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Creating Space for Natural Discipleship

by Anita Porter


Truly, it is difficult to find a good definition of hospitality. It seems there are as many definitions of hospitality as there are people who have attempted to define it for the Western Church.

The Bible commands us to practice hospitality (1 Peter 4:9) but there isn’t a chapter to turn to that tells you what hospitality is and how to do it. So the definition above is based on what is implied in scripture.

In the Bible, Jesus doesn’t have a home (Matt. 8:19-22) but he is often in one. Sometimes we know whose home he’s in, as in Simon the Leper or Mary and Martha’s, but sometimes it just says, “He entered the house” (Mark 7:17); but we either have to search for whose house it is or we are never told. We aren’t told where the Last Supper took place just that it was in a house. What we are sure of is that everywhere Jesus is, his disciples are with him. They are comfortable enough to not be thinking about where they are but Who they’re with. These houses are the context of discipleship. We should be humbly offering our homes as a safe context for discipleship to happen.

Did Jesus model hospitality even though he didn’t have a home? It helps me to think of what hospitality isn’t. Hospitality isn’t hostile. Jesus wasn’t hostile with his disciples. He never forced them to remain with him. Nor was Jesus indifferent. He wasn’t an apathetic leader who didn’t care who followed him. He wanted the disciples with him. He deliberately chose them, taught them, and cared for their needs. He created safe space around him, within his life, for them to watch him and learn from him in genuine relationship.

Even if we can’t open our homes we should be practicing hospitality with our very lives. Making our conversations and our fellowship safe for genuine relationships that lead to growing and learning together.

Hospitality facilitates natural discipleship.

Think about how you have grown in your spiritual life. For me I think of a summer I spent living with a Christian family. I was a Christian but my family was not, so this was a new and revealing experience for me. I learned a lot that summer about how a Christian family ought to function, not only that, but it became clearer to me how and why marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. All this took place in the context of hospitality. A family willing to allow me to safely and openly observe and learn from them.

John Piper ( says, “Strategic hospitality is a hospitality that thinks strategically and asks: How can I draw the most people into a deep experience of God’s hospitality by the use of my home or my church home? Who might need reinforcements just now in the battle against loneliness? Who are the people who could be brought together in my home most strategically for the sake of the kingdom? What two or three people’s complementary abilities might explode in a new ministry if they had two hours to brainstorm over dinner in my house?

“Strategic hospitality is not content to just have the old clan over for dinner again and again. It strategizes how to make the hospitality of God known and felt all over the world, from the lonely church member right here, to the Gola farmers in Tahn, Liberia. Don’t ever underestimate the power of your living room as a launching pad for new life and hope and ministry and mission!” (emphasis mine)

We should be appointing ourselves as hosts and hostesses of the kingdom of God. In our homes, in our local church, in our conversations; creating safe space for natural discipleship to occur.

In his book, Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus ([Crossway], p. 43), Mark Dever says, “The local church is the best place for such relationships to grow… the church can be thick with mentoring relationships even if they are not formally called ‘discipling relationships.’ After all discipling really is just a bunch of church members taking responsibility to prepare one another for glory… how much pastoring gets done in the ordinary life of a congregation when it’s characterized by a culture of discipling!”

I’m going to suggest that the more hospitality there is in a local church, the more natural discipleship will take place.

Following are a few things you could do to start creating safe space around you, in your home, and in your church for natural discipleship to start happening and hopefully begin to cultivate a culture of discipleship:

  • Host a home fellowship
  • Invite people to lunch after church
  • House missionaries or international students
  • Sign up with Careline to bring meals to those in need
  • Serve drinks or food at potlucks or for the pastry ministry
  • Familiarize yourself with the church kitchen
  • Volunteer in the nursery
  • Keep your church tidy. If you see something that needs to be cleaned up, don’t wait for someone else to take care of it. Pick up as you go.
  • Go to baby/bridal showers
  • Pray for people before you leave them
  • Ask people how you can pray for them then do it right away
  • Follow up on people you pray for
  • Ask yourself, How can I deliberately make people feel safe, comfortable, and welcome here so they can learn and grow spiritually?”

Finally, hospitality requires humility and trust that God is always doing what’s best. Extra dishes, an “inferior” home, maybe a child with a temper tantrum can make the perfect space appear unsafe. However, in God’s hands that same situation in faith and grace becomes the very tool of discipleship. Remember, this is facilitating genuine, learning, relationships, not your best foot forward. If we’re not careful, our safe space becomes guarded space, and we lose the genuine part of the relationship as well as the potential for spiritual growth. Safe and guarded are not the same thing.

I’m still exploring the idea of hospitality and its place in my Christian walk. There’s a lot to discover. I hope this sets you on your own discoveries of what hospitality is and how to infuse hospitality and discipleship into your personal ministry.

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