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The Role of Biblical Hospitality in the Formation of

Missional Communities in the Exurbs of America

William Guice

Fuller Theological Seminary

School of Intercultural Studies

Doctor of Missiology

Edmond Gibbs, D.Min & Mark Hopkins, Ph.D.

Summer 2010
Table of Contents

Table of Contents.........................................................................................................2
Summary Sheet............................................................................................................3
American Exurbs.........................................................................................................8
Biblical Hospitality....................................................................................................20
Missional Communities.............................................................................................37
Modeling For Engagement........................................................................................44
Works Cited:..............................................................................................................50
Summary Sheet

Title: The role of biblical hospitality in the formation of missional communities in the American suburbs

Purpose: The purpose of this study is to explore how the practice of biblical hospitality can yield
transferable principals for the formation of missional communities in the American exurbs.

Goal: The goal of this study is to provide principles that can serve as a guide for leaders wanting to
establish missional communities in the American exurbs.

CRI: The central research issue of this study is the role of biblical hospitality and emerging Missional
Communities in exurban America.

A. Biblical Hospitality
B. Exurban America
C. Missional Communities

Research Questions:
1. What are key markers of biblical hospitality? (A)
a. How is hospitality presented in the Scriptures?
b. How has the practice been explored historically?
c. What are characteristics of places of hospitality?
d. Is there evidence of hospitality being used as an effective evangelism strategy?
2. What are the contextual characteristics of the American exurbs? (B)
a. What are the founding factors of exurban living?
b. What is the demographic makeup of the exurbs (economics, ethnicity, family
Size, religious background, etc.)
c. Where and when do people living in the exurbs connect with other people?
d. How has exurban living affected interpersonal relationships?
e. How has exurban living effected our view of “who is my neighbor?”
3. What are defining markers of missional communities? (C)
a. What makes a community missional?
b. How are missional communities different than small groups or house churches?
c. Are there values or principles that are common and transferable?
4. How can emerging missional communities model biblical hospitality to engage the
American exurbs?
a. What transferable principles have been found?
b. Are there pitfalls that can lead to success and failure of this method of reaching into the
c. Is there a process of implementation that allows for indigenous implementation and

Literature Review Categories:

1. Biblical Hospitality (RQ1)
2. American Exurbs (RQ2)
3. Missional Communities (RQ3)
I believe that the work that will be carried forth in this study will be significant for me as I am part of
leading The Church at Spring Hill and for numbers of other leaders who are looking for information on
exurban America, missional communities and practicing Biblical hospitality. The work will aid me as I lead
our network of missional communities in reaching the city of Spring Hill, Williamson and Maury counties
and the world. We have been successful in our community starts so far but as we expand better
information will be needed as hosts and leaders get are further removed from the original planting core and
their point of critical mass (the inertia of the moment being incredibly important in motivating people early
on). The information and principles that will be derived from this study will hopefully serve as a guide to
establishing more missional communities. The work will be rendered in a way that it will be an aid to other
church leaders who are looking to birth missional communities in similar exurban settings across America.

Following World War II a new medium of housing development was established

in the United States – the suburbs. These areas were created to relieve housing shortages

in the urban centers. With the advent of the automobile, many people could now live

outside the city center and drive in to the working areas.

The suburbs provided clean spacious areas and for many they were the picture of

the American dream, but this new mode of living did not come without cost. This way of
living has subtly and quietly changed the majority of Americans who live in them and the

church needs to know how and why people have changed if she hopes to function

missionaly in their midst.

Before World War II homes were built upward and placed close together to

promoted density. The housing areas had small streets and sidewalks. The houses

generally had front porches. Passing conversations with neighbors and commuters was

common as everyone was close together and the lack of technology that is prevalent

today, no television, as we know it or air conditioning, meant that people stayed outside.

They knew each other and spent time together.

Following World War II and into the late 20th century as developers targeted more

affluent crowds, the suburbs changed. As they grew and as the Interstate systems

expanded, the housing presence moved outward and changed again. Streets were now

wider to accommodate faster driving, homes and yards now sit behind privacy fences and

there are few spaces for communal gatherings. The gathering places are now stores and

restaurants but not in the former sense. Today these establishments have drive through

windows and take out. You just don’t have to be there. In America our ability to travel

and acquire more goods and service has grown but so to has our isolation. The home

instead of being the place where the family met and was productive in a social way has
now become a fortress where people hide from the world. We are more connected

technologically than ever; me have more of the world out our fingertips than ever but we

are sadly and utterly alone. During the evening hours, the time when families and

neighbors used to connect, most of suburban and exurban Americans can be found

darting around the city shuttling their kids to the next event or hiding behind their privacy


For much of the American population, for those who live in the suburbs and now

on the fringes in exurbs life is nothing but a box-to-box shuffle. These people wake up in

a wood and mortar box just to move to a metal box with wheels, which then transports

them to a metal and stone box where they will work. Chances are that this workbox is

divided into rows or sets smaller boxes of glass, medal or maybe carpet where work

happens, sectioned off from everyone else. It will take effort and some times risk for any

two box dwellers to interact.

Those box dwellers that are fortunate get to leave the big work box in their metal

wheeled box to have a meal in another metal mortar or wood box where they could quite

possibly be served there meal in a box. They will then enter the medal box with wheels

go back to the work box(s) for the afternoon only to re-enter the metal box with wheels

that will take them back to their own wood or mortar box where they will probably stare

at a box, shower in a box and then sleep on a box until they wake up and do the box

shuffle all over again.

This monotonous existence is reality to many Americans who thought they were

chasing a dream but have found themselves in a nightmare of isolation and monotony. So

as a church leader the question must be asked where is the church? What does the church

do to help these box people or is this lifestyle acceptable? Does the church without

knowing it just provide another more cool box for them to visit, complete with their own

prayer boxes, offering boxes, classroom boxes or even box seats. Sadly after much

observation and research it seems that the church in America is often clueless about what
to do to get people who were created by a God who is ultimately not boxed in or

monotonous to step out of their boxes – to see that God created them for more than the

box-to-box shuffle. The church often just adds another metal and mortar box giving the

dance a new verse to the same old song.

It is my intention to review the literature on three research topics, which I believe

will lead to principles that can help communities of people, be missional in the American

exurbs so that this chain of isolation and monotony can be broken. The topics of interest

are the American exurbs, biblical hospitality and missional communities. It is my

contention that to meet people in their monotony and to help them find their way out into

the existence that God created for them (Ephesians 2:10) then we need missional

communities that are operating in exuburban America and I believe that the best way for

these communities to be birthed and thrive is through the life style of hospitality.
American Exurbs

In the latter half of the American 20th century a new mode of living arose around

the cities of America. The bedroom community, also known as exurb, found its place at

the forefront of American living environments. These communities are known as

bedroom communities due to the fact that the people who live there generally only sleep

there. Auguste Comte Spectorsky established the more official label of exurb, for “extra-

urban”, in 1955 in his book The Exurbanites. Spectorsky used the term to describe the
communities that existed at the edges of a metropolitan area. These locales were beyond

the suburbs and were a place for people to live and be close enough to commute into

work (1955). These bedroom communities or exurbs go by any number of names and the

vast variation in these fringe cities has contributed to an inability to sufficiently label

them, though many names do exist1 (Brooks 2004) . Exurbs are growing in recognition.

In 2005 exurbs, exurbia, exurbanites were mentioned twice as many times in American

newspapers than they were in 2003 and 4 times as many times as they were in 1995

(Alan Berube 2006). Brooks later adds that these new communities have been able to

escape the gravitational pull of the city center to establish themselves as functioning

entities on the very edge of many American metropolitan areas (2004: 2).

Exurbs orbit at the edge of metropolitan areas but are different than the suburbs

that they often lie just outside of. These exurbs often have a green belt or open space in

David Brooks points out in On Paradise Drive that there are a number of names for these areas:
edgeless city, major diversified center, multicentered net, ruraburbia, boomburg, spread city, technoburb,
suburban growth corridor or sprinkler cities. In Megalopolis Unbound Robert Fishman adds the names
urban village, megalopolis, outtown, sprawl, slurb, nonplace, and urban field The fact that, in a culture that
is quick to label anything, researchers have not sufficiently labeled these fringe communities, may point to
a strategic point of emphasis for church leaders seeking to plant and grow missional communities. I live in
an exurb in Spring Hill, TN. By the same account Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, CA is
also in an exurb community. Demographic and geographic studies of each area will show vast differences
between the two though. They are not urban, suburban or rural. They need to be defined on a city-by-city
basis. There may be a danger here in considering all exurbs to be the same and there may be further work
that needs to be done in honing in on types of exurbs. This will be crucially important if church leaders are
not going to try a cookie-cutter approach to reaching their community but are intent on knowing, serving
and loving it.
between them and suburban areas that acts as a land moat (Barker 2009). Suburbs and

exurbs both contain housing units but there are differences between the two. As a rule,

suburbs are geographically located adjacent to work opportunities for its inhabitants. The

suburbs also take on more and more economic diversity as services are added to meet the

needs of its inhabitants. Exurbs on the other hand are for the most part residential areas.

They exist simply for the inhabitants to have living space. Very few services exist outside

of chain or “big-box” stores and restaurants.

Economies of suburban America reached unprecedented diversity by the 1980’s

and could easily be said to have lost their bedroom community status. The suburbs in

many places contain all the elements of a city including a large number of poor

households (Lang 2003). The suburbs now had the same elements as the urban centers.

These characteristics were often things that people were trying to avoid. So, they looked

elsewhere; they looked further out.

The racial make up of today’s exurbs is as well much different than the suburbs of

the late twentieth century. During that time those that lived in the outermost areas, the

suburbs, were predominately white. The outer ring housing or exurbs of the 21st century

are a mixture of races and cultures (Lyman 2005). Exurbanites are driven out to the

exurbs by many forces but the idea of “white flight” seems to have subsided in most

fringe areas of America.

