This week’s sermon is available HERE.
Last Sunday I talked about the need for all Christians to pursue spiritual maturity. In the process I presented some research results from the REVEAL study of spiritual growth. As the researchers collated their results, they grouped healthy spiritual practices into 4 groups:
- Beliefs and Attitudes;
- Organized Church Activities;
- Personal Spiritual Practices; and
- Spiritual Activities with Others.
It seems to me that those first three groups are the ones we emphasise the most. We do a lot of teaching to establish Biblical beliefs. We encourage participation in church activities, particularly Bible Classes and worship. We also encourage people to pray and read Scripture for themselves. But perhaps when we look at that list we’re not even sure what “Spiritual Activities with Others” means. So here’s another list for you.
Of these four, I’ll focus today on the top two: Spiritual Friendships and Spiritual Mentors. It seems to me that we often value Christian friendships among teens as we pour many resources into ministries for teens. However, we don’t make the same emphasis among general church members.
We settle for people showing up on Sunday and don’t impose the expectation that they spend time with other Christians outside of Sunday worship service. We know that Christians need one another to experience the fullness of Christ, but perhaps we often think that Bible studies fulfill all the “one another” instructions in Scripture.
I expect that some of my readers will think the church already values spiritual friendships. You may be right. But let me pose a scenario and gauge your response…
You hear of a church down the road that cancels their Wednesday night Bible Class because they decide that they study the Bible as a group sufficiently on Sunday. Instead, they now meet in homes and play board games, and cards. Sometimes they watch movies together, while some of the groups bake together or discussing books they’re reading together.
What you may not have heard is that each of these groups close their time together with 20-30 minutes of prayer. But still, all that play time in place of Bible Study!
Perhaps we feel uncomfortable toward this church because while we acknowledge the theory regarding the importance of spiritual friendships, we don’t actually value them all that highly. We may not have thought of it in these terms, but we would prefer for people who aren’t friends to study the Bible together, than to not study the Bible and work on building friendships.
Perhaps we feel uncomfortable praising spiritual friendships, because we don’t have any ourselves.
- Do your friends encourage your faith?
- Do your friends pray for, and with, you?
- Do you pray for, and with, your friends?
- Can you ask your friends about Scriptures you’ve been reading?
- Do your friends get excited about sharing God’s love with others?
- Do your friends help you date, or parent, in a God-honor way?
I believe that many of Christians will acknowledge the importance of spiritual friendships to their walk with Christ. We’ll acknowledge that God has placed us in His church and made us part of his body which belongs and works together. But I suspect that many Christians fail to prioritize spiritual friendships or allow their personal spiritual practices to bleed over into our relationships with others.
It’s true, that many Christians can say that their best friends also attend church with them, but that by itself doesn’t make the friendship spiritual. Spiritual friendships intentionally include spiritual conversations, spiritual checkups, and spiritual practices.
Hospitality. You know what I’m talking about. It’s that dreaded word that makes every Christian feel guilty for not keeping up with our housekeeping. It’s the word that says I’m a failure as a Christian if:
- “I don’t have all the kids toys picked up 10 minutes after they’ve finished playing with them.”
- “I don’t host a small group every year.”
- “I don’t have home made cookies just coming out of the oven when someone happens to drop by.”
- “I haven’t had a church member over for a meal at least once a month.”
- “My house isn’t always available for people to drop by, whether that be my next door neighbour or long forgotten ‘friends’ from out of town looking for a bed for a couple of nights.”
- “My kid doesn’t want to share toys when you bring your kid on a visit.”
- “I attend a cookout at someone else’s home, but never “fire up the barbie” myself – regardless of how many chips and drinks I bring.”
- “I can’t fit the entire church youth group in my living room.”
- “A guest spots a speck of dust I missed while frantically moving all the papers on the counter to a drawer as her car pulls into the driveway.”
- “My TV isn’t big enough for five people to watch ‘the game’ at the same time.”
The word “hospitality” can strike fear in the heart of the best housekeeper… let alone the worst. But I have GOOD NEWS for you. 🙂
“Hospitality is all about the heart, not the house.”
Since Jesus didn’t even have his own house, it can’t be about the house. The biggest question a study of hospitality raises is this: “Do you have enough room in your life for another person?” In the parable of the Great Feast in Luke 14 God keeps sending his servants out looking for guests until his house is full. Each time the guests already present could be excused for thinking, “but we already have enough people.” Or, “I’m just getting to know these folks and you want to go get more?”
Christian hospitality means Christians wear a t-shirt that says, “I genuinely want to be your friend.” We bring this attitude to new converts. We make the effort to meet new faces in our Sunday assemblies. We particularly wear this shirt when we’re out in public interacting with the world. We let people know that we have room for them in our lives.
“According to one study, new members who stay beyond their first year made an average of seven new friends in the church. Those who dropped out made fewer than two.” (From a good article here.)
In my experience churches/Christians are great at being friendly to each other and guests on Sunday. Hospitality and genuine friendship takes these relationships into the week. It might involve a meal. It might mean taking the kids to the part together. It might mean volunteering for a ministry together. It might mean going to the movies together. It might mean just exchanging phone numbers or looking someone up on Facebook.
Hospitality is the act of inviting someone else into my life.
We express our love for God by inviting Him into our lives. Similarly, we express our love for our neighbours when we invite them to share life with us. Sunday politeness is just that, politeness. Love for neighbour invests in a relationship.
- Do you have 7 friends at your church? Do you agree that 7 is a “must have”?
- Friendships come with many degrees of depth. What type of friendship are you looking for in your 7 people? Or what’s the minimum level for the 2? (Eg. I played golf with a couple of guys twice last summer, and that was(not) good enough for me.)
- Can you think of some more items to add to my list of hospitality related failures?
- How often do you gain new friends?