scrutinised. For good reason.

Child Protection legislation — and the broader pressure for Christian people (especially leaders) to be ‘above reproach’ — exists because slipping up in this area is so terrible and tragic.

And we mustn’t assume we’re immune. Sadly, the distance between sinning and not sinning is often measured in units of opportunity and means.

Yet we long to share of ourselves, displaying hospitality and welcome along the lines laid out in (say) Hebrews 13 — where the believers shared their possessions, homes, and lives with each other and with strangers.

And we should act on this longing. But, as we do, we must take special care that ‘the marriage bed [is] kept undefiled’.

We’ve got to work out how to be promiscuous with our money but not with our bodies (as Tim Keller puts it).

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6 comments

  1. Thanks for the post Chris, an issue I see with what you’re saying here is that it’s still mostly coming out of a ‘come to us’ framework where as a truly missional paradigm, as I understand it, leads to a ‘go to them’ approach. It’s much easier to do missional hospitality on their turf in their natural environment, ie. buy them a coffee, share a meal, etc, etc. It’s also more natural because you can simply meet up in a local cafe, pub, sports place, etc without having to actually make a time, so more reliant on God to bring about ‘divine appointments’ and doesn’t involve awkward invites to an ‘event’, although obviously that’s the long term intention – that they’ll join the community of God’s people. I’ve found this approach works very well, as long as you’re intentional and upfront about your faith and willing to take time getting to know people, just today I’ve given away 3 books in 2 cafes around my area to one guy I met out on Saturday night and to another guy I’ve been chatting with and getting to know over about 6 months.

    1. Thanks Dan. I hear your point. And the story of your experience is inspiring.

      I think we may be talking about slightly different things. I don’t think I’ve mentioned inviting people to an event (the traditional ‘attractional’ model that all the missional guys hack on).

      Like I suggested in my previous post, I want to address one point at which it’s possible to get stuck when we move to a more ‘missional’ framework: simply ‘doing for’ people (either in deed — running soup kitchens, etc — or, as is more likely in the stable I come from, in word) and holding back the riches of ‘being with’ them.

      I’m trying to work through what it will look like to be ‘attractional’ in the way that Tim Chester talks about — where the quality of our relationships, and the common life we willing share with others, is deeply attractive.

      As far as I can see, that’s something you can do on any turf — on ‘their’ turf as you’re doing or on ‘our’ turf or where there’s no clear line between what’s ‘theirs’ and what’s ‘ours’ (like with most university Christian groups). You’re probably right that the best place to start that is by ‘going to them’ and being with them where they’re comfortable, etc. Although, I do suspect some people might start to wonder if you never invited them onto ‘your’ turf…

  2. Hi Chris, Thanks for the clarifications, I guess I ws assuming from your 1st point about having strangers present in our community and the 2nd about having people over that both scenarios would invole an invitation of some decsription to something you are putting on, whether you call that an event, a service, gathering or just dinner; it’s still them coming to us. What we’re discovering in arkhouse as we form our missional community is it’s much easier to engage on their turf or in neutral places because people then feel so much more comfortable and aren’t threatened by their uncertain surroundings.

    What it looks like to be ‘attractional’ in the Chester and Vanderstelt sense is your community engaging in the local community, as people see and experience the love and depth of your Christian community they’re attracted to it. That happens as we go together onto their turf, eg. on Saturday night I had a guy from our community with me; on New Years Day our whole group ate at this cafe so they could all meet the staff I’ve been getting to know; and each person is encouraged to find their own missional enagagement ‘hot spot’ as it’ll usually look different for each person.

    The attraction then is the witness of the church scattered and active in the local community rather than the attraction being the church gathered, as in the usual, traditional, come to our building/room model. In this way people see us, our family, friends, etc living day to day in their world or see us meet real needs as we engage in social justice issues, feeding the homeless, etc – & that becomes the attraction, the missional engagement becomes attractive and so we can then provide books, meet up, invite to a gathering, etc those that become interested in who we are and what we’re doing. It’s a fishing exercise. I’m influenced here also by what Vanderstelt reminds us – “we don’t go to church, we are the church.”

    1. Hi Dan. Yep. Reading back over my post, I agree it may have some of that flavour — although I guess only as much as what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14 does!

      I’m keen to talk about community. Just as Chester is. In the post I referred to he says, ‘everything changes if you view church as a community or a network of relationships … attractional church is not about putting on a good show, but about a community life that attracts people to God’.

      But it also seems to me that community needs to express itself in gathering together (among other things). Even Chester can’t really get away from this.

      I find it interesting that when Chester talks about our being ‘scattered’, he paints a picture of ‘hundreds of small communities of light, littered across the world’ who ‘simultaneously draw in (through our community life) and move out (through church planting)’. That is, it’s a scattering of different communities rather than a community of individuals scattered and active in the local community — as important as that no doubt is for our communities being part of and engaged with the world we live in.

  3. Yep, & one leads to the other, ie. a community of individuals, God willing, over time and with multiplication, may become a community of missional communities that gather as one and scatter as many, and this model can be repeated, as Chester says, ‘across the world’ and in a sense already is with the Universal Church, just with many different models at work.

    1. Sounds like we’re more or less in agreement, Dan — if not in the terms we use, then at least in terms of what we’re aiming for!

      There is one details I wanted to press you on. I’m curious about what principles are guiding you guys at arkhouse as you seek to engage with people ‘on their turf or in neutral places because people then feel so much more comfortable and aren’t threatened by their uncertain surroundings’ (as you put it).

      On the surface, it sounds a little similar to the logic that led to the mega-church seeker-sensitive model: ie. do church in a way that makes newcomers feel most comfortable and least bewildered by their unfamiliar surroundings. It’s just that you’re doing it by moving out of buildings/spaces that are recognisably ‘yours’.

      I’m sure you’ve thought about this quite a bit. And I’d love a window into your process.

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