For several years I envisioned writing a book on the subject of “Spiritual hospitality and Christian leadership.” I included a chapter in the book, Leading Decisively! Leading Faithfully! Reflections and Markers (pages 207-215) on this theme.
During a sabbatical at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, I spent a semester at Yale University Divinity School working through the personal library of the late Roman Catholic pastoral theologian, Henri Nouwen. I explored the relationship of spiritual hospitality to Christian leadership. In the workforce where our vocation leads us, in the business offices, the public school classrooms, the hospital corridors, the university offices, in the local churches and in our homes. How do we “create space and make room,” on the job or in our home, especially when we experience conflict and even collision between good and godly people over our vision and values?
In a 2009 commencement address at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, I challenged the graduates to embrace in their leadership responsibilities the rich concept of spiritual hospitality. It has the potential of transforming relationships with those individuals with whom we live and work. Click this link to read the full address.
This practice of hospitality was a way of life fundamental to Christian identity for seventeen hundred years of the Christian church. Christine Pohl convincingly documents this practice in her book, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality in Christian Tradition.
Biblically and theologically, the term “hospitality” is not limited to receiving a stranger into our homes – although it surely includes this dimension. Fundamentally, it is a core attitude toward others, which can be expressed by a great variety of behaviors. Hospitality, biblically understood, challenges us to relate to others as if we were relating to Christ Himself.
“Hospitality” means primarily the “creation of free space” – making room, to use Pohl’s words, in the midst of differences of thought or behaviors that may exist. With this perspective, the attitude of hospitality helps us “to make room or create space” for those with whom we live and work. The strange and the stranger can enter and become a friend. It is being to others with whom you live and work, a “living witness of the risen Christ.”
The gift of spiritual hospitality is the opportunity we provide for the colleague, co-worker, guest, stranger, family member or friend to find his or her own way. It enables us to consider an alternative way of thinking from those who may be very different from us. This gift to others invites them to contribute insights derived from their unique gifts and abilities, even in the context of differences of thought and behavior. In practicing hospitality and being hospitable, as leaders, we often serve as “angels of God” without even knowing it.
To embrace this conviction to lead by “making room and creating space” requires us to ask the question: “What will it mean for me to be a Christian leader as a public school teacher, business man or women, faculty member, spouse or parent?” When misunderstandings are frequent, expectations are intense, and rejection is obvious. Where the mature and the immature, the Christian and the non-Christian, the saint and the hypocrite may work or study along side each other. And we have the responsibility for leading them, teaching them, caring for them, listening to them, praying with them!
Are there risks? Yes! Hurts? Yes! Pain? Yes! Disappointment? Yes!
Yet, with this theology of holiness and passion for servant leadership come also God’s blessing, anointing, presence and wisdom! God has a way of using our availability and our efforts toward others in ways we could never imagine. In the process, He blesses us in ways we never dreamed possible!
In leading with a bias toward people, not power, you and I increasingly communicate to others that we care deeply for them as we:
- Honor their time
- Value their work
- Build their confidence
- Increase their competence
- Support their decisions
- Hear their words
- Network their ideas
- Affirm their dreams
- Simplify their assignments
- Strengthen their faith
Fundamentally, the relationship between spiritual hospitality and Christian leadership is much more than being nice, feeding friends or enduring “hard to get along with” co-workers, colleagues, family members or friends.
It is a way of life for leaders who are passionately Christian and dictates how we approach those with whom we live, work and serve. For the strange and the strangers, the disenfranchised and lonely, our family members and friends, “creating space and making room” for them is the essence of hospitality, biblically understood.
We experience the “surprises of God” in our lives in the process of enabling others to grow and mature. Through “providing space” and “making room” for others to change, we are given “space” by God to grow and mature in Christlikeness.
Spiritual hospitality is nothing less than the amazing grace of God working in us as Christian leaders and through us! I am challenged to pursue this nearly forgotten practice in the Christian tradition.