How do we love people the way Christ loves them, outside of the church, and outside of the influence of the church?
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My wife and I live in Dallas, Texas. For years I served at churches—I love church. One of the things I noticed as the college pastor when I did international mission trips, was how great our church was at training us to be cross-cultural. What does that mean? Well, it means that I’d be going to Africa and they’d teach me, “You’re gonna wear this. You’re gonna speak this language, or have a translator, and this is appropriate—this is not appropriate.” I kept coming home and I kept wondering, “Well, the church is its own culture, cuz most of my friends are Christians or are a part of my church. So what kind of training or understanding am I giving to help train people to be cross-cultural in my own city?”
So my church sent me out as a full-time missionary to my city with CRM. And the whole goal for us was How do we love people the way Christ loves them, outside of the church, and outside of the influence of the church?
One of the things that really drew us into this was that my wife and I love to throw parties. Henri Nouwen had a great quote that really helped us form an understanding of what it means to love people:
“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It’s not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.” (Henri J.M. Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life)
What was crucial about that to me was that it allowed people to be themselves.
Here are three things that we learned about loving people outside the Church, by being “hospitality people” and simply opening our home to our neighbors.
1. Make Space
The very first thing was about making space. Whether you’re like me and my wife, and you want to throw big parties all the time, or whether you’re an introvert who likes to primarily be alone, the idea is to simply find some way to make space for the other, for the one who’s “not yet known.”
2. Be OK With Differences
The second thing I learned was that I had to get over being un-like my neighbor. My preconceived notion from my church experience was that “We want to love you, but you’ve got to come and be part of us, and that means that you need to change.” And I needed to get over that so that I could love them where they are—not because I needed them to change, but because God loved them. And I needed to love them, even when they were unlike me.
3. Embrace Messiness
The third thing (and this was a little bit harder in the beginning), was that we had to learn to let life be a little bit messier than we were comfortable with. People come into our home that don’t act like us, don’t look like us, don’t think like us. But that gives them space to engage.
The Outcome of Radical Hospitality
Here’s one story that I found particularly amusing as we began to throw parties in the neighborhood.
We’d throw three to five parties a year, print about 500 flyers, and literally go up and down the streets, praying over the homes and asking people to come to our party. We threw a huge party, got to know a couple, and several months later I was meeting a new neighbor, introducing myself. “Yeah, I live in the blue house down the street.” He goes, “Oh! You’re the guy that throws all the parties!” So he’d already heard about me. And then he said this: “Huh, you’re like a priest or something, right?” Now I’m not a priest. I’m ordained to do ministry in the Christian church. But I had the chance then to say, “No, we simply love people where they’re at and engage in spiritual conversations around parties and around hospitality in a way that lets them be themselves.” His response was pretty simple. He said, “You know, I’ve never heard of that before.”
So for us, this is what life looks like. To be a good neighbor is to love people for who they are—making space, getting along with them when they’re unlike me, and letting things get messy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Keith Peeler and his wife, Megan, live in Dallas, TX with their three kids. They have been with CRM since 2010 and serve to create movements of committed followers of Jesus with the Advance team.