“The gospel coming with a house key is ABC Christianity. Radically ordinary and daily hospitality is the basic building block for vital Christian living.” -Rosaria Butterfield, pp. 220
What is radical hospitality? Is it daily table fellowship? An open door ready to receive guests at any time? A ministry of bringing meals to those in need? All of these things are good, but they don’t define hospitality. Radical hospitality isn’t a list of activities; it’s a mindset. True, radical, ordinary hospitality cultivates community, and it does so through simple but powerful acts of loving your neighbor.
Rosaria Butterfield presents a picture of hospitality that’s difficult to wrap my mind around. In her book, she opens the door of her home, and we see a never-ending flow of people and love. She invites people into her home daily and is always prepared to take in those in need. Her kitchen stays stocked with enough food to feed a crowd; her children are accustomed to taking in strangers during times of crisis. Over and over, strangers become neighbors and neighbors become family sitting at her table. The scene is challenging. The scene is powerful.
What makes the scene so challenging is the question that hit me time and again as I read. “Do I really have to do all of this in order to practice hospitality?” I felt overwhelmed, thinking I needed to follow her footsteps, but as I read further, I realized that Butterfield doesn’t present a how-to manual. Instead, she challenges her readers to realize the necessity of hospitality in the Christian walk. We’re all called to hospitality just as we’re called to worship, giving, and prayer. Some of us are more gifted in it than others, for sure. But we are all supposed to partake in hospitality in some way.
How, then, do we define radical hospitality?
While Butterfield described a life dedicated to inviting people into her home, I realized that hospitality is simply about loving people. Radical hospitality welcomes people to come as they are and then listens with grace and care to their stories. It’s about seeing people as image-bearers of God, as inherently valuable, and loving them as such. This means that when we see a need we can fill, we fill it. When we see a person lonely and hurting, we stand ready to share their pain.
As Butterfield puts it, “Hospitality shares what there is; that’s all. It’s not entertainment. It’s not supposed to be” (pp 217). We aren’t called to impress, and we aren’t called to exert ourselves beyond our means and capabilities. We’re merely called to share what we have, freely and joyfully. Sometimes, this requires a little sacrifice on our part. Caring for others isn’t always easy. It requires that we put the needs of others before ourselves. It requires that we prioritize saying yes when we’re able to. We can’t simply love when it’s convenient; we must be committed to loving whenever the opportunity arises.
How, then, do we navigate our limitations in regard to radical hospitality?
As I read The Gospel Comes With a House Key, I kept thinking, if I were to practice hospitality on a daily basis, I’d burn out. It’s too much. How do we know where to draw the line? What Butterfield suggests is taking an honest look at yourself and evaluating your abilities. She says, “knowing your personality and sensitivities does not excuse you from ministry. It means you need to prepare for it differently than others might” (pp 214). Our limitations change the way we practice hospitality; they don’t keep us from it.
If I’m in a situation where I can’t invite people to my home, I can still invite them into my life. I can bring fresh baked cookies to my neighbors. I can meet people for coffee. While I might not be able to practice daily table fellowship, I can still make myself available to listen when others need a friend. Every day, there are ways to reach out to those in need. Asking friends for prayer requests. Sharing an encouraging word with a stranger who looks like they need it. Hospitality doesn’t stop at your front door; it starts there. And it travels both directions. Inviting people into our homes is incredibly powerful and necessary. Inviting people into our hearts is even more important, and that can happen anywhere.
What radical hospitality requires isn’t that we burn ourselves out doing everything; it requires re-prioritizing what matters in our life. There are times we need to say no to things, but meeting the needs of others when we can isn’t one of those times. We navigate our limitations by realizing that they aren’t an excuse. We navigate our limitations by steeping ourselves in God’s word, love, and wisdom.
As you might have guessed, I really enjoyed reading The Gospel Comes With a House Key, and I highly recommend picking up a copy. It’ll change the way you think about community in the Christian life.
I’ll end with this simple question and a quote. “Christians are not fearful hoarders but fearless givers” (Butterfield, pp 210).
What is one way you can fearlessly give today?
Butterfield, Rosaria. The Gospel Comes With a House Key. Crossway, 2018.