Why Churches Need to Stop Being Good Hosts

Mark 6:1-13

He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. (Read the whole passage)

This story is one of the most uncomfortable for Christians to hear, even among some of the very difficult parts of Jesus’ story that we tell. More uncomfortable than death, than conflict, than sin. We don’t like this story because it doesn’t reflect how we experience the good news and church for the most part.

The first half of the reading sets the stage for our discomfort. Jesus goes to his hometown and is ridiculed and his message isn’t even heard by those he is trying to reach.

And with that rejection in mind comes the really scary part. Jesus sends out the disciples to meet people, to be welcomed by them and to reach them with the good news. To be evangelists.

And if we are honest about our feelings with this story, the images of well dressed mormon missionaries and Jehevoh’s Witnesses knocking on our doors come to mind. People who make us uncomfortable when they come to us… and now we are supposed to imagine becoming just like them. Jesus wants us to go our door knocking so that we can enforce our religious views on others who probably aren’t interested in religious conversation? Doesn’t Jesus remember the part right before where his own friends and family reject him as a preacher? Shouldn’t they be the most supportive?

For a lot of Christians, the prospect of going out in the community, into the world conjures up feelings of hesitation, disdain, discomfort, uncertainty.

And it is not surprising that we feel that way given our recent history. 

For the last 50 years or more, Christianity hasn’t needed to do local evangelism. Evangelists and missionaries were people we sent to far away lands. To the tribes of Africa, to the heathens of the middle east, to mysterious peoples of Asia. And even still when we did to large scale evangelism at home, it was in the form of residential schools with the intention of taking the savage out of the Indian.

For a long time, the evangelism that most christians and most local churches have done is to welcome people who are already Christians into our established communities. People who have recently moved into town, people who have immigrated from other Christian countries, people from other churches, usually of the same denomination.

And yet in the past few years, the world changed. Most people stopped being Christian. Many people began drifting away from church. And today, most young adults have almost no experience of church at all because their parents stopped going when they were young adults.

And yet we as local churches and church leaders kept operating like all we needed to do was to be ready to welcome existing Christians into our communities. We are well structured to receive Lutherans looking for a Lutheran church with a Lutheran Sunday School, Lutheran Choir, Lutheran confirmation program, Lutheran church council, Lutheran bible study and other Lutheran programs. When all the Lutherans looking for an established church come to town, we will be ready. 

Yet, we all know that isn’t going to happen.

So it is n wonder that the idea of being sent out to spread the gospel is uncomfortable for us. We have been trained and structured to be ready and waiting here for people to come to us.

And again, it is no wonder that this story of Jesus sending out the disciples is scary for us. Because when we really think about ir, Jesus sends the disciples out to be guests – not hosts – to those that they are reaching. Yet, the only way most churches try to reach those in need of the gospel is by being host.

As the disciples are sent out by Jesus, they are sent to be beloved guests. They are sent to meet people in their territory. To meet people in their comfort zones, on their turf. They are sent to be guests receiving and accepting the hospitality of others. That is what the whole dust on the feet thing is about. A good host in that culture would wash the feet of guests. And so dust still on the feet would be a sign that the disciples  had not been received with proper hospitality.

Being a beloved guest is not easy. To enter into the space of another. To go with humility. To give up control and to meet the other on their terms. It is a relational act. Unlike churches where hospitality is often the set up to ask visitors to join the congregation, to sing in the choir, to teach Sunday School, to serve on a committee… as a beloved guest, hospitality is something received.

The disciples receive hospitality and in exchange offer good news. They offer the good news of relationship, the good news of God’s great love for us, the good news of Jesus Christ – God come to us in flesh.

As difficult as this story is for us, as uncomfortable as we are with the idea of being sent out… we are asked to consider a few things. 

What would hospitality without an agenda look like for us in the church? What would our hospitality look like if rather than hoping for another warm body with a pulse to join our ranks, that se looked upon guests as people sent to us with a message of God’s love?

A what would it look like for us to be beloved guests sent to receive the hospitality of others? Sent to offer the good news as thanks and gratitude for the welcome and generosity we receive?

Jesus is calling us to radically new and different ways of being people of faith. It is one that we haven’t been prepared for, kind of like the disciples who are sent without much to take on their journey. Jesus is calling us to a new way of being disciples but also to an old way.

Jesus is calling us to reach out to the people around us, the people outside of our comfort zone, outside of the community that gathers under this roof, to reach out in relationship with the good news.

And yes, being a guest, a beloved guest, is scary. It will mean we are not in control, it will mean we don’t get to operate on our terms, instead will have to abide by the terms of those whom we are tying to reach. And we will not feel ready or prepared for this task.

But just as the disciples discover as they preach transformation of mind and soul to those that they meet, we too will discover that Jesus is enough. That the good news is sufficient. That God’s love and forgiveness for sinners like us is enough. That God’s new life for people dead and re-born in baptism like us is enough. That God’s welcome and hospitality this table with bread and wine given us for us enough. These things are enough to allow us to be beloved guests sent to reach the world. They are enough to allow us to receive the beloved guests sent to us with messages of God’s love.

Jesus is calling us into a new yet familiar world. One that resembles the world of the disciples more than it resembles our recent past. And the reception we receive might be rejection. And we might have to shake off the dust of our feet… and yes this is not something we are used to and it puts us outside of our comfort zone.

But even scarier will be when we are received with hospitality and welcome. Even scarier will be when hospitality is extended. Like the visitor who comes to us searching for something more, searching for the presence of God among us, we too will find the presence of God among those who receive us. Just as we are washed and fed by God here, we will be able to faithfully name that the washing and feeding we receive at the hands of others is God’s presence out in the world.

Evangelism, going to the world, forming relationship with those who don’t know yet of God’s love for the world is daunting and scary… maybe one of the scariest things we will consider as Christians. But it is also where Jesus is sending us. And the good news is, as we go out, Jesus will be all we need.

Amen.

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5 thoughts on “Why Churches Need to Stop Being Good Hosts”

  1. Love your essay. On no agenda: I’ve come to learn that “being there among them” is the most important thing you can “say”, at first. Not as “visitor”, but truly being there. Once you become one of them, then the Holy Spirit will tell us what to say, and when to say it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love your views on loving without an agenda, remembering that each individual who steps into church is a person, with a story is so important. Your ideas about being a guest rather than a host are also very thought-provoking, I think often we spend so long looking after our churches and focusing on growth that we forget to meet people where they’re at, spend time with those who don’t know Jesus in their own environment and pray that one day they will feel comfortable joining us at Church. Thanks for writing this, very interesting!

    Like

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