Called to Party?

Why Christian hospitality should look less like fine china and more like a dance party in your living room.

In the early 90s an American seminary student visited Calcutta to work with Mother Teresa treating lepers—and was surprised at her advice. The student told Mother Teresa that upon graduation, she intended to enter medical school so that she could return overseas and help treat lepers. She thought this would please Mother Teresa, but instead she replied, “Why do you want to do that? There is poverty in your country that is just as severe as our poorest of the poor.” The student wasn’t exactly sure what she meant since India seemingly had more poverty than America. Mother Teresa continued: "In the West there is a loneliness, which I call the leprosy of the West. In many ways, it is worse than our poor in Calcutta."

Many would agree that the modern West struggles with social isolation and lack of community. Yet to think of our relative loneliness as a means of suffering on par with extreme poverty is quite a statement to unpack.

Is social health really as important as having the basic essentials of food, shelter clothing? Is loneliness in America really as serious as a life-debilitating disease such as leprosy? Why are we lonely, anyway? How can we prevent it, and why does it matter?

The advice in 1 Peter 4:9 says Christians are to “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” In the original language, the word “hospitality” is translated as philoxenoi or “loving strangers.” Yet what would make someone hesitate or “grumble” about being hospitable? Did the Christians Peter was writing to have misanthropic or anti-social tendencies? That sort of uneasiness about unpredictable social situations makes people stay in and watch television. But there is a way Christians can practice loving strangers and fight against loneliness.

One Bible dictionary defines hospitality as “reception and entertainment of guests without expectation of reward.” What would entertainment and reception of guests look like in 2012? It would look like having a party at your apartment. It would look like a room full of people, a table decked with food, games and conversation and all-around good time.

This doesn’t necessarily sound like a holy event, but what better way to practice biblical hospitality—for both those within and outside the Church?
Yet in some ways, Christians, like the ones Peter was writing to, grumble against such ideas or make excuses for the trouble of loving strangers and meeting new people.

What would entertainment and reception of guests look like in 2012? It would look like having a party at your apartment.

And there are excuses to be found, as Peter himself identifies a lifestyle of partying as a form of destruction. Earlier in 1 Peter 4, the writer warns against “lust and drunkenness” and “wild and reckless” living. Likewise, Christians today often distance themselves from the word “party” because of its connotation of an over-the-top fraternity kegger. But notice that in response to “wild and reckless living,” Christians are not instructed to be anti-social but instead to be hospitable and not to complain about it. Rather than rejecting parties completely, Christians should be confident that the party host defines the tone and vibe of their own event. If we are unhappy with the seemingly artificial or intimidating kind of “partying” we see on television, we should find our own way to socialize. We must be both creative and brave.

The fear of hosting a party that fails is perhaps more of a barrier than moral reservations. The risk that your party will be a flop is a legitimate fear. The idea of 5 people (who feel sorry for you) out of the 50 you invited on Facebook may keep you from ever hosting a party.

The second fear that makes some hesitate to throw a party is the collision of friend groups. What happens when your church friends are standing awkwardly in your kitchen with your friends from your part-time job? How will they mesh? Will a glimmer of panic come to their eyes, searching for a way to turn in early? Our imaginations can create the worst outcomes. Yet a party is similar to a science experiment in which you don’t know which friends are going to mesh and which friends need some kind of mediator.

Hospitality should never be labeled as safe or easy. Parts of our worst fears may play out before our eyes. Yet our own excuses not to throw a party might be exactly what Peter was talking about when he advocated hospitality “without grumbling.” Our grumbling is often motivated by our own fear of our social status being put on the line by trying to do something positive.

Those who risk their personal fears and comfort levels for the sake of hospitality slowly make an anonymous Western world a bit smaller and a lot less lonely.

But for those who do choose to throw a party in the name of Christlike love and community, they will create the opportunity to connect those who are unconnected. Their home will become a hub for the community, where strangers can become friends, and where those outside the Church can be welcomed in.

Those who risk their personal fears and comfort levels for the sake of hospitality slowly make an anonymous Western world a bit smaller and a lot less lonely. All this can happen at a simple gathering.

But none of this happens without someone who sets aside a Wednesday night, and tells themselves “Alright, let’s do it. This weekend, we will have people over.” That is the weekend where Christian community will be strengthened, church strangers will be welcomed and made at home, and perhaps, we will all be one step closer to a world where loneliness is replaced with a new vision of Kingdom community.

Top Comments

Nate Branson

18

Nate Branson replied to kendall bee's comment

What do you suggest instead of what I've said here? How do you see hospitality working out in 2014 in the church?

