Practical Tips For Showing Hospitality
In my most recent post, I wrote about the ministry of hospitality. In this blog, I would like to share a few practical tips for showing hospitality. I still have much to learn in this area, but here are ten things I have learned either through being hosted or hosting myself.
1. Start small and simple
When my now husband told me that he felt called to be a pastor someday I knew that hospitality would be a significant part of our lives together (1 Tim. 3:2). After returning home from our honeymoon I was eager to start start opening our home up to others but I have to admit, I was also a bit intimidated. How was I even supposed to start? One of the most helpful things for me was starting small.
I think sometimes we are just fearful. “What will I talk about with people I don’t really know?” “What if I do something stupid, embarrass myself or completely mess up the meal?” It can be scary to start doing something you are not accustomed to, which is why it’s good to start small. You don’t have to begin with hosting large groups in your home, maybe try inviting one or two people first then build up. Invite someone who isn’t a complete stranger so you don’t have to worry so much about what to talk about.
Another thing that helped was starting simple. If you aren’t the spontaneous type, plan ahead for a day you will have more time to prepare. Maybe set aside a day of the week where you could practice hospitality consistently. This is what my husband and I did initially, we called it our “hospitality day”. After a few weeks we became comfortable being more flexible and spontaneous with things. It gets easier with practice.
If you are having someone over for a meal, choose something you have already made before. The night you are having company over may not be the time to practice that fancy new Chinese cuisine you pinned on your Pinterest board six months ago (unless you are just really confident in your cooking skills). Starting small and simple can really take some of the pressure off and help you feel less overwhelmed.
2. Make a hospitality list
If you still don’t know where to start, consider making a hospitality list. I am a list maker, I find it helpful to have lists for many different things. When my husband and I got married I started a list of people we wanted to have over our first year of marriage. I listed: family members, friends, my husband’s friends who I wanted to get to know better, my friends I wanted him to get to know better, acquaintances, each family from church etc. The list is always growing as we meet new people and has been a helpful reference. It is also a fun way to go back and see the different people you have had in your home over time, reminiscing over the memories made with them and the fellowship shared.
3. Learn to be spontaneous by always being prepared
Spontaneity is not my gifting, I am very much a planner (hence the reason I have lists for everything). This is an area in which my very laid back husband is helping me grow. One of the ways we have sought to make this less stressful for me is by always being prepared. We both agreed on a standard level of cleanliness we would like to keep our house at and do our best to help each other maintain that throughout the week. This doesn’t mean if someone shows up at my house unannounced the floors will be mopped, there won’t be any dishes in the sink, or they won’t see books and papers scattered here and there, we do live here after all. As a general rule though, we try to keep the bathroom clean, laundry picked up and the rest of the house as clutter free and tidy as possible.
Another way to keep stress levels down is to have a list (yes, another list) of easy meals to prepare for last minute company. I typically meal plan a couple weeks in advance and have a section on my menu of various things I can make for larger crowds. When I find out company is coming, I simply choose a meal from the list and make it. If it’s on the meal plan I typically already have all the ingredients on hand so I don’t have to worry about a last minute trip to the store. If something is very last minute and I haven’t prepared enough food, I always keep a package of hotdogs in my freezer and a can of baked beans in the cabinet. There is a store just down the road so I can grab buns and a bag of chips to go with it then I have a meal! Spaghetti is another easy go-to meal, all it takes is pasta and a can of spaghetti sauce, maybe some meat if I have it on hand. My wonderful husband always offers to grill burgers or order pizza if that is easier for me. As much as I love making healthy meals from scratch, I’ve learned that things don’t always have to be fancy; informality is completely okay. Visitors won’t be offended by your homeschool books all over the table or the fact that you are serving a simple meal. Some of the most meaningful times of fellowship I’ve experienced have taken place in small, simple homes with simple meals. Remember that hospitality is not about impressing people or proving that you really have your life together, it’s about serving others.
4. Learn to accept help
If your guests offer to bring something, it’s okay to say yes and tell them what to bring. Refusing to accept help because you want to do it all yourself can be an issues of pride. Let your friend bring a side dish or dessert, let them contribute. Ask them to pick up something you need from the store on their way over, they won’t be offended that you asked.
Don’t be afraid to ask your guests to help you in the kitchen either. If they show up unannounced or things happened last minute, ask them to peel the potatoes or do the dishes. Hospitality is about more than letting people into your home, it’s about letting them into your life- let them do life with you!
If you have children, let them help you too! Allow them to take part in serving your guests, your children can learn so much through this ministry.
5. Choose hospitality over materialism
You know, I think ultimately so much of why we don’t practice hospitality more goes back to our values and the fact that we really are materialistic at heart. People have a tendency to be protective of their things- “Something might get broken, lost or ruined.” When you open your home to people, these kinds of things will inevitably happen. There are things in my house that would not have been broken or lost had we not been involved in hospitality. The danger of having things is that we often become too attached to them, even consumed with them. Remember to “set your minds on things above, not on earthly things…” (Colossians 3:2) People are more important than things, they have eternal souls that will last forever. Your stuff will all burn up one day anyways. Remember too that your things never belonged to you in the first place. You are simply a steward of the things God has blessed you with. While it is good to be a wise steward, the purpose in Him blessing us is not so we would protectively hold back these gifts, but share them with others.