Lyman points out as well that different from many suburban settings, homes in

exurban areas often face away from the street. Most of what happens in these homes is

guarded from public view and the houses are characteristically larger with less room in

between (2005). The families that he interviewed in the exurban city of Frisco, TX said

that they rarely see their neighbors. They have experienced the loss of neighborhood

friendships and have seen a decline in volunteering among friends in their children’s

activities. People are just not that involved or connected. This seems almost in

opposition to the early days of American suburbs with their front porches and evening
walks. Something has changed but what is it and why?

The last decade has seen a phenomenal number of Americans now living in

exurbs. In the year 2000 there were approximately 10.8 million people living in the

exurbs of metropolitan areas. These areas grew twice as fast as the metropolitan areas

themselves did and by 31 percent in the 1990’s. The majority of exurbs are located in the

south and Midwest with the south having 5 million people living in exurban areas. This

number represents 47 percent of the exurban population nation wide (Alan Berube 2006).

A Bloomburg Business Week article from August 2005 pointed that between 2000 and

2004, 17 of the 20 fastest growing counties in the USA were exurban in nature (Morrison

2005). A study from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University showed

that between 1990 and 2000 there was an increase in over 2 million people who were

driving more than an hour to work in the 49 largest metropolitan areas in the United State

(Studies 2005).

Many exurbs find their genesis due to push forces that drives people out from

their present place of living to the edges of the metropolitan space. Suburban centers

often begin to house manufacturing, transportation and information processing centers.

Businesses over time are often drawn to the suburbs because they are less crowded and

appear to be safer than the city centers or business parks they have inhabited (Eiesland

2000). People often move to get away from the business that have intruded into the

suburban areas or most often for the opportunity to obtain inexpensive housing (Alan

Berube 2006). As early as 1994 in Atlanta, GA, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution

reported that more housing dollars were spent in the exurbs than in the urban

neighborhoods (Greer 2004). This trend has done nothing but increase since this time.

Some others move for a similar reason in that they can get more “house”2 for the dollar

(Brooks 2004: 45). For numerous reasons, large numbers of people move outward. These
Here the idea is that they can get more accoutrements or more square footage by living farther
out. People often move out for things: more house, more amenities in the house, more land, better schools.
It’s as if we are convinced if we just had that “one thing” our families and we would be happy.
transitions often begin subtly, often without being noticed.

They begin as embryonic subdivisions3 of a few hundred homes at the far

edge of beyond, surrounded by scrub. Then, they grow – first gradually,
but soon with explosive force – attracting stores, creating jobs and
struggling to keep pace with the need for more schools, more roads, more
everything. And eventually, when no more land is available and home
prices have skyrocketed, the whole cycle starts again, another 15 minutes
down the turnpike. (Lyman 2005)4

These communities begin because people are looking for something better.

Berube later points out that those who fill the exurbs are often looking for more open

space, a small town feel, better schools or environment for their children (2006: 8). These

exurbanites often see themselves as working the ladder of success or even as “living the

American dream” but they are the ones who will quickly flee to somewhere better when

the grass appears greener. This is what led them to the exurb and will one day lead them

away. Their eyes are constantly somewhere else.

The exurban people aren’t going to stay and fight the war against the
inner-ring traffic, the rising mortgages, the influx of new sorts of rich and
poor. They’re not going to mount a political campaign or wage a culture
war. It’s not worth the trouble. They can bolt and start again in places
where everything is new and fresh. The highways are so clean and freshly
Notice that even in Lyman’s description of what is going on at the edges is the idea of
subdivision. Subdivision is math terminology; it is a term that helps provide the idea of order to our
exurban sea of houses. Lost is the idea that we are neighbors joined together. We are people who are in
proximity to each other. Even the vocabulary that we use to describe where we find our place has been
taken over by our desire to have order to our world. One of the challenges for the community or leader who
is willing to know, serve and love the exurbs is that there will not always be order. Things are not and will
not be neat and tidy. Don’t let the nice rows of houses and manicured lawns fool you. The messes behind
the facades are real and what is needed to missionaly embrace the exurbs is people who are willing to be
done with the math and to get to know their neighbor.
Lyman also hits on another important note for leaders as we consider planting in exurban areas.
Exurban areas like the suburbs before them are transitional place. House are built; people come; business
come to meet the needs of the people; instability grows in the area as traffic increases, schools are more
populated and crime increases due to population and economic factors and then people move farther away
again. This transitional nature of the exurban community must be considered so that we know what outside
pressures people are sensing in the communities current state. Our strategies and methodologies must be
formed in light of where the culture is – not where it was or will be. The missional leader must know his or
her context and the exurban context is transitional.
paved you can eat off of them. The elementary schools have spick-and-
span playgrounds, unscuffed walls, and all the latest features such as
observatories, computer labs and batting cages. (Brooks 2004: 47)5

Robert Bruegmann in Sprawl: a Concise History goes to what I believe is and

extreme characterization when he says that cities and their citizens who participate in this

process of sprawling outwards are self-indulgent and undisciplined (2005)6. There is

indeed something lost when people and towns are left behind but this characterization is

totally oblivious to God’s work in that place through those people who are still there. God

has not forsaken them7 and not all people that move outward are undisciplined and or

self-indulgent. Due to the current recession, the exurbs have grown as some families have

seen the need to down size.

Not all exurbs begin due to push forces. Many do not happen by happenstance but

are planned. One such example is the New River development in Florida. This

development built by KB Home was reported on in the New York Times in August of

2005 in an article by Rick Lyman (Lyman 2005). Lyman’s research shows that as
Brooks like Lyman earlier again hits on the idea that the exurbs can be a transitional place. This
time the community is not the entity in transition but it is the person. The exurbanite seems to be like the
majority of humans throughout history who flee from pressure. If things become insecure here, then they
wills simply move on. This builds into those that live in the exurbs a lack of ownership in “this” place. In
the conclusion of the section on exurbs I will argue that one of the weaknesses of living in the exurbs is our
lack of theology of place but it as well may be one of the greatest opportunities for the missional
community to help attract and grow disciples.
While I will not go so far as to claim that every citizen of an exurb who is by their housing
choice participating in sprawl is self-indulgent and undisciplined, I will say that the Christian who
participates may be unknowingly participating in behavior that is not Christ like and does not fit the model
of the early church. Part of the mandate of the people of God is to be a blessing to those around us. This
idea which goes back to the founding of God having a people in Genesis 12 and is expanded on in the
Pentateuch as God’s people are to honor and bless the foreigner, take care of the poor and outcast in their
midst, and make sure that there were no poor among them. These ideas see themselves played out for the
first time in the New Testament in Acts 2 and 4 and Paul encourages similar activity in his writing most
notably in his letter to the Christians in Galatia. If this is the case that we are to bless those around us and
work for the equality of all people around us, then the suburbs and the exurbs are built on a system that is
actually at its core working against the plan of God. People move out to escape the pressures of the city
and if the afore mentioned process is true than by leaving the poor and hurting for the safety of the exurbs
then we are leaving behind those who really need blessing for safety. We are daily waking up in place,
often surrounded by other believers who are participating in a system that is at odds with God’s plan for us
to bless those around us.
I am reminded here of the saying that there are no God forsaken people on people forsaken
builders know the clientele they are building for and every inch of ground and house is

planned out for residents who have average incomes but that want certain amenities that

make life more convenient and are equated with success. KB Home noted that in this

planned development, 60 percent of the residents had incomes between $40,000 and

$80,000, which places them in the middle class range of the Tampa area where New

River is located. The majority of the residents make the 20 minute commute to Tampa

and three quarters of them have children in the house. The space is planned for them and

is setup so they can have a perceived order and convenience.

Technology and the ability to work from home has even increased the fleeing

from the pressures as a number of exurbanites are now able to work from home or from

remote locations. This all leads to a community filled with people who are by their every

decisions fleeing from a perceived pressure or negative situation for a place that is better

but is it really? This tele-commuting work force as well contributes to another strand of

people who are not really present in the exurbs. They are physically present but mentally

they are attached to another place through their technology.

The exurb phenomenon is not a new or exclusively American phenomenon.

Bruegmann points out that it has been a feature of urban life since the earliest times. In

ancient China, the Roman Empire and colonial to 19th century England, major

metropolitan areas have always seen the affluent people seeking to move out away from

the pressures of urban areas. As transportation became more inexpensive and more

dependable this movement became more prevalent and acceptable (2005:18). America

has experienced has experienced waves of outward pushes since World War II according

to urban historian Joel Garreau (1991). People have always fled the pressures of the city

but they bring their issues to the outer areas – for this review, the exurbs

Who then lives in the exurbs of America? According to the Brookings Institute

study the exurbs are while not dominated by Caucasians like the suburbs were, they are

still mostly filled with non-Hispanic white families. Most households are made up of
married couple with children. The income levels are moderate to high with the

predominate work characteristic being that the vast majority of exurbanites commute to

work. Some commutes are upwards of an hour or “super commutes”. Some are

overcoming this trend by tele-commuting. Educational levels are higher than urban areas

and the political persuasion is largely republican. In some instances individuals even live

in the exurbs because of a political persuasion that they feel more comfortable with

(Teixeira 2008)8. These areas are not only often more conservative politically but

religiously as well (Alan Berube 2006).

Church plants are widespread in the exurbs as numbers of suburban churches see

opportunities for new works and satellite campuses in the exurbs9. Some main

thoroughfares in exurban areas seem to be what Nancy Eiesland refers to as “Church

Growth Parkways” (1999: 48). There is a danger here though. The church can be seen as

just another entrepreneurial entity trying to move in and take advantage of the new

growth. Moving into new communities is already hard enough for many families. The

struggle to build relationships takes time and with work, commutes and children’s

activities many exurbanites don’t see any more space on their iPhone for anyone else.

