As part of our travels to India, Impact Nations has been experiencing the House Church Movement first hand. This is a movement that is baptizing over a million new disciples a year and is now the largest church movement in that nation.
Earlier this year I wrote about what I observed as I attended a number of gatherings in different parts of the country with Impact Nations. Since then, I have been studying, praying and thinking about how to contextualize in North America what I experienced in India.
While in India, I spent several days in two different homes. In both places I was struck by how many people constantly came and went. Usually there would be anywhere between 6 and 20 "visitors." I would go to sleep to the sound of people talking, laughing, praying, singing, watching sports on television, eating etc. If I woke up early, I would find people sleeping on the floor or making breakfast or talking. Both homes were filled with energy and life.
These were not people who lived there; the people were constantly coming or going, changing, with old friends bringing new ones. It was a place for everyone, where unbelievers were included into unstructured, but an incredibly vibrant and attractive life. At one point, I asked my friend's wife, "Is it always like this?" She looked at me in a puzzled way and replied, "Of course. This is the church."
"This is the church." This sent me back to reading about the early church, where they continuously gathered and ate in homes and the Lord added to their number daily. In a time when there were no church buildings and evangelistic meetings were unheard of, this is how for 300 years the church grew steadily. It was a new kind of community that was inclusive and sharing, where belonging came before believing.
No one needed to pray the sinner's prayer before they were invited in. Historical sources tell us that the early church was marked by three things: healing and miracles; care for the poor and the outcast; and hospitality.
Biblical hospitality, the kind of hospitality written about in the New Testament, goes beyond our preferences and desire for social interaction; rather, it is a lifestyle that we embrace out of devotion to Jesus and love for people.
This kind of hospitality reaches out beyond our Christian friends, and makes our homes available to others as oases of love and acceptance—this is what brings recovery and healing to people and sets our homes as the 'city on a hill' that Jesus called us to be. New Testament hospitality does not happen for an hour or two a week; it is a lifestyle of openness and availability that flows from a deep conviction that because we love God, therefore we actively and inclusively love people.
When Paul told the Romans to "practice hospitality" (12:13), he actually said pursue hospitality. This speaks of being proactive, of following the example of the seeking and inviting King, rather than waiting for our neighbors to reach out to us, or waiting for "the right time." Pursuing hospitality was so important to the early church that Paul made it a requirement for leadership (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:8). Paul knew that people follow the example of others.
Peter was being realistic when he wrote, "Offer hospitality to one another without complaint" (1 Pet 4:9). Often, being hospitable means sacrificing our comfort and convenience. Peter knows that these are very real. There are times when we need to count the cost, as we make our homes places of refuge and encouragement for others.
The single most repeated saying of Jesus was, "Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matt. 16:25). Choosing a lifestyle of hospitality makes this verse very practical. But we do it for the sake of Jesus and the gospel. We tangibly love God and love our neighbor.
In Hebrews 13:2 we read, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." The key word for me is stranger, because I think of the Lord's last teaching before His arrest: "I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in" (Matt. 25:35). When we reach out to the stranger, we are reaching out to Jesus. When we love the stranger, we are loving Jesus. Biblical hospitality is powerful on many levels.
Like many of you, I have spent a reasonable amount of time praying for my neighbors, asking God to move on our street. Prayer-walking our streets like this is good; we are inviting the Holy Spirit to go before us. But after I returned from India, I realized that two years of praying had not opened up the homes on my street to the gospel. The New Testament says to pursue hospitality.
So, I started knocking on the doors of my neighbors and simply inviting them to come over for coffee or a meal. I know—this isn't rocket science. But when I started this simple proactive obedience, I discovered something. My neighbors (without exception) said, "Yes, we'd love to come over." We are making new friends. We are introducing them to each other. We are praying with them. We even have some neighbors who have announced that they are coming on a Journey of Compassion with us.
Last week, a neighbor came over with one of his friends. Why? Because like you, we carry with us the fragrance of Christ. Simply put, when our neighbors come into our homes, they experience peace and life. We don't have to try to be Christians: We already are. That's why Jesus said, You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world—not you should be.
While I stayed in these two exciting, lively homes in India, I watched as every day new people came and went. I watched as people entered an environment of invitation and belonging. It was in this environment of hospitality that they discovered Jesus.
I am convinced that New Testament hospitality is both a dividing line and a remarkable opportunity for believers in the West. Loving God and loving people are made tangible, realistic and honest.
"They ate together in their homes, happy to share their food with joyful hearts. They praised God and were liked by all the people. Every day the Lord added those who were being saved to the group of believers" (Acts 2:46-47).
Steve Stewart is the founder of Impact Nations, a Christian organization that brings hope and restoration to the poor and vulnerable in the developing world through both supernatural and practical expressions of the Kingdom of God. Follow Steve on Twitter at @impactnations or learn more at impactnations.com.