Did you see this part of the article?: "Earlier in 1 Peter 4, the writer warns against “lust and drunkenness” and “wild and reckless” living. Likewise, Christians today often distance themselves from the word “party” because of its connotation of an over-the-top fraternity kegger.But notice that in response to “wild and reckless living,” Christians are not instructed to be anti-social but instead to be hospitable and not to complain about it.Rather than rejecting parties completely, Christians should be confident that the party host defines the tone and vibe of their own event.If we are unhappy with the seemingly artificial or intimidating kind of “partying” we see on television, we should find our own way to socialize.We must be both creative and brave."

I am suggesting Christians organize a gathering and be pro-active in having some kind of event rather than merely abstaining from parties that glorify hedonism. When I have a gathering, I call it a party, because I don't know what else to call it. Again, I would like to hear your idea of hospitality. I often find Christians more content to watch Netflix or sports than actually gather and have fellowship.

34 Comments

85,530

Freya commented…

Thank you for this wonderful article! I always felt a need to serve in my own rich, lonely country and you gave a great idea on how to do it! Now let's try to put it to practice...

85,530

ae commented…

Nate,
I love this article! It's the confirmation of ministry that God has placed in my heart! I really needed this motivation.

Side note: It's nice to see an article from someone who lives in the same area as I do!

Nate Branson

18

Nate Branson commented…

While writing this article I also ran across this article in the Atlantic:

http://www.theatlantic.com/mag...

This article questions whether social media makes us more connected. That is, does it help with loneliness? or does it make it worse?

Then an editor at Relevant suggested I read this book while researching this topic:

http://www.amazon.com/Bowling-...

Reading these two things confirmed what Mother Teresa. I think the question we have to ask ourselves is what can we do about this? I don't think it's hard to understand why this is so, or why it is bad, but how do we change this?

Ellen

1

Ellen commented…

We've been opening our home weekly for nearly 4 years to whoever wants to come for dinner. Initially it started as discipleship time for a couple who had just accepted Christ. They had few close friends and struggled with loneliness and depression. After a while we opened it up and found a community growing at our dinner table. Every Thursday we have 20-40 or more people from all walks of life cramming into our house for food, fellowship, discipleship, healing prayer, connection, and love. Students, brain injured, professors, the blind, the homeless, recovering addicts, all gather. The table is a level playing field and all are welcome.
It does take a shift in mindset. What do we have that we haven't received from our Father? And what do we gain by not giving it away? Do we believe that He will supply all our needs according to His riches in glory? He will. He does. He loves everyone who comes in our door far more than we ever could.
We recognized early on that "our" home belongs to Him and that He lets us live here. The Holy Spirit is welcome at all times to have His way with us and change up our expectations. It is a wonderful, rich adventure God has called us to.
What we've found is that consistency is key. Occasional parties or dinners are nice, but consistent weekly events build community. We routinely ask people to bring their unsaved friends and they very often return week after week. The community lives out the gospel before them and invites them to taste and see that The Lord is good. This is a lifestyle. It takes effort and commitment, but the reward, getting a glimpse into the heart of the Father for His kids and drawing closer to Him, is priceless.

kendall bee

3

kendall bee commented…

I really hope no one is buying this, its a compromise to suggest Peter would revel in a so called party as a means of hospitality, the word meant quite a different thing than partying especially when you look at it from a Hebrew social standard. Modesty and moderation of behavior is what Christ wants not lame parties thrown that does not advance nor sale the advocacy of Christ.

Nate Branson

18

Nate Branson replied to kendall bee's comment

What do you suggest instead of what I've said here? How do you see hospitality working out in 2014 in the church?

Did you see this part of the article?: "Earlier in 1 Peter 4, the writer warns against “lust and drunkenness” and “wild and reckless” living. Likewise, Christians today often distance themselves from the word “party” because of its connotation of an over-the-top fraternity kegger.But notice that in response to “wild and reckless living,” Christians are not instructed to be anti-social but instead to be hospitable and not to complain about it.Rather than rejecting parties completely, Christians should be confident that the party host defines the tone and vibe of their own event.If we are unhappy with the seemingly artificial or intimidating kind of “partying” we see on television, we should find our own way to socialize.We must be both creative and brave."

I am suggesting Christians organize a gathering and be pro-active in having some kind of event rather than merely abstaining from parties that glorify hedonism. When I have a gathering, I call it a party, because I don't know what else to call it. Again, I would like to hear your idea of hospitality. I often find Christians more content to watch Netflix or sports than actually gather and have fellowship.

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