The church that enters into these environments must recognize the ecology of the area

and the religious restructuring that is taking place in the lives of the older towns people

and the new exurbanites. The church should then respond appropriately and not in a

cookie cutter fashion (Eiesland 1999: 48)

The life rhythms of the exurbs present challenges and opportunities for

Mr. Teixeira tells of a woman who told a New York Times reporter that she moved to a Dallas
exurb over an Austin exurb because, “Politically, I fell a lore more at home here.” This state coupled with
the affluence and heavily Republican leaning of exurbs leads to a concern about gentrification that could
create economic and social disarray in lives of long time or lower income town residence. The emerging
church communities in the area must be aware of not only the new families that are moving in, and
probably homogenous to the new church community, but they must as well consider the resident who has
been there for a longer period time.
For a people who are already struggling with no sense or a false sense of place, could satellite
campuses of larger churches be a detriment? This is an area that is worth exploring as the methodology for
“being the church” is again telling people that a large part of what is important, of what has value is
actually somewhere else.
relationships. Will Samson points to the fact that the average American works 2,050

hours per year (that is slightly ahead of a 14th century miner who worked about 1,980

hours per year) (2007). This high number of work hours leaves us depleted of time and

energy for much else. The work force of the exurb faces a daily commute to the place of

employment with a large number making “super-commutes” of upwards of an hour.

Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone says that these massive drive times add to the

fragmentation between work and home and that for every hour of drive time a person

loses 10 percent of their social capital for the day (2000: 214, 391). Upon returning from

work, many pull into their garages or into their gated parking areas or alleys never to be

seen by others in the neighborhood. They live from the moment they arrive at home until

they leave the next morning behind fences and out of sight to those who live around

them10. This fragmentation is detrimental to all involved as people come to see part of

their day as productive and the other part as non-productive. When exurbanites come

home they have a tendency to shutdown to be uninvolved with anyone in their orbit.

Their social capital for the day has been spent and it has been insulated by drive time,

which adds to the separation for communal connection11. This fragmentation can be

exacerbated when families are split up in the evenings by activities or due to technology

that pulls us to different spaces of our homes where we spend time alone (Putnam 2000:
It has lately been brought to my attention in and interesting observation that the majority of
homes in our exurb have decks on the rear of the house but not porches on the front. This is a major shift in
architecture from earlier American centuries where it was good to be on the front porch seen and
accessible. The family was part of a communicating network of neighbors. Now we sit on the back deck
hidden from all except those we allow in. What does this say about us? Are we a people who are no longer
open to interactions with others? Is our home our “place”? Is it a castle of protection for our families only?
And if this is true of us, is our place a place at all or is it a hell of hurt, hurry, anger and fear that we have
created. It is a place where we are, becoming less and less human as we interact with others in meaningful
relationships less and less.
Some fragmentation is good. As Randy Frazee argues their does need to be a separation from
productive time and rest or family time (Frazee 2004). The danger here is not in the fragmentation of where
or how is spent but I think the danger is in seeing our home time as unproductive. This time at home or in
the community is simply productive in another way. It is a place for us through different methodology to
nurture our families and relationships. So seeing that time as useless is dangerous. There is also a danger
on the opposite end of the spectrum when individuals approach their family time in the same way they do
their workspace – making family and communal time goal and accomplishment driven. The home
communal space is not another game or contract that must be won. It is a time to nurture and grow
relationships. It is a place to just be and it needs to be approached in that light.
213). Putnam adds that by 1999, 77 percent of sixth graders had a television in their room

that they watch regularly. Families are fragmented even when they are in shared space

(2000: 213).

These patterns of living also create challenges for organizations in exurban areas,

as inhabitants are tired from work and commutes and on average don’t volunteer to

participate in clubs, activities, churches or even youth leagues. These organizations all

saw massive drops in participation in the latter part of the 20th century as exurban areas

grew (Putnam 2000: 206)12. The reverse of this challenge is that the exurbs give those

who are present during the day the chance to be known and be involved. Exurban areas

generally empty out in the morning creating space for those who are stay at home parents,

non-working, tele-commuting or in between jobs the opportunity to be present in schools,

coffee shops, and local businesses. Normally a slower more family friendly pace of life

characterizes these areas so those who are in the exurb during the day have a greater

chance to be involved (Lyman 2005)

Connection with other people is a challenge. For those who commute, the

challenge is finding energy and time to be in common spaces with friends and family to

build relationships13. Lyman sadly points out though that for most exurbanites, life is

marked out by time spent in cars (2005)14.

For those who are not commuting a challenge still exists in that much of the
This is a point to be weighed when we consider what Putnam earlier points out that studies show
that American free time has not declined and has actually maybe doubled (2000: 187).
One of the ironies of the exurbs is that people pay large amounts of money for nice houses and
living areas (common spaces, club houses, planned activities, etc.) but they are too busy to have time to
enjoy them. We are in danger of losing our missional calling if the car becomes our main “place” we must
become more ground in spaces where God has planted us with eyes to see the opportunities there.
This time is not only frustrating from the time wasted but also is frustrating from the emotional
energy burned as many exurbs find themselves in a stage of awkwardness. As they grow often the
infrastructure is not prepared to handle the load of homeowners that move in. This leads to full road,
construction, full schools, long time waiting in lines at drive-through windows and at traffic lights. All of
these stop and starts lead to a hurry up and wait mentality which often adds to the frustration of people who
are commuting home. I can see why the house would be a safe place where all of the awkwardness goes
away. One example of this is in Frisco, TX, a town much like the one that I currently live in. Frisco due to
rapid growth is full of traffic cones, bulldozers, and traffic at a maddening crawl – all in an attempt to keep
up with the influx of residence (Lyman 2005). Lyman noted that in Frisco due to cheap housing people
endure these nuisances often to allow one parent to stay at home.
residential space in the exurbs is empty during the day. So to find connection,

relationships, one must commute to where people are. With everyone in the house always

commuting to get to places and people of value, there is a danger that our sense of “who

is my neighbor” get’s distorted.

Many mobile people in America are tied to numerous relationships. These

relationships are often tied to work or third places but in a commuter society where we

spend very little time in space that is owned or safe, we don’t have relationships that are

tied to our most sacred local (Bellah 1985). That place where God has given us to rest

and live with family and friends. The exurb is a place of beauty and order aesthetically

but I believe the call upon the Christian is to make it a place of beauty and order through

blessing. Kenneth Jackson once wrote,

[a] major casualty of America’s drive-in culture is the weakened “sense of

community” which prevails in most metropolitan areas. I refer to a
tendency for social life to become “privatized”, and to a reduced feeling of
concern and responsibility among families for their neighbors and among
suburbanites in general for residents of the inner city…The real shift,
however is the way in which our lives are now centered inside the house,
rather than on the neighborhood or the community. With increased used of
automobiles, the life of the sidewalk and the front yard has largely
disappeared, and the social intercourse that used to be the main
characteristic of urban life has vanished…There are few places as desolate
and lonely as a suburban street on a hot afternoon. (Jackson 1985)

This isolation and loneliness has only increased as people have moved further

away from work, more time is spent in cars and the fragmentation due to technology has


To move into that place where we see, know, serve, bless and love our neighbors

we must be intentional about being in the exurbs. Just as intentionally as we moved there,

for whatever reason it was, we must with the same passion serve that local to see the

kingdom invade it. The exurb is a hard entity to label. As the material presented has been
read and processed it is clear that the fringes of metropolitan areas where exurbs exist are

different from local to local. Paul Sutton says that “providing a non-controversial

definition of “exurbia” is a daunting if not impossible task.” (Sutton 206) These emerging

communities can be upscale or downscale and have everything from super size mansions

to trailer parks. The common factor is that they exist on the edge, where the urban fades

into the rural and where people have to commute into work (Lang 2006)15.

People in these areas long for community, but since there is no work close to

where they live, they must commute. This presents the conundrum for many and for the

church. People move out to the exurb; they move to the appearance of order and serenity

and community but when they get here they find that they have no time here. Sadly when

many people do have time here, they are so detached from here that they cannot interact

without fear.

The exurb is still for most of its inhabitants the place where most of their free time

is spent. And often for the wives and children who are left here during the day, this place

is the basic community, even if it takes driving to get to. So, how do we leverage time

and space to allow people to have the opportunity to enter into and stay involved with a

Christian community? I believe it begins with acknowledging that to live in the exurbs is

to live in a space that at its core is in opposition to the way were created to live. It is to

acknowledge the lie that here is better; it is to find a way to say that we will no longer

flee pressure but that we were created and charged to live without fear; we were created

to live with presence. We acknowledge that the grass isn’t really greener in the exurbs

and that the exurbs have a whole set of problems all of their own, but the exurbs cannot

be forsaken. There is a tension here that must be lived with16.

For the purposes of my study these are two very important defining factors. My exurb has a
greenbelt border, it wealthy mansion style houses but it also has trailer parks. In ten minutes you can be
thick into the suburbs or thick into the woods. We sit on the edge of city in a sea of house with very little
local business. This is my frame of reference and the defining markers gleaned out of this review that I will
use going forward are the element listed in this note: on the edge of a metropolitan area, where the urban
meets the rural and where people have to commute to work (with large numbers making super commutes).
Even in church attendance there is a tendency for exurbanites to attend more established
I agree with Will Samson when he argues that we must regain a theology of place

that wherever we are we are there for a reason and that God doesn’t waist resources

(Samson and Samson 2007) Our living in the exurbs is part of God’s economy and he has

good works for us to do here. Eiesland argued that earlier social theorist had been

incorrect when they stated that mass suburbanization had killed opportunity for extensive

community (2000). They argued that loss of the city core as center was coupled with

mobility provided no opportunity for people to have common ground to build deep

relationships. I agree with her that his is incorrect. The core, the spot of focus, the place

just has to be moved and the new local is the exurb. It is the place where the church has

an opportunity to turn strangers into friends and help back deck people become front

porch people. To do this there are a number of factors that must be addressed at some

point like pace of life issues, individualism, and protectionism, but the church has an

opportunity to shine in the exurbs if it can create new centers. New places that give

exurbanites pause to slow down and be a part and just see who is actually around them.

