For some time now, I have reflected deeply on what it means to encourage the church to become more missional. I am reminded of a parable that Jesus shared in Luke 14, “”Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it?” The problem I see with the call for churches to become more missional is that while the idea of getting more involved with our local communities, opening our churches, having more members or leading persons into a relationship with God is very exciting and appealing, I am not sure that we are fully aware of how that will impact us with both blessings and challenges.
I am not a huge fan of the word missional because for me, once missionary in Sicily for ten years, it doesn’t necessarily communicate what I feel we need to work at as church. While I value the rich discussion, discernment and education that has emerged over the past decade around this, I have come to a place of believing that perhaps talking about the practice of hospitality may be more helpful.
When I speak of hospitality, I am not so much referring to the idea of sharing a meal or opening our homes in the traditional way we tend to interpret the word. Michelle Herschberger in her book, “A Christian View of Hospitality: Expecting Surprises” redefines hospitality in a way that gives us a helpful way to reflect on our spiritual readiness for the stranger. She writes, “(Hospitality) is a choice. We choose to reject suspicion as the first reaction to a stranger. We choose to minister along side of others rather than to them. We choose to let go of some of our own control when we meet strangers and when we interact with those we’ve known for years. We choose to expect surprises from strangers – good surprises that come from God.” (P. 31)
I believe that hospitality, in this sense, postures us to truly receive the gift of the stranger into our churches in a way that promotes mutuality, creativity, freedom, respect and shalom. I am reminded of the sinful woman in Luke chapter 7 who learns that Jesus was dining in a Pharisee’s home. She innocently, ignorantly or knowingly crosses all respectable boundaries and barges into the dinner party with an unforgettable act of worship; an alabaster jar of perfume to be poured over the feet of Jesus. This act of pure, selfless worship infuriated all around the table… did she not know her place? Did Jesus not know her place? The loving response of Jesus that evening demonstrates that kind of hospitality as he received the gift of the stranger. In what could have been an awkward moment, mutual respect, mutual surprises and gifts, mutual love and forgiveness, and shalom were discovered and celebrated.
The love of God is generative… it changes things… and as we open our churches to the stranger bearing new gifts and new expressions of love and worship, we need to ask ourselves if we are ready for whatever shape that may take. Because there is potential of deep hurt and injustice if we resist. Imagine what could have happened in the story with out Jesus demonstrating acceptance, love and hospitality. I think that maybe we need to ask these kinds of questions before we decide to become more missional, because being missional will stretch us beyond our human capabilities. But if we are willing to give a little, we the church will be blessed with a rich, variety of beautiful family members who bring unique contributions to the kingdom of God.