4 Ways to Equip Your Church in Biblical Hospitality

By George Ross

Biblical hospitality transcends cultural norms with a tangible picture of the gospel. Here's 4 ways to lead your church in this practice as you draw nearer to the saints and strangers in your midst.

Have you ever thought of hospitality as a biblical strategy for evangelizing the lost and making disciples? Too often, we have an uninformed understanding of biblical hospitality and the impact and role it played in the formation of the early church and advance of the gospel in the first century. Scripture is saturated with examples and images of hospitality, and the practice of hospitality is a recurring theme throughout the whole of Scripture. Considering this, pastors and leaders would do well to equip their churches in biblical hospitality.

So, here are 4 ways to do just that.

1. Teach on biblical hospitality

In 2018, I completed a doctoral project on biblical hospitality. The goal was to research the field of biblical hospitality practices, as well as available resources for teaching and equipping church members in biblical hospitality. Having spent countless hours and research on this topic, it became obvious that although Scripture was filled with examples of hospitality in both the Old and New Testaments, there was a disconnect in the twenty-first-century North American church. In large, the understanding and practice of biblical hospitality was a foreign concept and idea within the local church.

In the Old Testament, hospitality is seen as an attribute of God, and we repeatedly see its images in the biblical proclamation of the relationship between God and His people. Specifically, hospitality is seen in God calling out Israel to be His people and welcoming them into a covenant relationship with Himself. In the New Testament, hospitality played a significant role in the public ministry of Jesus, was seen as a moral imperative and ethic of the early church, and was the primary catalytic force in the advance of the gospel.

How can a practice that was so foundational in the Old Testament and early Christianity only receive passing mentions today? We need renewed emphasis on biblical hospitality, and the only way that will happen is to intentionally teach and disciple others from a biblical worldview.

2. Define biblical hospitality

Definitions are important, and—not surprisingly—there are many misconceptions and much confusion concerning the definition of biblical hospitality. Specifically, the translation and meaning of philoxenia, used in Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:2, 1 Peter 4:9, 1 Timothy 3:2, and Titus 1:8. Philoxenia is the combination of the Greek word for love or affection; phileō denotes love among people connected by kinship or faith; and the word for stranger, xenos, literally means “lovers of strangers.”

The misconception and confusion concerning the definition of biblical hospitality are mainly centered around two extreme interpretations: First, biblical hospitality defined solely as a call for Christians to demonstrate love and action towards strangers and foreigners. Second, biblical hospitality defined from the cultural practice of being cordial and relational to neighbors.

Neither of these definitions measure up to the biblical understanding of hospitality. The early church, experiencing a diaspora from persecution, relied on biblical hospitality to survive and thrive as a community of people in the first century. Christians were practicing hospitality to strangers in the first century. However, the overwhelming evidence suggests hospitality is being practiced among strangers who were part of the church of God. They are believers.

The practice of hospitality towards believers is not a justification to neglect those who are strangers and far from God; hospitality should be defined and practiced as a reflection of God’s missionary nature of bringing foreigners and strangers into His covenant community. But for clarity in definitions, the relationship between the church and hospitality is critical for a working definition of biblical hospitality that was practiced to both saints and strangers in the New Testament. Thus, a working definition shaped by Scripture and history would instead be this: Hospitality is taking the initiative to help saints and strangers go from unknown to known by opening up our homes and lives for the sake of the gospel and the glory of God.

This definition aligns with Scripture and the contextual practice of the early church. This definition allows us to see hospitality as a Christian ethic that takes place both in the family of God and toward those who are strangers to God.

3. Model biblical hospitality

In Titus 1:8 and 1 Timothy 3:2, hospitality is a qualification of a pastor or elder in a local church: “An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2); “but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, righteous, holy, self-controlled” (Titus 1:8). Paul encourages believers when identifying pastor leaders in the church, stating that they must give evidence of hospitality to be considered qualified. Hospitality had an enormous impact on shaping practices and establishing leaders in the early church.

Considering the weight of hospitality in Scripture and that hospitality was a qualification of a pastor or elder, should we not give more attention to practicing and modeling hospitality as leaders in the church? We can become so focused on the “able to teach” part that we neglect or minimize the other important qualifications for pastors. Almost 18 years ago as I was reviewing the qualifications of a pastor from 1 Timothy, I realized that my lifestyle and rhythms provided little to no room for practicing biblical hospitality. Through the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the clarity of the Word, my wife and I began our lifelong pursuit of integrating biblical hospitality into our lives and sharing our lives and our home with others for the sake of the gospel, all while discipling others to do the same.

4. Challenge your church to practice biblical hospitality

In the New Testament, we overlook the most obvious methods of evangelism and discipleship: the practice of biblical hospitality.  The ministry of Jesus and ministry of the early church flourished through hospitality. Evangelism and disciple-making in the early church revolved around the practice of hospitality. From church formation to gospel advance, biblical hospitality was at the center of what transpired in the early church.

Believing and practicing hospitality that takes the initiative to help saints and strangers go from unknown to known by opening up our homes and lives for the sake of the gospel and the glory of God is one of the most gospel-centered, countercultural witnesses we can have. What would our churches look like if, instead of planning a year full of programs, events, and meetings, we strategically made time to challenge and lead our church family to practice biblical hospitality?

Start by having a “Summer of Hospitality Challenge,” teaching a series in May, and leading your church to practice hospitality over the summer. Challenge them to take the initiative to help saints and strangers go from unknown to known by opening up their homes and lives for the sake of the gospel and glory of God. It could be church members you don’t know well, others you want to begin a discipling relationship with, or complete strangers who have been neighbors for years. Leading your church to practice biblical hospitality is one the most beautiful pictures of the gospel we can give. For it is in the gospel that God has taken the initiative to welcome strangers who were far from Him and bring them into His family.

Published April 3, 2024

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George Ross

George Ross serves as the Send Network South Regional Director, Ministry Based Faculty at New Orleans Baptist Seminary, and one of the replant elders at Lakeshore Church. He is married to Joy and they have 6 children: Isaac, Hannah Ruth, Abigail, Jeremiah, London, and Reuben.