We were never great at hospitality. We didn’t need to be—our home church had some amazingly gifted people who could do mass hospitality at the drop of a hat. But in our preparation to plant a church in Sweden, God laid the importance of hospitality in Christian ministry on our hearts. When we arrived there, our vision for church planting could be summed up in four words: open home, open Bible!
But Swedish culture is not famous for its open hospitality. Entertaining, yes. Hospitality, no. Sweden is a hyper-secular and individualistic culture. People like to keep to themselves. They take pride in not needing anyone. So as we embarked on our new life in Gothenburg, Sweden, we were armed with this new passion for hospitality ministry in a country that says repeatedly, we don’t want it!
We really didn’t know how it would play out. But we pushed forward, driven by the biblical conviction that hospitality is not an optional extra to the Christian life, especially for those in pastoral ministry. The plan was to invite anyone and everyone to our home to eat with us and see what happened.
Hospitality in a Pandemic
Our good intentions were met with a global pandemic. We had to delay our grand plans of mass hospitality. But we were allowed to have periodic social gatherings outside, so on Thursday nights we hosted “Open Garden.” Anyone could come any time between five and ten p.m. We’d feed whoever showed up, and I would give a short gospel exposition. Simple!
To our surprise, lots of people came. At the height of summer, we had over 40 guests to feed and share Jesus with, and we haven’t stopped since. Now we’re back in our house—and people still come. Folks can bring anyone they want without asking in advance. We have regulars who are believers and others who are not. Some weeks we’re packed to the rafters, with kids running around, and other weeks we have just three or four people. But we always have plenty of opportunities to share the gospel.
I remember sitting at Open Garden last November. It was cold, but we’d invested in blankets, hot water bottles, and garden heaters. I looked at all who were there despite the weather and COVID fears and thought, “These people are so hungry for community! They need each other, despite the lies their individualistic culture tries to sell them. Perhaps we can plant a church in Sweden through Christian hospitality after all?”
Hospitality Is an Eternal Welcome
God said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18), and deep down, I think every Swede knows it. Despite all the Swedish bravado about individualism, I’ve come to realise that Swedes are lonely. One shocking statistic is that 25 percent of Swedes die alone. This is not because they don’t have friends or family, but because they’re too proud—even afraid—to admit they need others. Even in the face of death. But they don’t want to be alone, either.
Isn’t this the state of our hearts apart from Christ? We want to do enough and be enough all by ourselves, but we need saving. Hospitality breaks through individualism with gospel light.So we invite our neighbours to our table to invite them to Jesus. Christian hospitality serves this greater end—demonstrating the welcome of the Father, through Christ, to people trapped in sin’s loneliness. Click To Tweet
So we invite our neighbours to our table to invite them to Jesus. Christian hospitality serves this greater end—demonstrating the welcome of the Father, through Christ, to people trapped in sin’s loneliness. Hospitality ultimately points to the Saviour who is with us even to the end of the age.
Practical Hospitality Is Contagious
Of course, an open house is more than one night a week. We invite people to our family table all the time. Single guys who live alone and struggle with loneliness come over every week to eat and read the Bible. We take meals to people who’ve been sick and are unable to get out. We always have a spare bed made if anyone needs a place to crash or just to be around others. Gradually, our Swedish friends are realising we mean it when we say “you’re always welcome.”
We’ve also discovered that hospitality is contagious. As people have received a hot meal delivered to their door when they were too sick to cook for themselves, our Christian friends have felt the impact of these little acts of love and started to do them for others.
Radical hospitality has focused our home and ministry much more on Jesus. After all, when he painted a picture of the gospel in Luke 14, he described it as a great banquet:
“‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled’” (Luke 14:21b–23).Radical hospitality has focused our home and ministry much more on Jesus. After all, when he painted a picture of the gospel in Luke 14, he described it as a great banquet. Click To Tweet
Please pray with us that our home—and many more homes and churches across Sweden—will be filled with people who need Jesus and Christian community more than they dare admit.
If you’d like to rethink Christian hospitality, let me recommend The Gospel Comes With a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield. It inspired us greatly. If hospitality ministry can work in Sweden, it can work anywhere!