Hospitality and the Western Culture

by Chris Freet

Hospitality coverOver the last five to ten years or so there appears to be an upsurge in the focus upon hospitality within the Western church culture. Whether it is in the form of books (of which there seem to be many), lectures, or seminary/college courses, hospitality is experiencing a renewed interest for which I am personally grateful. In my last post I mentioned that in the pages of scripture, especially the New Testament, hospitality seems to be a defining characteristic of the church. While this renewed focus on hospitality is very welcome, I think any blind application of it could meet with frustration unless we first examine briefly our Western culture.

Throughout the Majority World hospitality seems to be more natural or at more ingrained and a regular part of the lifestyles and cultures. Within our Western culture there are certain mindsets, world views, or manners of thought which need to be at least noticed if the Western church desires to embrace the Christ-like characteristic of hospitality. Our Western emphasis upon individualism is one that is usually referenced in many sources as something that works against hospitality. But what other mindsets might we hold onto without realizing it that may work against the practice of hospitality? In my book A New Look at Hospitality as a Key to Missions I mention individualism along with other possibilities. Here are just a few:

Time and Hospitality

While on a visit to Kenya in 2012, our hosts jokingly commented that most Westerners are captive to “the power of the watch.” We can see this in such phrases as “Time is money.” We like things to be neat and orderly. If we can’t schedule it then it most likely stirs up feelings of chaos, disorder and even confusion. The practice of hospitality may involve messiness and unpredictability. After all, we are talking about an encounter with a stranger who bears the image of Christ.

Order, Control and Hospitality

Similarly related to the issue of time is order and control. Hospitality, according to biblical record, appears to have an element of surprise. Whether it is the example of Abraham or Lot (Genesis 18, 19) welcoming the strangers in a moment of surprise, or New Testament believers welcoming missionaries and seeing them on their way (3 John 8; Hebrews 13:2), surprise seems to be the norm. However, within our Western culture we value control and order. We plan everything and as a result, we don’t seem to do well with surprise. We need to clean the house first, after all.

Can you think of any other Western mindsets or thoughts that could work against the practice of hospitality? How have you shown hospitality to a stranger?