6. Have things for children to play with
If you already have children this one is probably a given. I don’t have children of my own yet but I do have children’s books and toys for when we have company over. Part of making families feel welcome is ensuring their children feel welcome too. If the kids are occupied, their parents are more likely to be able to enjoy fellowship and be encouraged. It’s always helpful to have activities on hand for kids. You don’t have to go all out or spend the whole week’s paycheck, I picked up a few books and toys at a thrift store. If you are okay with messes, playdough and sensory bins are great for keeping kids occupied. Coloring books, crayons and colored paper with stickers are a few more ideas.
7. Minister to the senses
There is nothing quite like walking into a home with the aroma of freshly baked cookies (my mouth is watering just thinking about it!). In contrast, there is nothing quite like walking into a home that wreaks of less than pleasant odors. Do your best to minister to the senses God has given us. Bake some cookies before your guests arrive, light a candle or simply wash the laundry. Make your home smell pleasant for those who enter it.
What do your guests see when they walk in? Maybe a welcome mat and smiling faces? Perhaps Scripture verses on the wall? My friend Sarah has world maps and gospel tracts hung on the walls of her home, this intrigues some of her guests and she is able to talk with them about the gospel, missions etc. Regardless of your choice of décor, remember that your home should be a place of ministry, try to minister to the eyes of your guests. Do something to make the atmosphere of your home warm, cozy and inviting.
Next is hearing, what do your guests hear when they walk into your home? Do they hear you and your husband squabbling over petty matters or a welcoming, “I’m glad you’re here”? Do they hear laughter and people dwelling in unity with one another? Do they hear instrumental music or worship songs playing in the background? Obviously there will be times people walk in and the baby is fussing or the toddler is screaming, children are inevitably loud at times and that’s okay. In the areas you can control though, seek to have a peaceful atmosphere and minister to the sense of hearing. We want our guests to enter and feel comfortable and refreshed, not stressed due to the amount of utter chaos.
8. Don’t compare.
We humans tend to compare ourselves to other people. “So and so has a nicer and bigger home…” It is easy to compare then feel insecure. Let me just say that whether you live in a million dollar mansion or a house trailer like I do, your home is intended to be a place of ministry to others. Whatever kind of home God has blessed you with, use it for His purposes. My friend Aubrey has mastered this. She lives completely off grid in a two room home, not a two bedroom- a two room. She also has three little boys who keep her running. Aubrey doesn’t use this as an excuse for not exercising hospitality though, she has a special way of making her house homey, comfortable and welcoming to those who enter it.
Some of the most memorable times I have had as a guest in other’s homes took place when I served in India. Though the country is extremely impoverished and many there are lacking in material things, they are certainly not lacking in their hospitality skills or generosity. On one instance, I visited the home of some national Christian workers. The family lived in what most Americans would consider an absolute ghetto, the only furniture in their home was a bed, which we all sat on as the wife made us chai (Indian tea). The electricity was not working that day so the only light they had to offer were nearly melted candles and the light of Jesus, the latter filled their home. On another occasion, I was traveling through a less familiar part of the country and was shown hospitality by another local family. Their home was not nice by any means at all, it was tiny and hardly met the sanitation standards of the average American. Once again, the only furniture in the house was a bed, but we sat there eating the dinner they had so graciously prepared for us. This family had very little but they were more than willing to share what they had. Yet another time, I was shown hospitality while visiting a large slum. For those who don’t know what a slum is, picture the worst of the worst: no drinking water, muck and filth everywhere you turn, pigs roaming around in the sewage, children running around with no shoes and half naked bodies searching for rags which they hope to sell in order to be able to buy food for their families… Rows upon rows of shacks which are considered “houses”. Yet, even by those living in this condition, I was greeted with smiles, warm welcomes and offered a cup of chai.
You see, hospitality is more about your attitude than it is about the abundance of things you possess. You may have very little to offer, but if you offer peace, joy and the presence of Christ, even serving a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can be meaningful. I think of the widow of Zarephath who showed hospitality to the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings chapter 17. All she had was a little bit of flour left and a little bit of oil, yet Elijah had the audacity to ask, “Would you fix a meal for me first?” But she did. She sacrificed the little bit that she had. Then God made the little she had stretch out over three years of famine so that she was able to not only provide for herself and her son, but also for the guests that God had brought into their home. God can take your little and make it much if you step out in faith and obedience.
9. If you have a small space, host outside!
My house is fairly small so when my husband asked if he could invite his whole family over one day (more than twenty people) I knew we couldn’t comfortably fit that many people inside. Instead of trying to cram everyone in we decided to have a bonfire, this worked well. When it got too cold out there were a lot of us sitting on the floor inside and things felt more cramped but it was still so much fun! Bonfires, picnics or just a meal outside on a beautiful evening are great ways to host if you live in a small space. If you don’t have a yard, invite someone to the park or some other place. Abraham lived in a tent but he still showed hospitality to the men who came to visit him. We can make it happen if we really want to.
10. Remember the reason
Remember that hospitality is a Scriptural command:
“Do not neglect to show hospitality…” -Hebrews 13:2
“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” -1 Peter 4:9
“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” -Romans 12:13
Ultimately hospitality is not something we do because we love people but because we love God and desire to please Him. Our desire to practice hospitality should be the natural outflow of our love for God. “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments…” –John 14:15
Embrace this ministry for the purpose of bringing glory to your Savior, remembering that ultimately, your service is for Him.