Though community is challenging, there’s an often overlooked way to cultivate it. That is the practice of hospitality. If you’re dissatisfied with your community or don’t have one at all, showing hospitality is a way to take agency and change your situation. In our culture, hospitality is not a primary value, but cultures around the world and many of the oldest myths make it one of the highest virtues. Regardless of cultural values, it is the pathway to community, and it is commanded in Scripture.
Paul wrote to the Romans, “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13). Paul’s ministry depended on Christians’ hospitality (Rom. 16:23), as did the the other apostles’ ministries. John wrote, “We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth” (3 John 8). Spreading the gospel and making disciples starts in the home. To build God’s kingdom, we need each other’s support, whether with prayers, finances, a meal, or a place to stay.
The first part of Romans 12:13, “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need,” is the easier part, because it only takes so much effort to share with people who clearly have less than us. But the second part of the verse simply states “Practice hospitality” without qualifying to whom we show it. It’s harder to practice it with people who have more. We make excuses that our home isn’t clean enough or big enough or because we can’t cook as well as so-and-so. But hospitality was never meant to be a contest. More likely than not, people will feel more at ease if your home isn’t perfect, and it may encourage them to be more open with their homes, too.
When you think of hospitality, you might picture a Southern Living home and a three-course meal. But that’s only one way of practicing it. Hosting a movie night, organizing a Bible study, and meeting a friend for coffee also show hospitality. When you’re tight on resources, you can be hospitable with your time. (The free download with this blog post lists alternative ways to show hospitality.)
Hospitality is based in the character of God. He made an unfathomable sacrifice in order to welcome us into his family. Thus, to practice hospitality is to practice godliness. In fact, being hospitable was a requirement for anyone to become overseer in the church or for any widows to be put on the charity list (1 Tim. 3:2, 5:10).
Ultimately, if you want to create a community or deepen one that you have, you will need to make sacrifices of your time and effort. You’re no more likely to stumble into a perfect, ready-made community any more than you’re likely to move into a new house with your ideal garden already perfectly manicured. Even if the relationships have already rooted, they need nurturing. A community that supports you through your discipleship journey is the most rewarding garden you can cultivate.