The Feeble Art of Radical Hospitality

By: Tiffany Thomas
March 03, 2015

Photo: Darci Rodenhi - FTE “Shape the Future” Photo Campaign


But I would argue that radical hospitality is more than just giving of your time and service. It is more than just opening your door; it is also about opening your heart.

I was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. I’ve lived in the South for almost 10 years and have learned that hospitality is a big part of southern culture. In fact, I once told a friend who has lived in the South all of her life that I was going to teach a conference on hospitality in the church. She replied emphatically, “What are you, a Northerner, going to teach Southerners about hospitality? We [Southerners] invented hospitality.” Her bold declaration about hospitality in the South is not unlike the common assumptions of hospitality and service in the church. As Christians, we overwhelmingly believe that Christians invented hospitality and service. We [the church] are running soup kitchens, building Habitat Houses, participating in international mission trips, raising money for projects near and far including village water wells, hospitals, school supplies, and Christmas presents to those in need. We seem to declare with boldness, “If it is anything that Christians are, it’s hospitable!”

But I would argue that radical hospitality is more than just giving of your time and service. It is more than just opening your door; it is also about opening your heart.

Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s “The Lesson” is the inspiration for a new model of radical hospitality at South Tryon Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. The narrator in the poem begins by describing a time when he was consumed with the personal tragedies of his life. As the speaker is sitting, thinking upon her own sadness, she hears a mockingbird and is comforted by the music. The narrator is inspired by this and decides to become an agent of comfort to someone else who is also consumed with the personal tragedies of life.

The speaker’s “feeble art” was his ability to take his pain and couple it with his ability to play his lyre for the service of someone who was experiencing similar pain. Taking one’s pain and coupling it with one’s gifts and offering it as service to the world is what I define as radical hospitality.

When we think of the model for Christian service and hospitality, we often think of Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-36). I wonder what it must have felt like to have a stranger hurry to his assistance at his greatest hour of need. I would bet my last dollar that this incident changed the man forever, and that he could no longer walk by anyone who was lying on the side of the road and just pass by because he knows too clearly what that pain is like, what that darkness is like.

The Church is full of people who at some point in their lives have felt like the man who fell into the hands of robbers. There are many of us who have experienced moments in life when we felt like we were robbed, beaten, stripped, and left lying half dead.

For some that darkness or pain may be losing a loved one, dealing with sickness, watching a family member make bad life decisions, experiencing failure in a school, job, or relationship, or suffering from addiction. For me, the darkness in my identity is that I was diagnosed with clinical depression when I was in my third year of grad school.

Hospitality is serving someone in need. But radical hospitality is coupling your pain with your gifts and offering it in service to others in need. At South Tryon Community Church hospitality and service begins with our own brokenness.

And that is what the Church needs from each and every one of us, our brokenness. For it is when you couple your brokenness with your gifts and offer them in service to the church, it will not only transform the lives of those around you—it will transform you.

That is radical hospitality.

Tags: Inspired Leaders, Innovation in Ministry, Thinking Out Loud


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