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Hospitality

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I travelled to London several years ago. I was there for the purpose of building relationships with our missionaries in the area and to discuss future partnerships. On Sunday evening, I visited a church in a borough on the east side of the city. The building was at least twice as old as our country, it was made of stone, and it looked like it could come falling down at any moment. The people that met inside it, had no filial connection to the people that had built it – the previous owners had given them the building for lack of congregants.

As the sun set, the chill of an October evening in London began to move through the room. One by one the jackets started to come out and arms began to cross as the members found their seats. I was greated several times with a, "hi, how are you?" and a "I'm John..." followed by a pause as John waited for me to tell him my name. People were friendly – not at all like the reputation that preceded "Londoners."

As the service began, the few that were there erupted in choruses that we're all familiar with. The sound was characteristic of congregations 10 times their size – aided no doubt by the reverberation of our voices off of the stone structure around us. After the singing, we prayed, then more singing, then prayer, then the gospel was preached, then the Lord's supper was shared. All the while the night got colder, but I didn't seem to notice.

The service ended, and immediately we were approached by the members of the congregation, each inviting us to stay for refreshments. They didn't have to convince us. A few members brought out trays of cakes, cookies, hot chocolate, and coffee. As we stood there in the back of the sanctuary, nibbling on our cookies and sipping our coffee, we were surrounded by people that asked us where we were from, what we were doing there, how we liked the city so far, had we tried such-and-such-a-place, and what we thought about the American political drama. 

In the preaching and the singing, I heard the gospel, but I felt it in the people. A church's hospitality reaffirms the local body's belief in the word of God that is sung about and taught in their building. It tells the guest in a very subtle way, that you actually believe the good news of Jesus Christ. It tells them you are certain you will face the Lord one day who will say to you, "as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."

In 1 Peter 4:8-11 we are exhorted by the Apostle: 

7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.
8Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.
10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace:
11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies--in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
I find it interesting that in the midst of persecution, Peter finds it particularly important to exhort the body toward hospitality. How much easier it must've been, as the governing authorities are breathing threats of persecution against you, to lock the front door and use a secret password for all who wish to enter their homes. In reality, he exhorts them to show hospitality – literally "loving the stranger" – and do so happily.
We're beginning a new ministry at EBC – a roll we're calling "Guides." Guides, along with Greeters, will fall under the umbrella of Hospitality. Whereas Greeters are the warm face that says, "Hi! How are you," but has to stay in one spot, Guides (as their name suggests) will be traveling with the new visitor through our building(s). They'll be assisting the guest family with child check-in, finding all appropriate small groups, and many other things. They're goal is to help settle any nerves a guest might have about walking through our doors for the first time.
But let's not forget that we're all exhorted to be guides in our own way. Peter's charge to the church is not for a select few to be hospitable. His command is for all of us. When you see a new person, do you introduce yourself? Do you invite them to sit next to you? Do you invite them to your small group? Making these seemingly little things a regular part of your interaction with our guests will radiate the warmth of the gospel that will draw anyone seeking a reprieve from the cold world around us.