Risking hospitality

March 6th, 2015

I love Mark Twain. As a matter of fact, on my first date I went to Mark Twain’s Cave in Hannibal, Missouri. I was living near Quincy, Illinois, at the time and had just gotten my driver’s license. Do you remember your first car date? When you and your date were alone, with no parents or older sibling to chaperone?

I picked up my sweetheart and drove across the Mississippi River where we were going to spend the day together, just the two of us. Our first stop was to tour Mark Twain’s Cave. Hundreds of people waited outside for the gates to open. We were divided into little groups, each with a guide. When our time came, we followed the guide through the cavern and squeezed in like sardines, but we didn’t care. We held hands, and, like all young lovers, we were in our own world, oblivious to the crowd. We heard the guide drone on about stalagmites and stalactites as we wandered along.

Finally we came to a large space. The guide stopped and explained that this very room inspired the scene where Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher’s lives were endangered by Injun Joe. “But,” said the guide, “when they were here, they had only the light of torches.” He continued: “You are in the darkest possible place; you didn’t notice it because of the fluorescent lighting along the cave walls as you toured. But imagine how dark it was in Mark Twain’s day. I’ll show you. I’m going to turn out the lights, and you will experience total darkness.” And he turned out the lights. “I’m going to warn you,” he said. “In a few moments when I turn the lights back on, you will be shocked! Your eyes will be shocked trying to adjust.”

On and on the guide went as we stood there in the darkest dark humanly possible. I got to thinking: “We are in a dark room. I am with my girlfriend. What the heck?” I decided to do it. I let go of her hand, slid my arm around her shoulder, pulled her close, and there in the darkest dark imaginable, I stole my first kiss! I remember it still. It was like cave heaven!

And then suddenly the lights came on. The guide was right: I was shocked! My girlfriend was shocked! But not nearly as shocked as the woman I was kissing!

I learned two things that day. Never, ever, go to a dark cave for your first date, and never, ever, be surprised or shocked at what the light of Christ reveals when it shines on us, in us, and through us.

  • If we are not careful, in the darkness of our daily living, we might be cuddling up to actions and behaviors that would make Jesus Christ blush.
  • If we are not careful, in the darkest places of our soul, we might be embracing mean-spirited attitudes and prejudices that cause hurt and pain to others and ourselves.
  • In the darkness of our own hearts, we get cheek to cheek with negative, morale-destroying internal assumptions, like “I’m not good enough,” “I’ve messed up my life too much,” “I’m not smart enough or attractive enough,” or “I’ve messed up my life too much for even God to do anything about it.”
  • In the darkest darkness of our secret places, we can fall to the temptation to snuggle up with ideologies that separate and divide us and close the doors of healthy relationships.

But the good news is that the light of Christ can shine on us and in us and through us. Once we are introduced to this light, we see ourselves and our world in a whole different way, and we experience forgiveness, acceptance, and a new future.

That’s why I love introductions! Isn’t it the job of the church to introduce people who live in some kind of darkness to the light of Jesus Christ? Let’s not fool ourselves. All around us there are people who are living in darkness.

  • Maybe it’s your neighbors who have just moved in from out of state. They miss their family and wonder how they are going to raise the kids without family close by.
  • Maybe it’s your coworker who is living with some guilt or unresolved conflict that is weighing her or him down.
  • Maybe it’s a family member or close friend who has lost all sense of meaning or purpose.
  • Maybe it’s those nearly invisible folks who live homeless on the street or who may be struggling with addiction or battling uphill just to survive.

Many people live in some kind of darkness, and you may be the bridge over which they walk to encounter the light of Christ for the very first time! But it is unlikely you can become that bridge unless you first build relationships with those people.

Those people who live in some kind of darkness may walk through the front door of your church on a Sunday morning:

  • We never know if that person who walks through the front door for the first time on a Sunday morning walked through the door of his or her home on Wednesday afternoon and found a note on the table that read, “I don’t love you anymore. I’m outta here.”
  • We never know if that person who walks through the front door for the first time on a Sunday morning went to the doctor on Thursday morning and heard a dreaded diagnosis: cancer.
  • We never know if that person who walks through the front door for the first time on a Sunday morning was up all night on Saturday trying to get his or her kid out of jail.
  • We just never know what kind of darkness surrounds a person who walks through our doors. And many people—perhaps most people today—who walk through the doors of our church are driven there by some personal pain or hurt or anguish or life-stage change. Don’t assume they are “just church shopping” and treat them casually (a very typical church behavior).

My book, “Clip In,” coauthored with Fiona Hayworth, uses a bicycle metaphor to teach hospitality. I invite you to risk a culture of hospitality by studying this book with your leadership teams. Here is the chapter outline.


“As Easy as Riding a Bike”


Making First Impressions Last

Section One: Gaining Balance and Momentum

1. The Power of Introductions
2. Beyond Introduction: Connection
3. Turning Moments into a Movement: Pastors and Staff
4. Hospitality Teams: Recruiting and Training
5. Hospitality in the Workplace
6. Hospitality in the Worship Service

Section Two: Accelerate . . . Moving Forward Faster!

7. Shifting Gears: Leveraging a Culture of Hospitality into Growth
8. Why “Recommendation” Gets More Traction than “Invitation”
9. Turning “Attenders” into “Recommenders”
10. Turning “Consumers” into “Producers”


Endurance: The Lasting Impression of Culture

This article is an excerpt from the 2014 Abingdon Press book Clip In: Risking Hospitality in Your Church.

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