In the conclusion of this literature review, I will thread together the theology of

place with a commitment to hospitality that will in turn point towards principles for the

birthing and sustaining of missional communities in the exurbs of America.

suburban churches. This break down is in part due to our tendency to view churches in light of our love for
the events and programming and not as something that I am a part of. To win the exurbs more church
communities must find a way to have people committed to being missionaries in the exurbs. These people
must see themselves as not people who go to a church somewhere but are part of a church here.
Biblical Hospitality

In I Was a Stranger Arthur Sutherland writes that hospitality is “the practice by

which the church stands or falls.” (Sutherland 2006) Hospitality in our day has been

greatly been misconstrued to be a means to simply make other feel better about being

where they are. With the wide scale advent of hotel, restaurant, conference and event

industries a whole culture of business that revolves around making people comfortable

has evolved. All of these fall far short though of the biblical understanding of hospitality
and place that it has in the “chord of redemption” that runs throughout the scriptures and

history (Oden 2001)17. Hospitality runs beyond the offerings of food and drink or even

entertainment. For true hospitality to occur respect for the other must exist. The problem

with much of the modern concept of hospitality is that it depends on the end result – often

returning customers but the Biblical view is different. End results are not the goal –

entering into each others presence and dwelling there with them and the God who created

and loves them and us is the goal (Pohl 2005).

Sutherland would later expand on why hospitality is a must. He notes that as life

goes on we become more and more aware of our loneliness and our illusions of what the

world could be fade away. This is where God and the Christian community step in.

God’s goal for creation is a homecoming (2006: 83). God is giving and gracious. He

continually welcomes the stranger and as He does this relieving loneliness and clearing

up illusions we too are invited into the process. We do this; we enter in, because it has

been done for us. We also live out this role because we know that every human being is

created in the imago dei, the image of God. Just as we do, they carry in them a world of

possibility and hope that we have an opportunity to help bring out.

As we will see in the paragraphs that follow on the scriptural mandate for hospitality and how it
has been evidenced in history, hospitality has played a large part in the role of God’s work through out
history. Odin as the “chord of redemption” refers to this stream of work. It runs through out time like a
string or a chord that can be forever traced redeeming people along the way.
In the coming pages, I will show that in the literature reviewed hospitality is very

much what Sutherland explained it to be – a must for kingdom expansion. Jean Vanier of

L’Arche says that “Welcome is one of the signs that community is alive.” He also states,

A community which refuses to welcome whether through fear, weariness,

insecurity, a desire to cling to comfort, or just because it is fed up with
visitors is dying spiritually. (Pohl 2005)

A community must be welcoming and hospitable. Part of its DNA must be set on

bringing the stranger in so that they can go out as friends. We are God’s earthly hosts

welcoming all into his house. Beyond the biblical and theological mandate I will show

that hospitality has been a driving force behind church expansion in various eras of

history, that there are discernable characteristics of hospitable people and places and that

hospitality can and must be a key component of forming effective lifestyles for the

formation of missional communities if the exurbs are to be influenced for the Kingdom of


Hospitality is a theme that is found through out the scriptures occurring direct

situations 71 times throughout the biblical story (Alexander and Rosner 2000).

Hospitality literally means “love of strangers” and was a key component in the world of

the Jews through out the biblical story and in the cultures of the Mideast (Youngblood et

al. 1995). Much of the ancient world saw hospitality as common good that was

I specifically chose the word lifestyles here because hospitality must become a lifestyle not a
strategy; hospitality is way of life. The goal for leaders and missionaries is to live in a way that welcomes
the stranger and the friend daily. This will look different in different moments and the radical quality of the
endeavor will depend on our distance from the margins of society. Christine Pohl argues that in any
instance we have one of three choices. We can stay where we are and refuse to challenge identity in terms
of race, class, gender sexuality or assumed labels. We can we can approach the margin and work for
empowerment of those who are there or we can identify with those who are in power and continue to
neglect those who are “outside” (Russell and Shannon-Clarkson 2009). So as we go forward we understand
that in ever instance as we observe an opportunity with a stranger we can move toward them and work to
empower them, we can side with the prevailing powers against them or we can simply do nothing. I believe
that only one of these options works in the kingdom vision. This way of life as well must be given attention
and nurtured because the results are not always immediate and the work is hard (Pohl 2005).
demanded of everyone. It was a virtue and those who were virtuous displayed hospitality

by honoring guests and strangers.

Israelite hospitality extended beyond this ethic to a place of mandate as they saw

in their calling out at Sinai a God given directive protect and go above and beyond in

providing hospitality to all. They were to be the model and the launching pad for God’s

hospitable gift to the world (Ryken et al. 1998). Abraham their ancestor had been a

sojourner and depended on hospitality and famously gave it. Coming out of Egypt God

had provided for the people so they would graciously return the favor that had been

placed upon them. They would be challenged to remember and “to know the heart of an

alien, for you were once aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9 NRSV)

Israel’s hospitality went beyond the customary provision and protection of the

guest but lived out some basic well-designed ideas of what it meant to receive and send

out a guest. The idea was that strangers would be changed to guests (Youngblood et al.

1995)19. Guests were welcomed and provided for through the customary washing of feet

(Genesis 18:4, 19:2, 24:32) water, lodging and a meal was provided. This was not just a

normal meal but also a meal that was the best that the host could provide20.

The people of God also recognized that very early in their story the patriarch

Abraham in Genesis 18 had entertained angels and provided them with provision and

This process was a three step process of evaluating the stranger, receiving the stranger and
sending the stranger out, now as a friend (Malina 1996). We often see Jesus teaching when he enters an
area. This could possibly be a means of verification of his authenticity. It is part of the evaluation. Paul
goes through this as well (Acts 13:15) or presents letters (Romans 16:3, 1 Thess. 5:12-13). Jesus is once
actually asked to leave (Mark 5:17). The guests or strangers are most often received and cared for. Only in
instances when they are perceived as barbaric, beyond the ability to reason are they turned away. The
barbarian it stands to reason would not allow himself to receive hospitality so in a way this takes care of
itself. After being receive, the guest would after usually up to two days, be sent out with food and
provisions. I will argue in later passages that this is where missional leaders and communities can recast
their vision for what it means to be the church in lifestyle and in the community. I will also suggest a
fourth step of empowerment and connection.
A great symbol here is recognized when we consider the story of the prodigals in Luke 15. The
father orders his servants “And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;” (Luke 15:23
NRSV). The father is saying that the son has become a stranger but is welcomed back. He had reached a
place of being unknown but the process is begun to change his identity. What if missional communities
approached strangers in this way? What if we saw opportunity to throw a big party not to meet people or to
help people know me or to show off how cool we are but to change the identity of those that surround us?
honor. He was blessed with the promise of a son within a year because of this action and

the people often discussed that maybe sometimes we do entertain the divine. Some times

angels visit us and we don’t know it so we should be vigilant (Hebrews 13:2). These

divine appointments could be extraordinary and part of god’s redemptive story and the

Israelites believed that there were times when divine messages or blessings from God

came through strangers or angels (Richards 1997)21.

Guests also seem to have a role in this relationship. Different than the Greco-

Roman idea of hospitality, where I am blessed and bless in hopes of building a network

for status and advancement, biblical guests are different. The biblical guest in receiving

hospitality allows the host to use his or her gifts. The guest takes on a humble state

allowing others to serve him or her. Being a guest is one way that we are taught humility

and reminded that we need each other. The guest in the biblical world would receive the

evaluation, the welcome rituals, and the sending away as a friend. The guest would show

honor to the host by not overstaying their welcome – generally no more than two nights

stay. Their ultimate goal was to come into a new strange place and leave as a honored

righteous friend who did not disrupt the harmony of the home or community (Ryken et al.


Hospitality as a mandate transcended time, travels and exiles of the Israelites and

was with them solidly in the time of the New Testament. Jesus in his travels is dependent

on the hospitality of others and often uses it to set the stage for his teachings (Matthew

26:6, Mark 1:29, 7:24,12:9, 2:15, 14:3, Luke 10:34, 11:4, 14:12, John 12:1-2). One of the

more famous pictures is when Jesus receives hospitality from Mary and Martha in Luke

10:38-42 setting the stage for a moment of teaching (Ryken et al. 1998).

Jesus also setup hospitality as a rule for his followers and the missionaries that he

sent out. His followers were sent out on the assumption that they would receive
This idea of entertaining angels unaware leads to a needed awareness of divine moments around
us. We never know when our availability leads to a moment of God’s activity that includes us in a bigger
story where people are transformed and our gifts are used.
hospitality from host families in Matthew 10:9-14. Jesus then instructs them on how to

handle what they will be given. He made it a marker for who would enter into the

kingdom in Matthew 25:35 and villages that didn’t provide it are consigned to doom

(Matthew 10:14-15, Mark 6:11, Luke 9:5). Jesus is keen as well to take homes like that of

Zaccheus and transition them then leave them as places of hospitality (Luke 19:1-10)22.

