Friendliness, Fellowship and Hospitality . . . Churches like to be known as friendly, welcoming and inviting. And that is not a bad thing, but is it all we should be?
We can define fellowship as: “a body of individuals joined together through similar interests, beliefs, and brotherhood.” In general, churches do join in fellowship through worship, various events and community outreach activities.
Yet often fellowship and friendliness have more to do with finding people like ourselves who are part of our social group, educational background, lifestyle and values. We find these people friendly because they are comfortable to be with and a “good fit”.
But God expects more of us than that. At the heart of our faith is that God welcomes all of us home into his family. Although we are strangers to God, and quite incompatible, he nevertheless invites us into relationship. While the Bible is clear that both fellowship and hospitality are important parts of church life, it is clear that we are not to have one without the other.
Fellowship between Christians is a foundational part of our life together. So is hospitality. But hospitality is more than being in relationship with other Christians. It is about being open, vulnerable, and relational with strangers and those who don’t fit in.
What did Jesus do?
Jesus spent a lot of time with these people, called “sinners” in his day. In fact, he spent so much time with them that he made many around him quite uncomfortable.
One example in the gospels is the story of how Matthew became one of Jesus disciples, found in Matthew 9:9-13. He approaches Matthew, a tax collector at the time, and calls him to follow. The next thing you know, there is a party at Matthew’s place and his tax collector friends show up as well. The Pharisees are quite offended, but Jesus explains that these are exactly the people he has come for. Just as it would be silly for a doctor to avoid sick people, it would be ridiculous for Jesus to avoid sinners.
Here Jesus demonstrates that hospitality is more than mere fellowship between friends – it is showing hospitality to the stranger. He shifts the focus from our own comfort to that of the heart and mission of God, to reaching out to those who need befriending, healing and family.
What it really means to ‘offer hospitality’
While being friendly often grows out of the idea that the person we are meeting will have much in common with us, by extending hospitality to a stranger we are assuming that this person most likely will have little in common with us. In fact the person could be someone unpleasant or even dangerous, yet following Jesus’ example we engage them and offer “hospitality.”
God calls us to be a friendly and hospitable church. Our fellowship is not just with those we get along with, but it is to reflect the nature of God, who sent Jesus into the world to save those who are lost and don’t fit in.
Jesus, I think, would have been at home with the old saying, “there are no strangers, only friends we haven’t met yet.” Let’s pray that your church fellowship responds just like Jesus did.
Stephen L Baxter