The power of hospitality in a hostile world

As someone who wanders the aisles of bookstores as often as possible, I sometimes walk through the magazine section to see what’s trending in an almost-forgotten publishing sphere. A majority of magazines include home, decorating, and hospitality tricks and secrets — how to host the best parties, what home decor is trending, and more. In each of these magazines there is often a common thread: how to make hospitality bigger, better, and more noteworthy. And they’re often only targeted toward women.

When we think about the word “hospitality,” we often think about parties and opening our homes for gathering. Some people may prioritize the experience, the food, or the atmosphere. But does the Bible influence how we practice and show hospitality to our neighbors?

In her new book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World, author and speaker Rosaria Butterfield explores the biblical mandate to what she calls “radically ordinary hospitality.” Radically ordinary hospitality, Butterfield writes, is a community effort designed to “take the hand of a stranger and put it in the hand of the Savior, to bridge hostile worlds, and to add to the family of God.”

In the preface of the book, Butterfield explains how this type of hospitality is both countercultural and necessary for Christians today. Part of her story involves an unexpected (and at the time, unwanted) friendship with a pastor and his wife that began around their dining room table over dinner, and later led to Butterfield’s conversion to Christ. Hospitality that welcomes the stranger, the odd neighbor, and the hostile is a countercultural idea — even in the church. Butterfield challenges readers to rethink the way they use their home, money, and time for the flourishing of others’ souls and the good of their communities.

The book is organized into 10 chapters that lead readers through questions about the vitality of hospitality, the need and kindness of hospitality, the basics of hospitality, and more. Butterfield guides the conversation about not only the reasons for opening our homes, but she also provides a window into her own life and daily practices of living with an open door and heart.

Hospitality as a daily calling

For Butterfield and her husband, Kent, radically ordinary hospitality is an everyday practice they have cultivated throughout their marriage and ministry within the church Kent pastors. For example, the Butterfields invite their neighbors and church members to their house on a daily basis for meals, Bible studies, and fellowship. When difficult situations arise, their house becomes a refuge for the hurt, lonely, and confused in their lives.

“God calls us to practice hospitality as a daily way of life, not as an occasional activity when time and finance allow,” she writes. “Radically ordinary hospitality means this: God promises to put the lonely in families (Ps. 68:6), and he intends to use your house as living proof.”

One of Butterfield’s main arguments for this kind of hospitality is that it offers neighbors — both those in proximity and those outside — to see a living example of Christ’s mercy and love for those he encountered during his ministry on earth. And we ultimately see that mercy in the cross.

“Mercy brings it all together,” she writes. “God’s mercy poured out of the cross, emboldening us to keep the door of our homes open to others.”

This kind of hospitality is not only for families, but singles, too. Although Butterfield does not write in detail about how singles can apply these principles to their lives, she does encourage readers that it is a community endeavor, and a high calling in a culture that often opts for distrust and self-centered lifestyles. Radically ordinary hospitality is just that: radical and ordinary at the same time. It looks different for every person, from regular dinners in your home, long-term house guests in need, or building your home as a safe place for your community.

It is radical because the world watches and doesn’t understand why someone would let a former inmate sit at the same dinner table as one’s children, church members, and others. It’s ordinary because it is what God calls us to as he tells us to love one another in deed and truth (1 John 3:18). This kind of hospitality looks out for the interests and needs of those around us, making it a discipline and an act of love.

“Christian hospitality cares for the things our neighbors care about. Esteeming others more highly than ourselves means nothing less,” Butterfield writes. “It means starting where you are and looking around for who needs you. It means communicating Christian love in word and deed. It means making yourself trustworthy enough to bear burdens of real life and real problems.”

She challenges readers to adopt a way of life less taken and less praised, but that reaps long-term, eternal rewards. This is a great read for anyone who wants to know both practical ways to live in a hospitable posture, but also the scriptural basis for loving one’s neighbor as yourself. For those unfamiliar with Butterfield’s story, you might want to start with her first book, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith.

Radically ordinary hospitality is an act of obedience to the call Butterfield believes God placed on her life. Readers in all seasons of life can benefit from her honesty, passion, and conviction about loving others through an open door, remembering that “Radically ordinary hospitality manifests confident trust that the Lord will care for us and that he will care for others through our obedience.”

Topics: Christian Life, Common Good, Culture

About the Author

RuthAnne Irvin serves as the associate editor for Made to Flourish. She’s an Alabama native but claims Louisville as her old Kentucky home. She holds a humanities degree and teaching English as a second language certification from Boyce College, and spent the last few years working as a freelance writer and editor for various organizations, including Relevant Magazine, National Religious Broadcasters, Southern Seminary, and others before joining the Made to Flourish team.  You can follow her on Twitter.