The life of the house owner does not have to be rejected. There is much work to be done


The gospel of Luke seems particularly interested in hospitality. This gospel alone

gives us the story of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Rich Man and Lazarus,

Zaccheus and the Emmaus appearance of Jesus (Koenig 1992). In each of these stories it

can easily be said that the guest is sacred. For Luke, whose Gospel probably had the

largest gentile audience; the welcoming of outsiders seemed to be a key piece of Jesus


Hospitality did not come with out its hazards, as one pitfall that corrupted

hospitality was the tendency of groups to neglect hospitality towards other ethnic groups.

Jews and Samaritans are one example. Because of their disdain for each other they would

serve only their own group and would steer clear of the other group. The story in Luke

11:5-8 shows us that hospitality is readily and easily offered to those who are like us, but

it is harder when demanded by those that we label outside of our circles. Jesus’ teaching

even point to the fact that hospitality must not be shown to only those who can

reciprocate – this would be behaving as the pagans do. The parable of the banquet speaks

to this idea (Luke 14:15-24, Matthew 22:1-14) (Destro 2003).

Hospitality for the people of God presents a struggle that has always existed and

exists still to this day. The struggle is this: it is very easy to accept the position but the

vocation is difficult. By this statement I mean that it has always been the struggle of
It is worth noting here that the life-change in Zaccheus does not result in him picking up and
leaving to go with Jesus. He is left there in his “place” to tell the story of what has happened to him and his
family and to show hospitality as it has been shown to him.
God’s people to understand and live out our role as givers of love as quickly as we are

willing to accept the position that receiving his love has given us. It is much easier to

claim the position and set ones self up as judge of others than it is to take up the vocation

of servant and see others as better than me.

The early church assimilated the idea of hospitality and service rapidly and

continued with continuity the Jewish idea of hospitality that had been expanded upon by

Jesus. The missionary efforts of the early church depended on hospitality for itinerate

teachers and apostles (Alexander and Rosner 2000). Peter (Acts 10:6, 18, 23, 48) and

Paul (Acts 16:15; 18:7; 21:4, 8, 16; 28:7) depended upon the hospitality of the Christian

communities that they founded, discipled or travelled between. The New Testament has

a number of instructions to extend or give hospitality (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2; 1

Peter 4:9) and it is even considered a must for those who would be in leadership in the

early church (1 Tim 3:2; Tit 1:8). Widows as well were given a special instruction in 1

Timothy 5:10 if they wanted to be put on the church lists (Ryken et al. 1998).

The early church as well regularly practiced the Eucharist, the good gift, and

recognized it as a sign of God’s hospitality. Each time the Eucharist was taken, the

costliness of the divine gift was remembered (Alexander and Rosner 2000). They also

saw it as a foreshadowing of how hospitable God will be in the future when all the

believers join him in the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:7-9). This regular

gathering around God’s table served to inspire them towards the future and remind them

of the Jubilee that was part of their past and present. Jesus while present reminded them,

“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”

(Luke 14:13 NRSV) (Russell, Clarkson, and Ott 2009)The visions of John end with a

simple call that is a model for what the church is to be when he writes, “The Spirit and

the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is

thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” (Revelation 22:17

The tradition of hospitality carried its way into the early church years and

evidenced by continued discussion about its practice. In the Didache (Did 11f.) travelling

evangelists are said to have special privilege in receiving hospitality (Elliott 1986). The

travelling preacher is to be given food enough to reach the next night’s lodgings and that

if he asks for money he is a false prophet (Carson 1994). In Early Christian Hospitality

D.W. Riddle uses the word “charming when describing the hospitality of the early

church. In a reference to patristic sources he notes,

These examples of hospitality suggest that the custom may account for a
notable phenomenon of those days: the acceptance of the traveling
preacher's message by entire households.... that the primitive churches
were house-churches is a detail of this, and an aspect of early Christian
hospitality.... This brings the student directly to the social processes in
Christianity's expansion. One of them was early Christian hospitality. In it
one sees an ultimate medium of Christianity's growth. (Riddle 1938)

These early Christians saw themselves as resident aliens. Though they knew much

of the surrounding culture they realized that they were different. Referencing the Letter

to Diognetus, Husbands and Green in Ancient Faith for the Church’s Future paints the

picture that for the early Christians every place was and was not their home or it could be

said that every foreign land for them was their Fatherland yet every Fatherland was a

foreign land (Husbands and Greenman 2008). Jerome in more heart felt terms wrote that

believers should “let the poor men and strangers be acquainted with your modest table,

and with them Christ shall be your guest.” (Jerome)

Within just a few centuries John Chrysostom spoke highly and often about the

need for Christians to be hospitable. His limits on hospitality were said to have been

nearly boundless (Pohl 2006). Chrysostom often reminded the wealthy among the church

of God’s outlook on the self-indulgent. Using Luke 16:14-31 as the text the audience is
drawn in as the rich man in the story. Chrysostom would later give the famous image of

the almsgiver as a harbor for people who are in need. “A harbor receives all who have

encountered shipwreck, and frees them from danger…So you likewise, when you see on

earth the man who has encountered the shipwreck of poverty, do not judge him, do not

seek an account of his life, but free him from his misfortune.” (Husbands and Greenman


In The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark paints a picture of a hospitable

church appears that would no doubt be appealing to the pagan cultures that hosted them.

One of the cities he studies is Antioch, where the followers of Christ were first called

Christians. This city was a missional launching pad for much of what the church did and

became the home base of Christianity early in the Christian story but this city had it’s

issues. During the 600 years of Roman rule it was taken by unfriendly forces eleven

times; it was put to siege two other times but resisted and did not fall; it burned to the

ground on at least four occasions; it suffered from hundreds of small earthquakes and

eight that leveled the city to the ground; three severe plagues hit the city with at least 25

percent mortality rates and finally, it experienced 5 harsh famines. In all at least 41

natural or social disasters hit the city during that time. It was if they experienced 9/11

over and over again. Large numbers of people obviously died and large numbers came

and went but the Christians stayed and they formed a community that stood in the face of

the fear and misery that this city so often experienced. They cared for the sick that were

left to die. They cared for orphans and widows when Greco-Roman culture would allow

these people to be lost to slavery or death. They took care of the homeless and offered

family to those who had none. They responded quickly to needs and it was in this way

that they won the city. All of these acts of hospitality helped to create a family fabric

among Christians and aided in the creation of disciples who took the Christian story

outward into the world (Stark 1997).

Augustine as well chimed in on the conversation in his time arguing that

hospitable acts fit into a network of need. The giver and the recipient were in need before

God. While God does not need what the giver has he has taken up a position in the place

of the needy and the poor. God is there with them and as we serve them we serve our

king (Augustine)

Benedict of Nursia, St. Benedict, was also a proponent of hospitality. His writings

would form the churches most well accepted and understood principles of hospitality

which would literally last and function for the past 1500 years (O'Gorman). His Chapter

53, entitled The Reception of Guests, is the foundation of all western European religious

hospitality and would influence church and monasteries for centuries23. His way of life

focused on communal living, physical labor and the giving of alms and food to the poor.

Monasteries across the world would pick up on these practices and to this day

give these accommodations to those in their surroundings. In the medieval period the

monasteries took up comprehensive houses and even added guest housing for those who

were in transit or in need of respite (Lenoir 1852).

As the church expanded westward across Europe with the Roman Empire there

were often struggles in reaching out to groups of peoples who were seen as barbarians.

Some groups were just written off as unable to receive the gospel due to their barbaric

state. It is into a setting that was perceived to be unredeemable that St. Patrick used a

variation of hospitality to spread Christianity into Ireland. The people that filled this land

were adversarial to Roman occupation and rule and have been labeled barbaric by the

church; they were thus beyond hope (Winter et al. 2009).

The leading statement in Benedicts rules for receiving guests could be the one of the greatest of
challenges for modern believers. I think due at some levels to our modern media and political systems and
the proliferation of athletic competitions we are forced to pick sides. We often quickly choose who is with
us or against us, who is like us who is not, who we will interact with, stranger or guest, …who we will not
interact with, the barbarian in our midst. To receive and honor each guest, each person we interact with in
the way that Benedict entreats us to demands that we drop our labels and consider each person as Jesus.
This will also mean that to take this rule seriously we will have to slow down and pay attention as I believe
that we would if we knew Jesus were present. This is a challenge and one that exurbanites must face if we
are to truly be a church where we live and not just go to one maybe where we live or maybe somewhere
Patrick made an unprecedented move in that he took time to get to know the

people he now lived among, the barbarians. This was unheard of in church circles.

Because he took time to get to know them, to understand them, they believed that maybe

his “high god” would too. Previous Roman models of evangelism had been based on

presenting the gospel, asking for a decision then fellowship could happen. Patrick turned

this system upside down. He sought fellowship first. He shared conversations and meals

with people inviting them to fellowship first. He would then find joint projects that they

could work on together. He played on shared communal interests. He would then move to

belief and eventually to conversion. His method was incredibly successful and won of

whole groups of people who had been labeled barbarians – people who were without

sufficient knowledge or hope(Hunter 2000)24.

