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All Christians are to practice hospitality (Heb. 13:2). But elders are to be so engaged in this practice that it characterizes them (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8). In so many words, Paul told Timothy and Titus that elders not only need to go and seek God’s sheep; they also need to bring them into the fold of the shepherd’s home.
At least three benefits come to the congregation when its pastors and elders open their homes to the flock. First, hospitality supplies experiential love. An elder’s having members of the congregation in his home demonstrates a special care for them. You learn about one another in ways that simply are not possible at Sunday morning worship. Sharing a meal and laughter around a table brings a needed warmth to the gospel that is preached in the church. Shepherds are testifying to their congregants that the true Shepherd loves them so much that He is preparing an eternal home for them (Ps. 23:1, 5).
Second, hospitality provides Christian modeling. In my years of pastoral experience, I am grateful that I have served alongside elders who are hospitable. Many of the people brought into our congregation by the gospel did not come from Christian homes. By hosting them, the elders provided wonderful models of the gospel in many ways. Elder hospitality gave new Christians the opportunity to see how a believing husband and wife treat one another. Guests witnessed how parents are to raise and discipline their children. They not only heard about family worship but participated in it. They witnessed what a home devoted to Christ looks like. Being in the home of a shepherd helped them learn more deeply what following Christ requires.
Third, hospitality furnishes family. In this broken world of ours, the poor, the stranger, and the widow often live in isolation. When elders provide hospitality to folks such as these, they learn that they are truly regarded as brothers and sisters in God’s house. Indeed, Jesus told us to have a special regard for people such as these:
“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” (Luke 14:12–14)
How true Jesus’ words are. Showing hospitality to a converted homeless man who once lived under railroad trestles transformed our congregation in mercy. Caring for the child of a single mother in our homes while she worked taught us patience and love. Having an elderly widower over for meals led him to find ways to serve rather than despair. For each one, the church became their family.
On the great day of judgment, Jesus will say to His faithful followers, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matt. 25:35). Elders should live so as to anticipate that blessed affirmation.