Sharing a meal in one’s home with neighbors, friends, or co-workers is nearly non-existent in my world. I live in the fourth largest city in the United States, and although Texans are a friendly bunch for the most part, they’ve completely lost the ability to exercise hospitality if you’re not a close blood relative.
For well over a year, we’ve invited our neighbors to come to our home for meals. They gladly accept the offer, and bring a side dish or dessert. Other members from our cell groups have also come over for dinner, and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. But reciprocity is not to be found, even when I am bold and ask, “So when can we expect an invitation to your house and share a meal?”
Etna and I have talked about this for hours on end. We’ve concluded that many people—Christians and pre-Christians alike—have confused entertaining with hospitality. In days gone by, one would invite two or three couples to come to one’s home for an evening of entertainment, complete with a sumptuous meal, parlor games, or a musical recital by a child or one of the guests. You know, like you see on old black and white television shows.
What a pity. This isn’t hospitality at all. This impresses others with what you own and what you can provide. Hospitality is a lifestyle characterized by: “This is who we are and how we act; how we live and dress; what we do around here when no one’s looking; and you’re more than welcome to join us… if you’ll make yourself comfortable, kick off your shoes, touch the refrigerator door handle often, and be sure to lock the door on your way out if we’ve headed off to bed before you leave.”
And this kind of hospitality, combined with the presence of Christ, is what turns a bunch of disconnected people into a church! What we must abandon in the cell movement is this notion that success is a weekly cell group meeting where the host makes everyone feel good and comfy and the members do their part to clean up afterward. These things aren’t bad and certainly necessary, but there’s a lot more to successful cell life than hosting a group’s meeting. It’s about prioritizing a way of living together in community, where hospitality is the norm, not something one goes out of his or her way to provide when the need arises.