As the church and empires grew in European circles, which had the largest affect

on American society, hospitality began to fade. The practiced reverted to a Greco-

Roman model of virtue that was used for individuals to be present in courts and work

themselves up the status ladder. Hospitality was seen by the affluent as a means to

network and achieve their own goals. In much of Europe hospitality was equated to tea-

parties and cozy get-togethers (Pohl 2006). This slide to a misshapen form of hospitality

was not help by the reformers. Many of the reformers equated the ability to provide

hospitality with economic means and in their rebellion against the church and the

depravity and corruptions that came with it; they carried strong beliefs in simplicity and

thrift. Calvin while not promoting the hospitable places and homes as places of

hospitality did write on the fact that individuals are to show hospitality to strangers. He

It is worth noting that in life strangers and barbarians will assemble around a cause before they
will assemble around a belief. In assembling to serve around a cause we are reacting to certain base ideas
about what is write and wrong or maybe even just. We as Christians believe that God planted these in the
universe and that they are available to all men and women who will be aware. So this is an easy step for
people to make. It is not nearly as complex as asking them to enter into our communities through our
events or worship gatherings or Bible discussions where there are a whole myriad of interactions that they
know up front they have to navigate. We would be much better served to get to know the stranger and
barbarian in our midst and find common ground where we can work together so that as we go more
important discussions can happen.
honored those who showed hospitality to religious refugees. In his Institutes he wrote,

Therefore, whatever man you meet who needs your aid, you have no
reason to refuse to help him. Say, “He is a stranger”; but the Lord has
given him a mark that ought to be familiar to you, by virtue of the fact that
he forbids you to despise your own flesh (Isa. 58:7, Vg.). Say, “He is
contemptible and worthless”; but the Lord shows him to be one to whom
he has deigned to give the beauty of his image. Say that you owe nothing
for any service of his; but God, as it were, has put him in his own place in
order that you may recognize toward him the many and great benefits with
which God has bound you to himself. Say that he does not deserve even
your least effort for his sake; but the image of God, which recommends
him to you, is worthy of your giving yourself and all your possessions.
(Calvin 1960)

The continuation of a discontinuity of the purpose and effectiveness of

hospitality has continued into the 20th and 21st century as business has jumped into what

they pitch as the hospitality business. These current iterations of hospitality are yet no

different than what has been perceived as hospitality in western and American cultures

for many years. They all revolve around an end of pleasing the guest in order to move

them toward a result that favors an outcome that we desire. As presented in the

introduction Christian hospitality is different. Our goal is to be with our guest to create

space where God can work in their lives. Christian hospitality is not nearly as much about

creating an event as it is about creating space for God to work. Christine Pohl argues as

well that in America, hospitality has lost it’s moral dimension as well meaning that

Christians have lost part of their great tradition (Pohl 1999).

This divorce from the moral dimension may have harmed as well by the fact that

as monasteries grew in specialized compassionate acts and as the Enlightenment saw

growth in knowledge and technology, much of what was needed in the old world from

the church was handed off to hospitals, hospices and hostels (Pohl 1999:4). All of these

entities are good and function well but they helped remove immediate need from the local
community. As we have now reached the twenty first century much human need is

cleansed from the every day life of the average American. We are insulated from medical

hurt, emotional trauma and certainly death.

In more recent years hospitality has been moved back into the Christian
discussion as churches are trying to learn how to relate to people who are for the most
part relationally bankrupt. Church leaders hear over and over again that people are
looking “to connect” and a few modern churches have made attempts at ministries that
focus on Biblical hospitality as a means to connect them. One leader in this area has been
Randy Frazee who in the past decade led Pantego Bible Church and Willow Creek
Community Church in introduced hospitality as a means of evangelizing and connecting
people in urban and suburban areas. Frazee’s method was driven by asking people to
adopt a “new operating system” (Frazee 2007). Frazee saw that at the core what most
people were struggling with were pace of life issues that led to relational difficulties.
His churches used a model of beginning hospitality at the family level. Going
back to Hebrew models of keeping account of the day and of the table as the family altar,
Frazee sought to heal the family through shared meals together first. Families would seek
to live out this time together 4-5 nights a week and monthly would be a part of gatherings
of strangers, friends, guests and hopefully barbarians who in the perfect scenario lived
within a 10 minute walk at the most a 10 minute drive (Frazee 2004). His ultimate vision
was to see communities of believers getting to know those around them, working to serve
those around them and learning to love those around them. The model was very
successful in bringing in new people into the Christian community. Much like St.
Patrick’s model he found that people would connect and serve together more readily than
they will commit to a new belief system. His methods leveraged time spent over meals
and service that led to discussions and space for the Spirit to work hopefully drawing the
person to repentance.25
Hospitality itself is an action that is made up of people and place. Christine Pohl
This process is remarkably similar to St. Patrick’s model that was used all over Ireland.
writes that in the act we combine physical space, social relationships and particular
meanings and values (Pohl 2006). These spaces have boundaries that must be crossed as
people are connected and these interactions take surrender on both the part of the host
and the guest and both are transformed through the experience 26. For Christians,
hospitality is the act of God’s welcome. It is in these places where we help for a brief
moment the creator bring hope and healing to a place and a person or people. It is in these
places that Nouwen says “strangers can cast off their strangeness and become fellow
human beings (Nouwen 1996)27. Nouwen also adds that for us to fully understand
hospitality we must to be strangers. In reaching out he adds a story about a student who
learns this lesson. Nouwen writes,

I left Nice one day with little money and stuck out my thumb. For five
days I went wherever the wind blew me. I ran out of money and had to
depend on the kindness of others. I learned what it is to be humble,
thankful for a meal, a ride, and totally at the mercy of chance. (Nouwen
1996: 52)

It’s in this place of understanding, empathizing with the stranger that we find
connection. Like St. Patrick’s getting to know the people around him that we find
connection. The place or the space that we do this just simply becomes a free space for
God to move, whether it is a place that we own or not. Places where people practice

The initial steps through a boundary seem to be the hardest. This again is why it seems obvious
to me that these interactions should happen among people who have the opportunity to see each other
regularly in a geographic setting like an exurb. Proximity and frequency of encounter will help make
boundary tension subside so how do we create regularly scheduled space that is close where people can
interact and lose tension of crossing boundaries to meet each other? It is also worth noting that as strangers
cross the boundary and become part of the inner group, the group will inevitably change. So it is imperative
that the non-negotiable of the group be clearly stated on the front end and that ground is not surrendered so
that those who are new to the community do not cause vision or mission drift.
There is so much depth to this comment from Nouwen. As labels are dropped as the strangeness
comes off, then people are not what we thought they were. As long as they are strangers or barbarians, they
are “those people” they are “them”. They are referred to in the 3rd person they are not known – to us they
are not fully human. As the strangeness drops from the stranger in or as they become known to us, he or she
becomes more and more human in our eyes. The missional community in the exurbs must not be a labeling
people but be set up helping others cast off strangeness. The strangeness may be wrapped up in distance so
we may have to be keen on going to them to lessen that distance or strangeness.
hospitality regularly appear to guests and strangers as sanctuaries. They are welcoming
and lived in. They are settings where people flourish. They may not always be the most
beautiful or most well maintained but they and the people who live and enter them are
cared for. Sharing a meal is often central to acts of hospitality but it is not the meal that
makes the moment; it is not the event that makes the change in people; it is the full
attention of those involved, especially the host. Hospitality provides a window into the
Christian world it shows the world what Christians and Christian community look like in
their relationships (Pohl 2005). People who embrace hospitality are ready. Oden writes,

Early Christian voices tell us again and again that whether we are guest or
host we must be ready, ready to welcome, ready to enter another’s world,
ready to be vulnerable. This readiness is expectant. It may be akin to
moral nerve. It exudes trust; no so much that one will succeed in some
measurable way, but that participation in hospitality and its consequences.
At the same time, the readiness that opens into hospitality also leads to
repentance. (Oden 2001)

The readiness can and often will be painful as the guest and the host must
reconsider initial conceptions about the other. Oden calls this a “de-centering of
perspective” (Oden 2001: 15). And as Oden points out, hospitality is sacrament. It is
celebrating the “reconciliation and relationship available to us because of his sacrifice
and through his hospitality.” (Pohl 1999)
Amy Odin writes in And You Welcomed Me that Christian hospitality is a form of
metanoia or repentance. It forces us to rethink who we are and who we think that others
are. It then as we see others and ourselves as image bearers of God and reorient our
thoughts and actions a form of worship (Oden 2001). We should approach each person
with five traditional thoughts about hospitality as presented by Christine Pohl in her 2006
Article Responding to Strangers: Insights from the Christian Tradition:

1) The affirmation of the value of every person and recognition of the

human capacity for sin

2) Emphasis on offering welcome to the most vulnerable and those

without strategic value

3) There is a need to address limits

4) There needs to be recognition of the complex interaction between

welcoming strangers and maintaining identity and community boundaries

5) There is to be a willingness to see and to respond at multiple levels

Pohl uses these five concepts to discuss the initial interactions with refugees,

asylum seekers and immigrants but in today’s American exurbs they may be just as

needed as we journey toward our own metanoia by being hospitable Christian

communities. There are numerous needs and cruelties in the exurbs and it is my

contention that along with Jean Vanier that it is suppers together that can turn spiritually

needy people in to friends. Phillip Hallie wrote that “the opposite of cruelty is not simply

freedom from the cruel relationship, it is hospitality.” (Hallie 1981)

Peter Maurin wrote over 70 years ago that what we need are Houses of

Hospitality to show the world what idealism looks like when it is practiced (Maurin

1936). I also agree with Christine Pohl when she writes,

Hospitality I not optional for Christians, nor is it limited to those who are
specifically gifted for it. It is, instead, a necessary practice in the
community of faith. (Pohl 1999: 430-443)28

We serve a God that could easily be defined as hospitable. The scriptures paint the picture of a
God who is completely into bringing people into the house – home. So why must we be hospitable?
Because our God is hospitable and he first evaluated us, welcomed us and sent us out as friends. As God
did these things for us, it is our place to go and do them for others. It is life’s highest end and our chief
calling. I believe that there is no option here and resistance to this idea is missing the point. Many will
resist on the grounds that they aren’t people built for hospitality but this is to misunderstand the argument.
Being hospitable is not a matter of resources, comfort or cleanliness it is a matter of the heart. People with
open hearts have open tables and homes. They are vulnerable and available and as I will argue in the
conclusion this is what the exurbs need.
This necessary practice must be reclaimed if we are to plant and grow thriving
missional communities in the exurbs of America. In the New Testament conversations
about hospitality two different labels are used in the naming of those who are to be
extended hospitality. The words are xenoi, the word for strangers and barbaroi, the word
for strangers who knew nothing at all – barbarians. I would argue that both groups still
exist in our culture today. They may not exist economically or from a position of force
but they do exist socially as we are quick to label those around us. It is my hope that
hospitality can be used to create stories that end well not only for the believers in our
midst but for the stranger and the barbarian. It is my hope that the Christian community
will open its heart and invite these people to the table for hospitality is not an issue of
space; it is an issue of the heart. People with open hearts have open homes and lives.

