The Congregational Practice of Radical HospitalityAs the newly elected lay leader in my local church, I have been thinking what it is that I could do to improve the situation of the local church.
Congregations that practice Radical Hospitality demonstrate an active desire to invite, welcome, receive, and care for those who are strangers so that they find a spiritual home and discover for themselves the unending richness of life in Christ. Radical describes that which is drastically different from ordinary practices, outside the normal, that which exceeds expectations and goes the second mile.
--Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations (www.fivepractices.org)
I belong to a very small local church with more or less 20 adult members and 10 kids who regularly attend Sunday worship. I have been a member of that church since I was eight, I guess. I attended children's Sunday school classes, then taught, joined outreach programs until I moved to Manila for college. Somehow, I have witnessed the ups and downs of the congregation. I have seen how the congregation struggled with leadership, finances, and properties. The old building where we used to hold our services is already replaced with a new, larger one; only it has not been completed yet.
It has been over a year now when I started regular attendance in my small local church again, having moved and married in Isabela. Now that I hold a key leadership position, I have been wondering how we could grow as individuals and as a congregation in faith and ministry.
My mom, who is the Church Council Chairperson, and I talked about how we should move on. We have been trying to assess the situation of the local church but we cannot sum up everything. Most of our observations are on the negative side--most members are not tithers/givers, they come late on Sunday, they don't want to hold leadership roles, they are not commited to the ministry, they are not exposed to the affairs of the church outside of the local church, they are not willing to attend activities other than Sunday worship, they do not participate in the Bible study, they do not read their devotional materials, etc.
On the other hand, we don't think that our local church is weak--we earnestly pay our connectional obligations, we can pay our pastor's salary and benefits, we produce leaders in the higher levels of the church, we have children's ministry, we have two outreach points.
So what could be lacking? What could be wrong?
To address what we thought are problems, I facilitated a round table discussion, though we were not literally in a round table. My aim was to enable each member to speak and share what they think about the church and its ministries. It is more than a meeting but prayerfully and reflectively considering the life of our local church and how the church is relevant to the lives of individual members and their families. Of course we did away with parliamentary procedures! And for the first time, I saw how eager each member to share their insights. I know it is a long and slow process. But I believe it will be worth whatever it is that we spend on this consultative process. The first step is to have an honest and prayerful conversation.
We started answering sort of self-examination questions like:
What makes you excited in going to church?
What makes you stay in this small local church?
What makes you sad about our local church?
What makes you tired in your spiritual life?
When did you see God work in all these?
In that moment, I knew that I was exercising radical hospitality. This kind of hospitality is not only shown to new members or visitors, but also to members--being sensitive enough to let them in into the decision-making process, know their insights, and encouraging them to be engaged in the life and ministries of the local church. I think that for a long time, I have been very comfortable in sitting in my favorite spot in the church, gave my tithes and offering, and attended regularly Sunday worships but actually did not mind about the relationships that exist in my local church.
Our conversations emphasized the importance of the established relationships inside the local church, where members feel that they are part of the family whenever they go to church on Sunday. Many are excited to come on Sundays because they love to see the kids and to bring their children to Sunday school. Many are inspired because of how the lives of other members are lived. That made me realized that maybe many are not involved in the ministries or seem to not be growing spiritually because they are being left out in our "family" as we have focused so much in planning programs, reporting, earning the building fund, and mandating people to take leadership positions. When in fact, we could have started knowing what they wanted in the first place. Begin with relationship! We need to be more hospitable with our own family members.
After the first meeting, we agreed to meet some more and continue answering self-examination questions until we have all tackled the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregation (as written by Robert Schase), until we have come up with our vision-mission-goals statement, and maybe until such time that each member will fully engage and grow in the life and ministry of the local church. It is like going back to square one. But I like it more that way rather than trying to accomplish written programs with just few people involved.
I know that this will be a difficult, and maybe painful, process but I am challenged to be more hospitable and sensitive to needs of my family members. We will be moving to more sensitive issues like giving, tithing, getting involved in missions, and taking up leadership roles. But my hope is each one will show a radical hospitality.