“Why should I show up at church for an hour on Sunday and an hour on a Wednesday night?” a Muslim leader asked me in a Dallas mosque several years’ ago. In effect, he was asking why a Muslim should trade his experience of community and hospitality for what he perceived to be the Christian alternative.
The Muslim leader had a point. Why show up if that’s all Christian community and hospitality really amounts to? Other cultures seem to do a better job than North Americans. Other cultures often intuitively welcome a stranger in a foreign land. So, what counts as authentic Christian hospitality today? I’d like to suggest three secrets both to Christians and to Muslims, and others, about the nature of a welcome Jesus-style. Well, perhaps they’re not secrets, but they are like hidden gems we’ve either forgotten or never encountered:
Welcoming strangers is like a sacrament—a visible sign of an inward reality. The spiritual reality is that as Christians we were alienated from God, but in Christ we have been giving the ultimate welcome. In turn, we welcome strangers in our midst. We also welcome in order to live out the future hope of all nations, tribes, and tongues. Somehow when we welcome strangers in Christian hospitality, Jesus is present.
Welcoming strangers is counter-cultural. It went against the grain for Christians in the first five centuries to ignore social conventions about race, class, and economics in order to show hospitality. Historians tell us it was hospitality that distinguished believers and defined the church as different from the rest of the world. And today not much has changed. Where Christians recognize the value of each person and go out of their way to show practical care for the stranger, the poor and the sick, that’s where you can find spiritual vitality.
Welcoming strangers is opportunistic. That sounds negative, as if we are to take advantage of foreigners. But, that’s not what I mean. We have to go out of our way to seek out newcomers in our home town. We have to see what opportunities exist in our own communities and then take advantage of them. Opportunities could exist at the grocery store, at the YMCA, through your business, at college. Equally, they could exist through Facebook, social networking sites, and other online venues.
Welcoming isn’t easy! You will have cultural clashes, misunderstandings, and find it exhausting. If you’re trying to get something out it–an agenda like feeling needed, wanted, or to respected like some type of savior–then you’ll be disappointed. However, with faith in Christ, guidance by the Spirit, and the Father’s love, welcoming is an amazing experience.