There is a law of hospitality ministry that inevitably runs up against an indisputable frustration. The law is that of consistency. The frustration is flakiness. If a person intends to do real ministry of being hospitable they must do so regularly. The occasional dinner or party is a start but not a long haul. Investment in people and the care of their souls is no brief matter. How many small groups have fizzled because there simply was no regularity. It hopped and skipped around the calendar and ultimately just never met. So, in season and out has to be the byword.
The frustration lies in the fact that though people need the host to be reliable, they feel under no obligation to be reliable themselves. A feeling of neglect, being taken for granted, even resentment can begin to build on the part of those opening their homes. The general advice given to act as a salve is usually summed up as, “take it on the chin, people are sinners.” And while yes people are sinners there is an underlying specific sin that should be addressed because it has larger ramifications than simply putting a host out a few bucks and hours.
The sin is simple, lying. It is a habitual sin, and is often waved away with simple justifications. But if pushed on the house of cards falls easily. “It’s just who I am” “I’m running on (insert ethnic group) time” “I was tired” “I didn’t feel good” are all excuses that are designed to make the actually offended party the potential offender. The root of the lie can be in, laziness, selfishness, pride, take your pick but no matter the root and the fruit, it is all sin. Simply put saying you will do one thing and then doing another is lying.
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” – Matthew 5:33-37
“But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” – James 5:12
These verses are often read on a surface level of not making grandiose oaths before God. And there is obviously something to that. But at their base it is instructions for Christians to keep their word.
Lies grow, even small ones. Not just in that one lie leads to another. E.g. the person lies that they will be in attendance, then lies about the excuse, has to double down on their promise to be present next time, requires a better excuse, etc. It also greases the skids for following and larger lies in different contexts. The most obvious being church membership and attendance.
When a Christian joins a local body they are agreeing to be Sabbatarians. They are laying down their yes that they will, in obedience to Christ, be present, with the local body when they assemble.
“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:25
It is truly stunning how many professing Christians seem to think of the fourth commandment as the fourth suggestion (which actually should not come as big of a surprise since it seems clear they have done the same to the ninth). Regular church attendance is not optional, to do so is the equivalent of throwing a gift back into the face of a loving giver. God gives Pastors, elders, teachers, fellow members as good gifts. He gives all of time and every breath, and of that we tithe back a, frankly, small portion to him intentionally. And yet many who claim the name of Christ can not be bothered to gather on his appointed day with other believers to worship and then in a bizarre turn receive more good gifts! They have promised to be present, and yet they lie and lie more about being too tired,* or more insultingly that they can be fed just as well online later. God spared not his son for his church. One would think that a member of the body could spare a couple hours one day a week.
Lying to friends is one thing. Lying to God is another. And there seems to be fair evidence that he takes a rather dim view of both.**
There are four things then that can be done by those looking to be hospitable in the long haul.
1. Repent and be an example. If you are going to correct a sin. It helps to be able to set the example. A person who expects consistency from others should already be living that in a church setting. A leg to stand on is a good thing.
2. Grow in and extend forgiveness and charity. This is where having a thick skin and the stiff upper lip comes in. There is coming a day when charity will come through gritted teeth. Grace is frequently dispensed under pressure. If Francis Schaffer would go to his bedroom nightly and slam his head against a wall in frustration then take heart, you are in good company.
3. Don’t give up. Success is not found in numbers. The most important day of any part of a Christians life is never the first day but the last day. Stay faithful, when things are going great, there are lots of people, ministry is easy, and when it is hard, the group is small, and people are difficult. Stay the course, hold fast, in season and out.
4. Call others to repentance, ministry is about leading people to and growing them in Christ. They are not to leave the same way they came. Jesus saves them as is but he does not leave them there. Flakes should be, with charity and grace, called to repentance. A host lying that they are not offended, or hurt by sin does not bring anyone closer to god. A lie in response to a lie to save face is a sin.
George Washington prized honesty if the legend involving cherry trees are to be believed. But one thing he did expect was for those who agreed to partake of his hospitality to actually do so, and to do it on time. In the fledgeling days of this nation many an early congressman would arrive late to dinner and find Washington, not only in the dining room, but already nearly though with the meal. The president would look up and gravely inform the tardy guest, “My chef does not ask if my guests have arrived but if the hour has come.” Guests were never late again. It can be granted that most hosts lack the gravitas of a founding father, however the point stands. Those working to demonstrate some part of the kingdom of heaven are not doormats, and a part of that kingdom is honesty. It is to be shown by all parties.
The goal of hospitality is to reflect a small portion of the Kingdom of God. It is imperfectly done, and that is all right, imperfect people will partake. But it should be the kind of thing that stands out and creates a longing in those invited for more. And that takes work. It smarts when that generosity is flippantly rejected. At the same time there part of that reflection is the people of the kingdom. Ministry is the care of souls. Christ cared enough to correct and set right. It is not out of bounds for Christ like correction to take place. Kindness is not covering the lie of one with the lie of another. Kindness is opening the front door and living out in every possible way the call of John Bunyan, “Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ.”
*This one is particularly fragile. A. It is not as if Sunday just creeps up randomly and is sprung on us. It is in the same place every seven days, it has been this way for centuries. Plan Ahead. B. Most churches now have moved their meeting time close to the crack of noon. I really think you can make that late hour.
**See Acts 5:1-11