Working definition of this leadership concept:
To be hospitable is to generously provide space for others to rest, be refreshed, and prosper. It can involve providing food and/or lodging for people as it did in the times of the Bible. More broadly it involves accepting, loving and welcoming others and working to meet basic material, emotional and spiritual needs.
Benefits for leaders who show hospitality:
1. Showing hospitality expands the leader’s heart for others and invites joy.
2. Showing hospitality makes the team environment safer and more welcoming to prospective team members.
Benefits for the community where leaders show hospitality:
1. Leaders are sensitive to and provide for the needs of the team.
2. Leaders welcome others and foster a welcoming culture on their team that make those that feel like "outsiders" become "insiders" who welcome others.
3. Leaders provide hospitable space for people to grow, discover, and attempt new things so that people can develop their gifts and skills.
Biblical inspiration and support:
In the lists of qualifications for an overseer in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 we read that a leader in the church must be hospitable. This is interesting to me. If we were to survey popular books on leadership for leadership characteristics I am not sure that hospitable would top the list. Decisive? Maybe. Persuasive? Maybe. But would we naturally think that leaders must be hospitable? If you call to mind a successful public leader, would you describe them as hospitable? Doubtful. And yet, hospitality makes God’s lists of leadership characteristics. What is it to be hospitable?
In Hebrews 13:2 the noun form of the verb used in the Timothy and Titus verses is used to refer to Abraham’s hospitality in Genesis 18. In this passage Abraham entertains “angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2, ESV). What does that look like? In this passage we see Abraham washing the feet of the weary travelers and providing a shady place for them to rest while he gets them some food. He then stays with them as they eat.
We see in this scene that hospitality involves welcoming people, even strangers, and meeting their basic needs.
In 1 Peter we read:
“8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:8–11, ESV, emphasis mine).
In this passage Peter does not seem concerned about hospitality toward strangers, but rather toward brothers and sisters in the Lord. Hospitality seems to be something that springs from earnest love. And it sounds like some Christians have been grumbling about showing hospitality. So, it is important that hospitality comes from a loving and generous heart. This is followed by the direction to serve one another as we manage and contribute according to the gifts God has given us. Hospitality is nestled in this idea of a loving community of people serving and building up one another. And that makes sense, doesn’t it? To have a loving community where people serve each other requires showing each other hospitality: looking to each other’s needs, welcoming one another, and being patient with each other.
This reminds me of what we read in the letter to the Romans, “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7, ESV) Welcome here involves receiving someone into your home, or into your circle of acquaintance. It is to welcome, receive, accept others. This statement is especially powerful because it follows Paul’s exhortation to different groups within the Christian community in Rome, the Weak and the Strong, to stop judging each other and love one another well.
It matters who/how/why leaders welcome. It matters if they welcome people and meet their needs with generous hearts or begrudgingly. It matters if people sense the team is a hospitable space to step out in contributing according to their gifts. Hospitality is crucial to godly leadership.
Jesus showed great hospitality to his team of disciples. He corrected them when they misunderstood the mission (Mark 8:31-33), had bad ideas (Luke 9:53-55) and argued with each other (Mark 9:34). He gave them space to try, risk and grow, and was there to help them when it did not work out (Mark 9:14-29). He even washed their feet (John 13:5) and made them breakfast (John 21:9-14). Jesus models that leadership includes hospitality.
Over the last year I joined a group where I am being trained in coaching. We all come from different areas of the country and different perspectives. On top of that, the training requires a great deal of vulnerability for both the person acting as “client,” as they share real issues in their life in front of the group, as well as for the person stepping out as “coach,” as everything they do and say will be reviewed by the team when the practice session is finished. Even so, I always look forward to our training meetings because it is such a hospitable space. Everyone is for one another. There is a freedom to ask questions without feeling embarrassed about not already knowing the answer. And, there is freedom to be myself. Everyone will coach a little differently depending on who they are, their experiences and their style. And that is not wrong. There is hospitable space for people to try, risk, fail, learn, grow and try again. I think this has helped build a team of people that I am always happy to hear from and one where I would be willing to extend myself and my resources to help if they asked. I’m grateful for the leaders of the group who have prioritized creating a hospitable space for all of us.
Is your welcome mat out?
Take a few moments to reflect on how a stranger or “outsider” might feel as they join you for an event, gathering or as a new member of your team. What efforts have you made to be welcoming to new people?
In Romans, Christians were directed to be welcoming to those who had different opinions and perspectives; how welcoming are you to people who see things differently than you? How could you communicate to people on your team that you are open to hear their thoughts and make room for them?
What holds you back from showing hospitality? What obstacles do you see? Take some time in prayer to write them down and then pray and ask the Lord to show you for His perspective. Ask the Lord to reveal ways to show hospitality despite the obstacles.
I think the idea of having to meet everyone’s needs and please everyone is overwhelming. I do not think that is what it means to be a hospitable leader. Let’s start with one thing. What is one thing you could do to make your next meeting more hospitable? Pray and ask the Lord for an idea, then act on it.
A parting word on hospitality:
Hospitable leaders make outsiders… insiders.
What have you seen leaders do to create a hospitable environment?
Hi! I'm Jeri Howe.
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