Home > Commentary > The Discipline of Hospitality: Boundaries

The Discipline of Hospitality: Boundaries

I don’t normally post on the weekends, but a friend left a comment here that I feel is worth discussing, even if no one is really going to see this until Monday. He said:

Interesting you bring up about the qualifications of a minister. I read that the other day and it has a sentence in there that pretty much is something I struggle with. maybe you can blog about it later on or maybe spark up a sermon for it. The sentence encourages “elders” (or some Bibles say “leaders”) to welcome people into your homes. Without our homes becoming such as a “pit stop” how much is enough? where do we draw that boundary? and who do we draw that boundary for? Interesting topic I would love to hear your opinion on [it.]

Here is the verse in question, 1 Timothy 3:2 (see also Titus 2:8).

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach… (emphasis mine)

What, in fact, did hospitality mean when Paul wrote this letter?

Well, it seems the Greek word for “hospitality” in this verse, filoxenon (philoxenon), means “love of strangers; fond of guests.” In the early church, hospitality seems to have been the service of one believer to another. This is because professing Christ meant persecution, loss of status and possessions, and possibly death. Especially as believers fled persecution, hospitality became one of the most important disciplines in the early church. Believers would flee from one city to another, and be taken in by other believers in that local church. So we can confidently understand hospitality first and foremost to be something extended to other believers who are in need, and secondly to non-believers, especially non-believers with whom we are in an evangelistic relationship. In this day, country, and age, hospitality fortunately does not need to shelter those fleeing persecution, though certainly our homes can become a haven for those Christians or non-Christians who are feeling pressured by family and friends. The idea of Christian hospitality seems to be mirroring Christ’s proclamation that he alone can give rest to the weary. A hospitable person, then, loves to give rest to weary brothers and sisters.

Timmy Brister has told many stories of traveling to conferences and being taken in by believers nearby. Tim Challies once told a story of “inviting himself” and his family to dinner with another believer and his/her family, and later returning the favor. We all have stories of going to a friend’s house for encouragement or discipleship on the spur of the moment, or of another believer coming to us for the same. We have all heard or experienced ourselves stories of homeless men, abused women, grieving spouses, etc. at the door of the pastor’s house.

Certainly, we should be willing to open our homes to believers in need. Such instances clearly fall under our pastoral mandate to be hospitable.

But I don’t believe this is the kind of question my friend is asking. Knowing my friend’s situation as I do, I think I can confidently say he is wondering about boundaries with believers in extending hospitality. What I can say at this point is that the types of hospitality implied by Scripture do not indicate a “pit stop” mentality at all; instead hospitality is primarily for those who have need.

Since Scripture does not give us any explicit words on such things (to my knowledge), I think we have to work inductively to figure out biblical boundaries for hospitality. To do this, we must ask ourselves, “what are our priorities, according to Scripture?” Many of us will arrange those priorities thusly:

  1. God
  2. Our wives (or husbands, for the ladies out there)
  3. Our children
  4. Our families
  5. Our church
  6. Everyone else

I don’t think it is possible to create a hard and fast policy based on these priorities. You will always need to be prepared for emergencies, which obviously will temporarily upset these priorities. Here’s an example from my own life.

When Tricia and I first got married, I made it clear we would not be publishing our address nor our phone number for one year. We wanted as few visitors as possible. Why? Because our marriage was the number one priority. We needed this year to focus on ourselves and on building a relationship that glorifies God. I strongly believed I could not be the husband and pastor I need to be unless we did this (focusing on ourselves, that is). The Lord, in his good pleasure, ordained otherwise in many instances, but that is a post for another day. Nonetheless, not publishing our address was a wise thing to do. No one outside of our families and our pastor knew where we lived, and to this day very few have been privileged to know of our residence. The solitude was sweet and allowed us to relax and exult in each other daily. I believe that we will continue this practice for another year, after our first child is born, especially after we move from our current residence. This will allow us time to become a family.

But this does not mean that we did not attempt hospitality by other means. I have practiced table fellowship in restaurants with many brothers, sisters, and non-believers in the past year. Sometimes treating a friend to a dinner, movie, or chat in a comfortable setting other than my own home can suffice just as well. We also planned times to have friends and family over for a meal or just to hang out. Planned hospitality can be very, very sweet and strengthening for your relationships.

But how does this relate to boundaries? If you have not already picked up on it, I will explain. I have drawn a boundary at my family. Hospitality, for the time being, ends where my family time begins. And newlyweds and new parents need a great deal of this time. I would argue that those new to ministry would be wise to adopt this boundary as well, until one’s family becomes adjusted to the peculiar demands of ministry. Try to plan your hospitality at this stage. Perhaps focus on one or two friends or couples with whom you would like to develop or strengthen your relationship, and have them over at those planned times if they are able to join you. As your family bonds strengthen and mature, you will be able to relax this boundary more and more, especially when your kids (if you have kids) get older and there is the need to befriend their friends and their friends’ parents.

All the while, be open to invitations or requests from others as well. It is good and pleasing to God to be spontaneous within this boundary. Just a couple of weeks ago, one of my best friends and his wife unexpectedly announced they would be visiting Louisville. We cleared our plans for the weekend to accommodate them. That was a weekend of sweet fellowship that I sorely miss with them!

In the interest of not writing a long post (we’re already at 1100 words!), I’m going to chop this up into another post, to be written later. So, to conclude this first post, in order to begin setting God-honoring boundaries in the practice of hospitality, begin first and foremost with what should be your top two priorities: God and your family. Hospitality should never be allowed to take precedence over your relationship with God, nor should it trump your wife (or husband) and children. Allowances should certainly be made for emergencies and the occasional spontaniety.

Next time we will discuss what constitutes an emergency. Some resources to tide you over til then:

Pastoral Priorities by Tom Ascol — Print this out and put it where you can read it every day!
Death By Ministry Part 1 by Mark Driscoll
Death By Ministry Part 9 by Mark Driscoll
Death By Ministry Part 11 by Mark Driscoll
Setting Boundaries by Richard Krejcir
How Do I Set Boundaries In My Ministry? by The Parsonage
Dad, Set Your Boundaries (Because Your Family Needs You) by Melody Mullins
It’s Not Your House! by Tim Challies
Strategic Hospitality by John Piper

Confessions of a Reformission Rev by Mark Driscoll — This book has examples of boundaries being set, situations caused by boundaries being crossed, etc.

Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
The Hospitality Commands
Open Heart, Open Home

Categories: Commentary
  1. Steve D
    September 15, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    Good stuff, stephen. Thats pretty much the same standard of priorities that we follow. But occasionally, someone pops up now and then. The important thing is to make it well known to all of those boundaries, not just to a few. I think its very important to develop relationships with those who could possibily be sharing the same struggles and frustrations, especially if both couples have children. I guess next house we move into, we will pretty much do the same thing…keep our home address hidden for awhile..would love that. Maybe i can build our next home in the hills, something like the Batcave or something. Smile! Thanks for the post!

  1. October 7, 2007 at 6:45 pm

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