Thursday, April 30, 2009

Radical Hospitality

This is a summary / review of chapter one of "5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations".  Christian hospitality is something many of us take for granted these days.  Certainly few of us think of it in terms of a fundamental orientation toward welcoming and including others.  By calling it "radical", Schnase is suggesting that it be rooted in the life of faithfulness and radiate toward others.  A radical shift means that it is outside of the norm.  It means that a new base line is established that orients all activities.  Most congregations would say that they are friendly, but do they exercise their welcome in such a way that it eventually puts them at risk?  What I mean by this is that most practices of evangelism and hospitality are inwardly focused.  They answer they question, "How can we make them join us?" or "How can we add to our ranks?"

They idea of radical hospitality acknowledges the reality that any change in membership naturally creates a difference in identity and function for the group.  The interests, needs, and spiritual gifts of those who join will change the priorities of the community and God's movement through them.  This is a basic concept of group dynamics that challenge us to realize that being a "friendly" congregation may not be a full proclamation of the Gospel.

Schnase talks about a discernment process used by leaders from a variety of areas in the life of the congregation.  They met for several sessions over a period of time and discussed their own experiences of invitation and inclusion.  They talked about the barriers they faced.  The talked about the basic reasons for hospitality, beyond adding to numbers or giving units (incidentally, a friend recently reminded me oh so kindly how often Jesus refereed to people as giving units).  They walked the halls and considered their facility from the perspective of a visitor or new member.  All of this is not for the sake of developing a programatic response, but rather to build a culture that is as concerned about those who are outside of their fellowship as it is concerned with those who are presently part of it.  What if the concept of "welcoming one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God" (Romans 15:7) became a fundamental orientation for the development of ministry?

Would we put rocking chairs in the back rows of our sanctuaries for young mothers or chairs with arms for older members?  Would we be willing to split apart a successful small group for the intention of adding to its membership through creating new groups?  Would we be willing to hold Sunday School in an offsite location and bring church to a demographic that we would like to come to us?  The point of all of this is that radical hospitality is not something we do, it is an aspect of who we are as Christians and as a community of faith.  We are not static creatures, and life in community requires both the stability of defined interactions and the flexibility to experience the deepening and strengthening of relationships.  Therefore the norm is not the defined, programatic response to visitors, it is the quality of relationships that we express and extend in our common unity.  Hospitality that is truly radical is found in our ability to give ourselves over to each other, just as Christ has done for us.
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