When I was a teenager, my home was not open to outside guests. I had friends, though, whose parents were open-hearted Christians. They welcomed us after youth group or weekend games. At least one parent would be comfortable around a noisy group of high schoolers and willing to provide quality one-on-one with their kids’ friends. I’ll be forever grateful for the encouragement this brought me.
Growing the family value of hospitality provides many challenges. Today, parenting is stretched thin by packed schedules and demands on time that seem to grow exponentially. Diversity of interests that come from the ages of the family’s members and financial resources – these play a part, too. Whatever the composite picture of your family may look like, however, hospitality is a given, not an option. Scripture makes this clear both by command and by example. See Hebrews 13:15,16; Matt.25:35-40; Romans 12:9-13; Genesis 18:1-5.
Here are some ideas that may help you create an ‘open house’ policy with your family.
1) PRAY about it. Providing hospitality impacts other aspects of parenting. If you’re already challenged to find enough quality time for the whole family to be together, you may be reluctant to add something else to an already overcrowded schedule. So, some significant decision making may be involved here. As you pray together and eventually bring your kids into this prayer focus, God will make clear His plan, tailor-made for your family at this time in your family’s history.
2) TALK about it. You’ve probably seen this happen already, but bringing your children into the conversation results in surprising insights and great ideas. You might begin by making a list of the things you’re already involved in. Is it possible you could bring the element of hospitality into some area of relationship-building that already exists? For instance, would a Sunday School teacher accept the invitation to have pizza with your family after church? Would the folks next door accept your idea to join together for a back yard, summer picnic or popcorn with cocoa and a family friendly movie some winter, weekend evening?
3) Make it a TEAM effort. Ask your kids to share the ways they would like to participate when you venture into home-based hospitality. Offer them opportunities to pitch in with housework duties before you open your doors to outsiders. A young teen can vacuum and dust. Give your kids informal ‘assignments’ depending on the ages of your prospective guests. A ten year old might well rise to the opportunity to shepherd toddlers or preschoolers in order to hone her baby-sitting skills. Some kids love to chop vegetables and assist in the kitchen with duties appropriate to their age and experience. Even kindergarteners can learn to set a table.
As your kids embrace the idea that entertaining others is a way to please our Heavenly Father, they are likely to show themselves more than equal to the tasks involved.
4) Draw up a PLAN. Once you’ve laid the foundation from Scripture, demonstrating your own willingness to be obedient to our Heavenly Father, take some time to work on a plan of action. Start small. Find humor when things don’t work out the first time. Be open (and ready) for surprise opportunities, but do make a plan that is workable and enjoyable – and includes everyone in the family. For many of us, it will mean taking the idea ‘to simplify’ seriously. For the perfectionists among us, it will probably mean letting go of some expectations as long as the plan is well thought out and leaves room for the unexpected.
Probably the days are long gone when a homeless tramp could knock on someone’s back door knowing he’d be welcome at a kitchen table for a simple meal. Still, the opportunities to offer hospitality in our home are abundant, and they are a ‘light’ burden (Matt.11:28-30) when we manage our efforts with God’s grace, prayerfully, and as a team effort. Remember – God is not unfair: He will not lose sight of all that you have done nor of the loving labor which you have shown for His sake in looking after fellow-Christians, as you are still doing. (Hebrews 6:10, Phillips)