The practices of St. Patrick and the Rule of St. Benedict have much to teach us
about receiving others and Christ into the moment so that all are known. Randy Frazee
has taught us to move hospitality back to the household creating spaces of hope and
peace in the residential areas of America. We can as well learn from Wesley and his love
feasts. The feasts were made up of simple foods but they were regularly scheduled. The
space was provided but the food and the people created the environment where lives were
changed – places where the Spirit was invited in.
For the church to reclaim hospitality we will have to be intentional and it will take
work. Randy Frazee often says that the food is enough and I believe that he is right. If
we are focused on how things look or how we entertain, then we have missed the point
but if we invest our resources in the food, if we invest ourselves in the invitation and
preparation of the space so that it is not an event but open and freeing locale, then we too
can hopefully say like Wesley, “Come, and see how these Christians love each other!”
and like the church in Acts 2 we will have the favor of all the people.
Missional Communities

More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet
people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water,
and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to
have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as
simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something
significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon
my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and
workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to
have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel
that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and
more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and
drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them
know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them,
but truly love them (Nouwen 1994).

Nouwen’s quote while beautiful haunts me. It is the life I want; the life I seek in

the exurbs but somehow it seems elusive. I live in the American exurbs - an area that

appears to promise everything, even the beauty of a Nouwenesque utopian street walk but

that often yields dysfunction and loneliness. Many of the inhabitants of the American

exurbs find their lives over run by individualism, consumerism, and materialism (Halter

and Smay 2008) which leads to lives disconnected from God and other humans.29 Human

beings tend to flee from pressure (Brewin 2007) and in the case of American expansion

of the latter 20th century, people have fled the pressure of the cities to have their dreams

in the exurbs. In the exurbs, where people live, there is a need for people to see who God

really is and the kind of life that God created each of us to live. It is into this setting that

The implications of Smay and Haulter’s works along with Putnam’s work are discussed in the
section on the American suburbs. For the purposes of understanding the need for missional communities it
is enough to say here that these characteristics are detrimental to community and create a need for real
biblical community in the suburbs. The biblical and missional community should stand as a contrast
community to shallow or pseudo-communities of those who are in the clutches of the dangerous tendencies
that Haulter and Smay point out.
I believe missional communities must emerge.

Missional communities are a new concept on the global and American religious

landscape. Because of their youth, there is not a wealth of information available that

defines or explains what missional communities are. “Missional” has become a buzz

word with “church” “community” or “communities” often tagged onto it but to date there

is still a lack of solid definition on what it means to be a missional community. I often

find these terms interchanged and used in the writings of many missional leaders but the

presence of a definition is elusive. I intend for my literature review to step into that void.

So what does it mean to be a missional community? Missional communities are

not home groups or small groups, though the home group movement did pave they way

for missional communities as they opened peoples minds to the idea of opening their

homes (Boren 2007). Missional communities are not house churches, as they don’t take

on all the roles of a local congregation. Depending on the setting many missional

communities will practice service, worship, taking the Eucharist, studying and gathering

for fellowship together but more often than not one or more of these elements are

missing. Missional communities are not mission organizations that exist to perform

specific functions even they do often take on a role of service.

Missional communities are for sure missional. They are groups of connected

people that see themselves as sent – on mission. Alan Hirsch in an 2008 Leadership

Journal article says that this means that being on mission is the originating impulse and

the organizing principle of the group (Hirsch 2008). This group of people sees

themselves with a God given task wherever they are.

Synthesizing the literature reviewed with my own personal experience I believe a

missional community to be a group of people who are committed to a way of life that

leads to knowing, serving and loving each other, God and their shared locale. These

communities often gather for these purpose and are identified by how they behave toward

each other (Gibbs 2009) – not by how, when or where they worship. In our setting the

community is strongly bound to a Philippians 2 type of commitment to each member and

the surrounding context in that they each consider other people more important than

themselves. Humility and sacrificial love are markers.

A regularly scheduled meeting or event doesn’t define missional communities.

People who are part of missional communities don’t see themselves as going to a church

community; they are the community wherever they are. These communities are

differentiated from other types of groups, communities or gatherings because of the

posture that they take as a way of life. They may gather, they may worship, they may

serve, they may study, they may pray but all of these things are just part of who they are

as they go into their context. No one of these elements defines them.

The Apache Indians of the American West practiced way of life that yielded an

open system of community leadership that was decentralized. This made them hard to

conquer as every person in the tribe understood the way of life and carried with them the

ability to make decisions and act out of a communal ethic that at its core had the

communities best interest at heart. When conquering forces came against them they were

hard to defeat because there was no hierarchical structure or leadership. There was no

one group to kill or take out to disrupt communication or decision-making; there was no

head to “cut off.” The way of life they were committed to made their way of life continue

on (Brafman and Beckstrom 2007). Church communities often struggle with over
centralization. Leadership is often centered upon the few in a certain location. Everything

of importance happens there and comes down from those people in that place. The

missional community like the apache nation understands its shared values and lives by

them as they are sent out daily into the world. God from the beginning seems to be

sending us out but it is the tendency of humankind to settle in a place or for lesser things

(Cole 2005). Missional communities must stand against this centralized urge so that

people live with shared values and empowerment as they go out as kingdom people

Missional communities, I believe, must be committed to a decentralized pattern of

leadership and engagement. The way of life is of utmost importance. Communities are

created and led by the spirit of God (Van Gelder 2007) and are not just a gathering or an

event. The members see themselves as the actual body of Christ not the machine of Christ

(Frost 2006) – a people living to model who God is as pictured in the life of Jesus

(Stetzer 2009)30 where God wishes to waste no effort or energy (Cole 2005).

The community is then a group of individuals who are committed to a way of life

that places them on daily mission individually and together out in the world – not just

when they gather. M. Scott Boren points out in The Relational Way that this requires for

many a different way of thinking – a different way of seeing what it means to be the

church (Boren 2007). Randy Frazee in a talk at Willow Creek Community Church in

2007 defined this change of vision as changing operating systems. He stated that we are

not asking people to add a new program to their computers. We are asking people to

switch from a PC to a Mac. Both are computers but how they operate is completely

different. Missional communities see the world differently and live on a different

Stetzer argues that God is missional and that this is revealed over and over in the scriptures but
find fulfillment in the incarnation of Jesus who came to earth and walked among us. As God came to us we
are called to go to others.
operating system (Frazee 2007).

In the same way, missional communities ask people to change. Strangers or

guests who enter are asked to become part of a community that doesn’t just gather for

events but that sees themselves daily operating in a new way. These communities are

daily led by the Spirit of God to consider others more important than themselves and to

look for ways to get to know, look to serve and grow to love those around them. But they

don’t do this alone and the story is not about them. The story is about a God who goes

with them into the world and community that is their to support, encourage and resource

them along the way. The community must be a place of hospitality, a place where people


Missional communities keep before them the missio dei, the mission of God. The

missio dei is as Darrell Guder points out “the result of God’s initiative, rooted in God’s

purposes to restore and heal creation.” He later adds that for us to have a better

understanding of the missio dei we must recapture the truth that God is missional and

initiating; we are the instruments that he uses – not the other way around (Guder 1998).

Maybe a more simple way of putting it is, “Find out what God is doing and join in.”

(Blackaby 1990) I have stated that God is missional. I believe that God is at work31, that

we are gifted to bring about good works, which God created us to do32, so the question is

are our eyes open and are our hearts ready to join him. The answer of those who claim to

be missional or of those communities claiming to be missional communities must be a


Part of the missional communities journey is a journey toward empowerment. It’s

John 5:17
Ephesians 2v10
growth is not dependent on its programming but upon how well it empowers it’s

members (Brewin 2007). As stated earlier, systemic problems in the American exurban

lifestyle fight against this empowerment, as people seem to no longer have the time to

take up roles for which they are gifted. Kester Brewin later states, “Our problem today:

our space for imagination to expand and take shape is inversely proportional to the speed

at which we live”(2007:57). We struggle to slow down long enough to let God create

growth in us or to see opportunities to love others well because our lives are driven by

our desires for worldly things. Missional communities because of their pattern of

considering others first must rise up against this pattern.

To stand against these patterns the missional community then meets the problems

head on, where they originate – for our purposes in the exurbs. Missional communities

join God in what he is doing in their contexts. This means that just as we don’t drive

away to “do church” missional communities don’t drive away to do all of their missional

activity. God is working here; the trick is to be open enough to find out what He is doing

in the exurbs and join in. Alan Roxburgh points out that contextualizing is “weaving

together.” (Roxburgh, Boren, and Priddy 2009) It is the community recognizing it’s

gifting and using it to meet needs, heal hurts, answer questions and be the good news

where they live. Members of the community are individually temples, places where

people see and meet God, and we collectively are a temple (Cole 2005). The missional

community is committed to be a temple that shows off the beauty and grandeur of our

God and invites other people to enter in.

