The clergy group that I am a part of met yesterday to begin our discussion of Bishop Schnase’s book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. I thought I would try to blog my way through the book the day after our discussion. Here is what I learned from the first chapter on “The Practice of Radical Hospitality.
The first thing I learned from this chapter is that radical hospitality is about loving people as Christ loves them, not about perfecting a technique for making people want to come to your church. What really hit me as I read this chapter is the difference between reaching out because we need new people to come to our church, or reaching out because we really believe that we have something to offer that will bless others.
Because this is a clergy group, I guess I found myself thinking about hospitality as it relates to the way clergy act around each other and the way that clergy treat new comers. I had a few general thoughts in this area:
- Some of the most uncomfortable experiences I have had in ministry have been at clergy meetings. It is not that people are rude to me, it is just that I am ignored. I went to seminary in Washington DC, straight out of college. So when I came back to the Oklahoma Conference, I basically knew two pastors and the names of a handful of others. The group I am in now is really helping, but I hated going to Annual Conference and the orders meeting and Board of Ordained Ministry retreats because I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t know how to break into the groups of people that seemed to just form all around me.
- This got me thinking about another thing I noticed (maybe this is more of a rant) at our recent orders meeting. We had a catered lunch which was very nice. Lunch was served on throw away plates and plastic ware. There were large trash cans at every exit. Yet, I noticed that when we left most tables had dirty plates all over them. There seemed to just be this assumption that someone will come clean up after me. What got me is that all they had to do was pick up their own plate and put it in the trash can they had to walk by anyway. How’s that for servant leadership?
- One more thing about inhospitable pastors: I remember a friend in seminary commenting that pastors (meaning the other seminarians we were around) were the worst listeners she had ever been around. I think she is pretty close to right. Isn’t that ironic? We are supposed to tend to others souls, but much of the time we are too busy talking to listen.
- Finally, there is so much talk about the need for young clergy. But, do the people calling out for young clergy ever carefully think about how inhospitable the appointment process is for young clergy? Most people who go to seminary straight from college are full-time students who do not start pastoring until they graduate from seminary. That means that most of them live around younger people, go to a church that has a lot of younger people, and most seminaries are in a large city. Which one of these characteristics is typical of the first appointment that young clergy usually receive? But we are surprised that more young people aren’t lining up to go into ministry. It reminded me of another great quote from Five Practices, “Too many churches want more young people as long as they act like old people” (27).
This may sound shrill or too harsh. That is not my intent. I just think we can do better. My point is, if pastors are to play a leading role in helping their congregations practice radical hospitality, we may need to work on fostering a culture of radical hospitality at the conference level. We may need to learn how to really love and care for one another first. I am blessed to have a wonderful sign of hope in the clergy group I am a part of, because I believe we are really doing that.
Here are two great quotes that really stimulated my thinking for this chapter:
- “Jesus says, ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Matthew 25:35). ‘Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:40). We would change our behaviors toward strangers if we lived as if we really believed this!” (13)
- “Every member of the Body of Christ is the fruit of someone’s ministry and faithfulness. Who is the fruit of yours?” (31)
I know whose ministry I am the fruit of: Dallas Griffin, Steve, Shalom Rener, Scott Meier, Phil Fenn, Doug Strong, Scott Kisker, Sondra Wheeler, Amy McCullough, David Evans, David Gilland, to name a few. Thank you to each of you for the role that you have played in my life. I have been blessed by your ministry.
One of the hard things about hospitality is that it is probably much easier to see whose hospitality changed our lives than it is to see whose lives were changed by our hospitality. Are there people whose lives you have been able to see change because of your ministry? Whose ministry are you the fruit of? Have you told them the impact that they had on your life?