A couple days ago a young wife and mother asked me about hospitality. She grew up in a home where there were very few guests, so she never had patterns of hospitality passed along to her. Convicted that Scripture commands this of Christians (Rom. 12:13; I Peter 4:9), she was wondering how to make it work, especially with children in the home. Here are ten tips, mostly from my mother, that I came up with:
First, think about whom to invite. We need to practice hospitality the same way that our pastors preach the gospel – promiscuously. Preachers are taught to think about the different categories in their congregation so that they can preach to all sorts and conditions of men. We need to do the same when we think of who to have into our homes; singles, families, widows, rich, poor, educated, ignorant, every age and every race – everyone should be welcome.
Second, show hospitality regularly. You have to plan for it and book time off. Creating regular times to have people in your home not only helps you plan, but also makes hospitality part of your regular routine. Once something is part of the routine, once something has a time slot, it becomes habit, and the more often you do it, the less time it will take. It is better to do it more often, if you can swing it, than less often. You cannot be “given to hospitality” if you only have someone over every month or so. Hospitality needs to be part of your lifestyle, not an special occasion.
Third, do it at a time that works for your family: make visits suit your schedule. Think about the regular free time your family already has – the times where you go for a walk together or have a bbq, and use some of these times to practice hospitality. They are already set off from work, school and church activities, so the time is already there, all you have to do is add a few extra people and a bigger salad. This does not mean that every time you have an evening off you must invite people over, but it does mean that time off is the perfect opportunity for obeying God’s hospitality command. There are certain seasons of life (pregnancy, moving, sickness, etc.) that can limit hospitality for a time, and that is not neglecting the Lord’s command, it is being wise. But most of the time, we need to make hospitality part of the normal routine.
Fourth, make a list. lists keep you from running around, trying to remember what to do next. Two lists, one of things to do, the other with the menu, keep me on track. You can even make a “master list” for showing hospitality, with all the things you do before people come written up on it, so that it is already there every time you practice hospitality. Five minutes of planning and listing can save a couple hours of scrambled activity.
Fifth, manage your house. If your house is organized, regularly cleaned and tidied, then extending hospitality to people will not take days of scrubbing, and digging lego out from between the couch cushions. A ready home means that showing hospitality will only take a quick run with the vacuum cleaner and a good wipe in the bathroom before people arrive. Things do not have to be perfect; but they do need to be tolerably clean and picked-up. I read on a blog the other day a quote from a woman who said, “If you are coming to see me, come right over. If you are coming to see my house, you’ll need to make an appointment.” Regularly manage your home, and don’t worry about perfection. Your goal is to make your guests comfortable so you can minister to them. Manage your home so that it is a tool, not an obstacle or an idol.
Sixth, plan an easy meal. Spending hours creating an elaborate meal will mean less time with your family before the guests arrive and less time for your guests when they do arrive. Simple meals make hosting people easier and faster. And, unless you enjoy boning a duck, simple meals make it less stressful, too. Pick dishes that you can make the day before and pull out of the fridge an hour before folks show up. Put most of your energy into the visit, not the meal.
Seventh, spread the preparation out over a couple days. Do things when you have a spare ten minutes, then check it off your list. Eat the proverbial elephant one bite at a time. Be creative, and enlist the whole family. If you have more than one bathroom, tidy the one the guests will use in the morning after your shower, and declare it off limits to your family from then on. I try to set the dining room table for dinner while my kids eat breakfast in the kitchen. Get your kids to dust in the afternoon, or ask your husband sweep the kitchen while you change your clothes just before people get there. Those of you with older kids can maximize your manpower to whip things into shape.
Eight, be creative. There are many creative ways to practice hospitality – it does not always have to be another family over for dinner. You can prepare a meal for a shut-in or widow, bring it over to their home, share it with them, and do all the clean up. This allows you to fellowship with them and minister to them in their home in a special way. You can co-host a large gathering with another family in the church. That way, you can host a large number of people while sharing the food preparation. You can host people outside of your home. We sometimes take “guests” with little kids to the zoo. We bring snacks and juice boxes for everyone, and the kids can run around without being in danger. There are all sorts of ways to practice hospitality. Just make sure that your home and heart are open to whoever needs them.
Ninth, find a woman in your local congregation that is a good hostess and ask her how she does it. Watch her in action. Take mental notes on how she organized food, how she keeps up conversation, how she cares for each guests’ needs. Ask her if there are any resources, either on cooking, organizing, or conversation, etc., that she learned from. Talk about how a recent hosting experience went for you so she can help you evaluate what happened and why – good and bad. Older women are amazing sources for those of us who are figuring out how to obey in this area.
Tenth, just do it. Practicing hospitality is the best way to learn how to do it well. As you discover what works best for your family, how your routine changes to fit food prep, etc., you will get better and better at it. The apostle tells us to “practice hospitality” because that’s what all of us need – practice. Nobody is born a perfect hostess. We all have to learn. Consistent obedience is the best way to become skilled in opening your home and ministering to others.