Missional communities are committed to having the interests of others first. They

see themselves as the body of Christ; they empower people to daily mission. They look to
join God in what he is doing where they live and finally they exist to know God and be

known by Him and others. Matt Smay and Hugh Haulter lay out a rhythm of missional

living that calls communities to live out of mission, communion and community (Halter

and Smay 2008). The rhythm or way of live invites all members to be on mission to seek

communion with God and live out biblical community. This means that missional

community members live in such a way that there is space to commune with God their

creator. They recognize that they are “sent ones” and are looking for opportunities to

bring the kingdom to Earth33 and finally have time and space for community where

friends, food and life are shared. But it is not enough for the community to simply know

each other. The community exists for its host - the surrounding community. St. Patrick

recognized this as he sought to evangelize the Celts and worked to know those in his

midst, work with them to meet immediate contextual needs, discuss spiritual matters

along the way as they arise, and eventually invite the stranger or in his case the barbarian

into faith in Christ (Hunter 2000).

George Hunter points out that to convert people to a real faith in Jesus the people

of the land had to know who Jesus was. Since there was a language barrier the best way

to do this was through the lives of the Christian community (Hunter and Ebooks

Corporation. 2002). St. Patrick and his community moved into the Celtic space and got

to know the people. They shared stories (often through plays), they shared meals and

they shared their lives with the inhabitants. St. Patrick knew that there was no shortcut to

knowing people so his community committed for the long haul (2002:20).

In Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Matthew 6, he encouraged his followers to pray that God’s
kingdom (or area of effective will) would come and that His will would be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
Jesus was teaching them to set their heart on bringing heaven to earth. In heaven God’s will is perfectly
done and Jesus wanted them to seek this for planet earth. Pray and look for opportunities to do God’s will
here and now so that his kingdom is established and advanced.
Previous Roman models of evangelism had been based on a model of

presentation, decision and then fellowship. St. Patrick upended this system and sought

fellowship first, followed by ministry and conversation that gave way to belief and an

invitation to commitment (Hunter 2002:53).

Much like St. Patrick, we find ourselves in the midst of a world that doesn’t

understand us. We speak the same language but we really don’t or maybe it’s that we

shouldn’t. We share common spaces but we don’t really share the space. Our lives look

similar but we are a million miles apart. We make speeches or presentations but the

surrounding culture is either not listening or doesn’t’ understand us.

Missional communities established and led by the Spirit of God stand up to meet

this challenge. Right where they are, where they live they are a community of people

who are committed to knowing, serving and loving each other and their shared locale. It

is through this love that they are known and our God is seen, known and followed. Love,

compassion and mercy are a common language that everyone speaks and the beauty of

what Jesus and the early church left us in pictures of the kingdom fleshed out is that it

works anywhere any time. Our American exurbs desperately need this mindset. The

question is, “Will we find where God is already at work and join in or will we just go to


Modeling For Engagement

After reviewing the precedent literature in the areas of American exurbs, biblical

hospitality and missional communities, I believe that there are transferable principles that

can aid in the formation of missional communities in exurban America. There as well
pitfalls and dangers that need to be examined also as leaders move toward

implementation of these gleaned concepts.

In a reality defining act, the missional community must help people regain a

theology of place. Exurbanites are constantly looking to where they must drive to work,

to the next place they need to be, or to the next house they want or the place that they

want to live. With what has been learned about the residents of the exurban areas it is safe

to say that the vast majority are distracted and feel no real ownership in their

communities. They see their time there as transitional so there is no need to be invested

or at the end of the day they are just too tired.

The missional community then serves as a centering force for the exurbanite.

They should become hubs of activity on the street or in the cul-de-sac. They are

productive centers where exurbanites can look out of their window and see that

something fruitful something good is happening here. This will help combat the prevalent

notion that anything of value is always somewhere else.

Like Zacheus who was left to be a light where he was, missional communities

must claim their space as redeemed people at street level. Jesus says that his father is

always at work (John 5:17) and the missional community embraces this idea and looks

for opportunities to join in.

Methodology here becomes important, as we are welcoming people out of the

edges and into the presence and work of the King. The people of God have for years

carried the three-step idea as a marker for what the process of hospitality looks like. The

process involves evaluating the stranger, welcoming him or her as a guest and sending

him or her out as a friend. I argue that this three-step process needs a fourth step as

missional communities seek to impact the exurbs of America.

Evaluation is an essential; the community and its members must be honest about

how they see individuals or families around them. The evaluation of the person(s) that we

are pursuing with hospitality helps define who the person(s) really are and helps make
them more human. It helps the community member to shelf pre-conceived notions about

the person and from this day forward to treat them out of respect based upon who they

really are. In the exurban context this may take multiple conversations, shared encounters

or meals.

The next step of welcoming the stranger into our space leads to opportunities to

know the person at a deeper level. It is hear that the guest is transitioned from stranger to

friend as they are becoming more fully human to us. Here expectations levels are raised

as the guest/friend and the host glean what they can expect from each other. Trust is built

as tasks are shared or stories are exchanged.

It is at this point that I begin to argue for a difference in the pattern. The next step

is to send them out as a friend with the caveat they comeback to become family. Our goal

as Christians is to create family and in a world where friend can mean anything from a

best friend, to a dating relationship, to an acquaintance at Starbucks, or to a networked

person on Facebook we need to delineate that our goal is that the stranger eventually

becomes a family member.

Family members are resourced differently, loved differently. They are sought out

differently. They are tracked differently and contacted differently. They are held to

accountability differently, at a higher level as more is expected from them. In all of these

instances the standard is higher and our goal is to see each and every street become one

big family of God. The missional community can facilitate this at street level if it has

solid vision as to why it is there and what the ultimate goal is.

Families in the south, where I have lived all of my life, have family reunions. We

get together and share meals and stories. We reflect on the time since we last gathered.

My family does this yearly but the missional community with members that live within

eyesight will do this more frequently both formally and informally do to proximity. The

family must and will reunite when new family members are being added regularly and

when there are stories to tell, needs to be met or hurts to be expressed. Simply put the
missional community wants the stranger and the barbarian,

*To be seen for who they really are and given the opportunity to become
fully human.

*To be welcomed as guests and for the guest and the host to be more fully

*To leave not as a stranger but as a friend recognizing the new bond that
exists between them.

*To comeback and continue the relationship as family where the guest, the
host and the larger community live, love, hope, dream, hurt, serve and
worship together

This larger four-step map serves as a great guiding framework for the ultimate

goal of the community but it does not speak to specific methodology. It is at this juncture

that I believe that the methods of St. Patrick can have huge impact in how the missional

community lives in the exurbs.

As part of evaluating the strangers and barbarians in their midst, the missional

community looks for opportunities to get to know them better. A great way to extend this

“get to know you” phase beyond the surface or beyond what can be gleaned over coffee

or even a meal is to follow the model of St. Patrick and find a place of service around a

common cause. In either instance, meeting to get know each other or serving together, the

idea is that there is a safe place for the process of freedom can happen.

As the guest is invited into the life of the individual or the community, more time

is spent together. The stranger or barbarian gets to see how a Christian or a Christian

community lives, works, thinks and worships. It is in this time that questions can be

asked and matters of faith can be brought forward.

And finally as the newfound friends makes the decision, after what may be a long

period of time, to follow Christ they are now family and should be treated as such. Here, I

believe, needs to be an, for lack of a better term, initiation moment or process. This could
be simply a communal celebration of baptism or maybe even a catechism process. One

way or another the new family member and the community need to know that there is

someone new at the table who has undergone a fundamental change in their identity.

They are not what they were. At one point they were foreign to the community but now

they are the closest of kin; they are a brother or sister who have a seat at the table. They

come bringing their stories and their gifts, talents and resources to be offered up to the

community and to Chris for the advancement of the Kingdom there!

Much of this process could and should be built around the sharing of meals. The

table should be a safe place – an equalizer. The guest should get the full attention of the

host which may possibly be even more important that the food. With new guests this

should happen regularly as it provides for space to get to know each other.

There are two major pitfalls that have become apparent in considering going

forward in this light. One is that the missional community takes into the exurb the idea

that they are offering hospitality as the world offers it. Hospitality is not an event or a

medium by which people are made comfortable to move them to a desired end.

Hospitality for the community must be bound in creating space for God to work in the

life of the guest; the community does not create the change. God does.

When thinking about worldly versions of hospitality, the missional community

must be sure that it as well does not come off as just another entrepreneurial entity that is

set on winning clients in the exurbs. The goal is not to get people to be a part of the club

or come to the event or serve for their goals. The goal is to open our lives up to others in

the sincere desire that they may become more fully human in our eyes and that they may

know our God more fully.

The second pitfall is that as missional communities transition to a stance where

hospitality is a way of life, its members must realize what the vision is. They must

understand what it means to be hospitable. If they don’t, some will never open up their

lives because there notions of hospitality will be stuck in outdated ideas or misconstrued
notions of what it means to be hospitable. They may be leery of opening up to others

because they believe they are expected to provide an event. They must know that the food

is enough and that the goal is to just help people end up in the family.

Finally, the act of hospitality must be framed for what it is. It is not just a service

or a characteristic. It is worship. For centuries our worship gatherings have been framed

by a liturgy an order to what we are doing but the word liturgy actually means “the works

of the people.” Liturgy is the community bringing its gifts to honor the King. When we

go out and serve and open up our hearts, lives and homes we are serving. When we do

this as a community we are bringing our gifts together. Maybe we could say we are

bringing our works together. We are creating worship. Recognizing that every person is

sacred maybe this is what James meant when he said, “Pure and genuine religion in the

sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and

refusing to let the world corrupt you.” (James 1:27 NLT) The true pure religious activity

is to work together with the people.

I believe this is the call of the community. This is what moves them from just

being a community to being a missional community. It is a commitment to serve their

neighbors by embracing a lifestyle of hospitality. By taking a stance with a community

that is open, vulnerable and available, each individual then as part of the missional whole,

gets to participate in bringing the Kingdom to the exurbs and to truly worship our God.
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