“Scripture lays out the qualifications for an elder that he must be ‘given to hospitality.’ How is that seen in your life?”
This question is always asked in our presbytery exams early on in the process of examining a man to be a teaching elder. We take seriously the biblical requirements listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, and I’m glad the question is asked. But if I’m honest, I’m not so thrilled with some of the answers—or the acceptance of those answers.
Typically, a man will immediately highlight his wife’s labors and gift in hospitality. This is good, but there’s a problem if a man uses his wife’s hospitality to replace his own.
WHAT IS HOSPITALITY?
Simply put, basic misconceptions of hospitality persist. Some think hospitality is just about inviting people over to enjoy a meal. So, the wife gets the house ready and cooks a delightful meal. Some take the word “entertain” in Hebrews 13:2 and attempt to amuse their company.
But the point of hospitality is to show love toward the stranger. And what better way to do that than to present them with God’s Word? Hospitality is more than having a cookout. Now certainly, out of concern about people’s welfare, we want to refresh them with food and drink if we can. So not to offer any nutritional refreshment is strange and does question the quality of any hospitality. But Christian hospitality essentially includes the Christian faith.
HOW DOES HOSPITALITY WORK?
I know of an elder who invites any visitor to church to join him and his family for lunch. He and his family prepare a meal and bring it to church to share with visitors—believers or unbelievers—or even any members who are very reclusive or unknown. This elder is doing the work of shepherding through hospitality. To facilitate this, the church kitchen and the fellowship room are meant for frequent use. Sitting down with someone and sharing your life and faith while learning of their life and faith (or lack of faith) offers precious opportunities to witness, evangelize, and disciple.
In the New Testament, we see the example of Priscilla and Aquila, a church planting couple who helped numerous congregations and were side-by-side ministering to others and sharing the good news of the gospel. This is a beautiful picture of a Christian household: a couple doing kingdom work together. According to Paul, their home was a place of both worship and teaching: “The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord” (1 Cor. 16:19–20). Oh, if that example of hospitality could exist in every elder’s life.
ELDERS SHOULD BE GIVEN TO HOSPITALITY
As heads of our households, men in general and elders in particular—as those who are to “manage their households well”—must be seen opening up the Scriptures, asking questions, and suggesting applications for both family and guests. We should pray for specific requests. We should encourage others to pray, too. We show our love to other human beings when we sincerely pray for their needs. This is most easily done with strangers when they’re sitting at our table, unhurried.
May all pastors have the reputation in their neighborhood as a place of refuge, a place of being real, a place of sincerity and God-centeredness where Christ is taught and all are included in family devotions. For an elder to be an elder, some basic characteristics must be present. Does the elder show interest in people? Does he labor to make people feel welcomed and loved in his house, too?
To be sure, there will be certain seasons of life and other providential factors that may hinder this kind of hospitality. But whenever possible, pastors should strive to be exemplary in sharing the gift of hospitality.
Many unchurched people have been exposed to the gospel by visiting homes where the Word is opened as a means of hospitality: “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor. 3:2–3).
Do you realize that the incredible book of Acts ends with Paul as a prisoner in Rome? At his own expense, he’s continuing his ministry and receiving any and all to share the graces of Christ. So Paul the elder and prisoner continues his ministry via hospitality: “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30–31).
May all elders have the reputation that they are given to hospitality.
Editor's Note: This originally published at 9Marks.