The Discipline of Hospitality: Emergencies
Last time I discussed boundaries in hospitality. Here’s a brief recap:
- Hospitality in the Bible seems to refer to serving other believers in need by taking them into your home.
- This need seems to be related to brethren who have been persecuted, or whom are traveling (i.e. the apostle Paul).
- In modern times, we would equate this with taking in Christians who are traveling, or opening our home for a short while to believers who are in need of the ministry of encouragement/helps.
- This ministry would extend to non-believers with whom you have an evangelistic relationship.
- Hospitality should ideally be planned beforehand and allow for spontaniety as others invite you or request of you.
- Hospitality does not necessarily have to be in your own home; it can be done outside the home as well (i.e. visits, hanging out at a restaurant, club, bookstore, movie, etc.).
- However, hospitality never takes precedence over your God-ordained priorities: 1) God, 2) Spouse, 3) Children, 4) Family, 5) Church. It should never trump your relationships with God, your spouse, or your children.
- Allowances should be made for emergencies.
It is to this last point that we turn our attention today. What is an emergency? What situations should we allow to temporarily upset our priorities?
Dictionary.com defines an emergency as “a sudden unforeseen crisis (usually involving danger) that requires immediate action;” or “a serious situation or occurrence that happens unexpectedly and demands immediate action.”
Now, you and I both know that this definition is very clear and well-defined, but as you may already know or will learn, other people’s definition of emergency does not match ours. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been contacted for an “emergency” only to find out the supposed “emergency” was something silly or easily resolved on the person’s own. I was once contacted on an “emergency” because the person involved lost their Bible while cleaning their house. Others have contacted me and other Deaf ministers because they were upset about gossip. Those are examples of a non-emergency. So what, exactly, constitues an emergency?
We are not talking here about things that can be planned for. A good example of that would be my pastor. His wife recently had surgery. Since we could plan for that, it is easy to set aside time to make sure we do something for him or for his wife. No, we are talking about things that are unexpected.
Pastoral emergencies requiring the ministry of hospitality obviously include:
1. Death. This ought to be a no-brainer. If someone dies we should be immediately opening our doors for the bereaved. This is especially true in the case of unexpected death.
2. Serious, unexpected illness. Heart attacks are a great example. I once took a friend out every evening for a week after his father suffered a near-fatal heart attack. Learning you or someone in your family has cancer is another good one.
3. Displacement. This one actually is only for those who are able. Not everyone is able to temporarily house someone who has been rendered homeless or whom is in-between homes. The refugees from Hurricane Katrina are a good example of displacement; another is people whose homes have burned down or been destroyed by a tornado. Those who are able should definitely be willing to house people who have lost their homes, on a temporary basis. Currently I am unable to do this; before I married I actually had a friend move here from Illinois and become my roommate after he had just lost his job and his roommate ran off on him.
4. Marital emergencies. Emergencies in the realm of marriage would include abandonment, abuse (of spouse or children), infidelity (if it has recently been discovered), or if one spouse has just been served with divorce papers. Certain “surprises” can be considered emergencies, but that is a judgment call you will have to make. My rule of thumb is to determine if it is a marriage-threatening situation such as the ones listed here. If it is not, it is a “counseling issue,” not an emergency. Just because a person had a fight with their spouse and had to get out of the house does not mean it is an emergency!
5. Financial emergencies. I include this one very reluctantly. Some people may just be trying to manipulate you to get money. But sometimes there are legitimate financial needs. We have a rule of thumb at our church: we are not a bank. We don’t give people cash under any circumstances. We don’t pay anyone’s bills (never mind that we as a small Deaf church couldn’t afford to, anyway). Financial emergencies, as a rule, would include needing food or necessities (i.e. toilet paper, diapers, etc.). In such instances we will take the person and purchase what food or necessities are needed, or if someone in our church is willing to donate the items, that person will bring those items to the needy. It is also possible that a person may have gotten themselves into serious debt and require help. My practice (and I think that of my church) has been to assure the person I will do whatever I am able to make sure he/she is fed and clothed. Beyond that, they will need to get financial counseling, as we are not equipped to do that.
6. Legal emergencies. I also include this one reluctantly. Perhaps a person’s family member has been jailed. Depending on the person, you may need to be willing to offer hospitality in order to comfort and encourage this person. Or perhaps the person him/herself has just been jailed and calls on you for assistance. Again, this situation would be a judgment call. I personally would not pay someone’s bail (because I am in no financial position to do so, for starters). As far as I can determine, our church would not, either. Perhaps the person got drunk and was caught driving. Maybe the person stole something or killed someone. Or maybe it’s something as small as forgetting to pay a ticket (or two, or three, or a hundred). Or maybe someone has been sued and is emotionally distraught. Use wise judgment in determining if a legal emergency is in fact an emergency.
7. Spiritual emergencies. This category is the most important, in my mind. “Spiritual” emergencies are largely related to non-believers and involves situations in which a non-believer is having a crisis of belief. This crisis could be the direct working of the Holy Spirit to bring about repentance and faith in Christ. We should, without a doubt, make ourselves available or find someone who is available when a non-believer is experiencing the regenerating work of the Spirit. I have found that most spiritual emergencies where believers are concerned are not emergencies. In most instances, a crisis of belief for a believer is a counseling issue. But again, that is also a judgment call.
I think this list covers all the basics. I invite my pastor friends to share in the comments if they think I may have left out any.
Next time, we will discuss non-emergencies, or “When To Say No.”