The Ministry of Hospitality
By Jill Briscoe
If we are going to be in ministry, we’re going to have to learn that our home is not our home. It belongs to the Lord. If you struggle with privacy problems in the ministry, I really understand – because born into me is my English lady’s sense of privacy. If our homes belong to Him, Jesus has every right to invite anyone He likes into them. And Jesus has some weird friends. I began to note right away that Jesus’ friends were not always the sort of people I would have thought of inviting for an evening. Above all, I wasn’t sure I wanted them mixing with our children!
Learning what it meant to receive all sorts of people into His life, Jesus was busy meeting with the unclean, healing the deformed, and touching dead bodies. He was even handling lepers! Jewish Peter suffered a set of traumatic spiritual and social shocks. Jesus was teaching him a hard lesson. “Peter,” He was saying, “if you are a disciple of Mine, you’re going to have to receive the world. The people you call common or unclean you are going to have to learn to love, because I made them. I’m going to die for them. That’s all part of following Me."
In Scripture hospitality is not a gift but a command. It’s the ability to make the environment such that the stranger feels welcome – to make it a place people want to come to. In Mark 1:29, when Jesus left the synagogue with James and John to go to the home of Simon and Andrew, Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about it. Perhaps this is when Peter’s wife met Christ for the first time. Jesus touched the mother-in-law, the fever left her, and she began to wait on them. That evening the people brought all the sick and all the demon-possessed to Peter’s house. In fact, “the whole town gathered at the door” (Mark 1:33). I have that phrase underlined: The whole town gathered at the door. Do you ever feel as if that is happening to you? You can’t be in ministry very long before you get this awful feeling: why does it have to be our door? But if you’re doing your job, the world will be beating a path to your door because they know that Jesus is in the house.
Later in the Gospel of Mark four desperate men, carrying a crippled friend, tear up the roof to get to Jesus (Mark 2:4). All they knew was that Jesus was in there, and they were determined to get help for their friend. In the same way, a hurting, needy world will often disregard you and your property when they’re aware that Christ is present. I wonder about Peter’s wife, whose home became a meeting place for the masses. What I really think is that it didn’t matter if she had the gift of hospitality or not. It didn’t matter what her personality type was either, because when the world is at your door, you simply do it. You put the kettle on. If a loaf of bread is all you have in the house, you make toast.
The Meaning of Availability
One Christmas, when we had been in the States about a year, Stuart came walking in, dressed in his suit, tying his tie, and I said to him, “What are you doing?”
“I have a wedding,” he replied.
“A what? On Christmas Day?” I managed to stutter.
“I’m sorry I forgot to tell you,” he said. “And one more thing – it’s here!”
Now, I could have asked a lot of questions. I could have asked “Why?” in anger. But I managed not to. Instead I asked, “When?”
And he said, “In about half an hour.”
Here I was on Christmas Day, cooking dinner, with Christmas wrapping and just-opened gifts all over the floor. Of course, since it was Christmas Day, I hadn’t bothered to do my hair or dress up – just a relaxed day at home with the family, right? But there was not time even to get mad! I rounded up the children, and we tidied up the place in less than half an hour. Stuart “put an apron on” and helped, too. Forget the chaos, we were going to have a wedding.
Stuart explained it was a situation where the parents wouldn’t come to the wedding. It was a tough time for that young couple. So we did the best we could. In the middle of the ceremony, there was a knock at the door and one set of parents arrived in tears. They had decided that they should be at the wedding after all. But there were two sets of parents, and the other set arrived ten minutes later! They were ready to kill each other – but ended up making the wedding as happy as possible for their children. Such things sometimes happen. So as soon as such a situation begins, and you think, “Is this a nightmare? I can’t believe it’s happening,” tell yourself, “Well, it’s only going to happen once.” That kind of thinking is a real key to surviving God’s many surprises.
Learning to Cope
When we were serving in a youth mission, I had a leader’s wife who was a wonderful model of availability to me. I would be trailing along behind Joan, trying to ask her an important question, and she would be going from the bread pantry to the dining room and she’d just say, “Come on. Come with me. Ask me while I’m going.” I learned from her to take people with me and that I don’t have to stop whatever I’m doing if someone wants to ask me questions. I used to watch Joan as she was stopped time and time again between point A and point B. “Joan, can’t you just tell them to come back later?” And she said, “Jill, when you are stopped by a multitude of needs you must stop and say, ‘This person is center stage in my thinking.’ I have learned that they are God’s blessed interruptions.” So from then on I tried to do what she was doing.
Be hospitable, available, and flexible. Be like the earthquake-proof homes in San Francisco: built on the rock but with flexibility in every joint. Then when the upheaval comes, you won’t collapse but stand firm. These conflicts between your schedule and the needs of people around you will be part of every day of the rest of your life.
Let me tell you one more story. When our kids were in college, I worked three months to get us all together for a brief two days over Easter vacation. About two weeks before our precious time together I got a letter from a missionary friend. As I opened it I had a sense of foreboding.
The letter read:
Dear Jill and Stuart,
I know the sort of home you keep and remembered your kind offer of hospitality, and that’s why I have no hesitation asking this favor. My daughter, who’s in the States for college, has nowhere to go for Easter, and I took it upon myself to invite her to your home. Thanks in advance.
Lord, it’s not fair!" My heart cried out. From experience I knew it wouldn’t be just one college girl. (Actually, it ended up being six!) I really felt I was grieving a death because I knew they wouldn’t be our days anymore. So I bargained with God and said, Well, God. I’ll have her for the whole summer. Will that do? Or for two whole weeks next semester.
Then, with a final, desperate offer, I added, "I’ll adopt her!" Of course there was no response to that, and after a while I put the letter on my bed and knelt down in front of it and prayed, "Lord, I wanted so much for this to be our time, as a family, and You know that the rest of my life’s always been full of everyone else’s children, so I just feel this isn’t fair of You." When no lightening bolt struck down from heaven the best response I could come up with was, "Well then, Lord, I’ll do it, but don’t ever let them know I didn’t want them." I know that’s not very spiritual, but it was the best I could do. My heart was still heavy.
An important principle in ministry is: Don’t wait until you can say, “I’m so thrilled they’re coming. Praise the Lord you’ve messed up my holiday! God bless you.” You’re never going to get to that point as far as I can see. I’ve learned just to tell God what I can do, not what I can’t. He accepts us the way we are, not the way we know we should be. The girls never knew I didn’t want them there. Everyone except me had a wonderful Easter.
Years later my daughter and I wrote a book together. I said to Judy, “You write about ‘this or that’ and I’ll write about it, too, from my perspective.” At one point we wrote about our open home.
To my amazement she wrote about that Easter. What I didn’t know was that she had been on the edge of all sorts of problems at that time, and it was one of those girls who I had not wanted there who saw it. I didn’t see it. But this girl whisked my daughter away from the crowd into an empty room and sat her down, and they dealt with it.
We had entertained angels unaware. I sat at the kitchen table that day with Judy and cried. I was able to share with her my struggles that Easter. Later we shared our thoughts with God. Judy prayed, "I’m thankful, Lord, that it turned out that way because I don’t know where I’d be if that girl hadn’t helped me."
You see, you may be in ministry, but God never forgets that you and your family need ministering to as well. We think that we spend our lives serving others, but the Lord has a twofold plan. He wants us to learn how to serve others and become more like Him. And then He turns around our serving and our situations to heal us, to care for us, and to grow us up, often through the very people we have helped!