The one question you need to answer before becoming a church leader – Andrew Price

Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realising it!

Hebrews 13:2 NLT

So, you want to lead. Do you like having people round?

The early churches needed people who would keep a caring and compassionate eye on them.  Paul responds to this need and in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:8, he gives practical guidance about who to appoint.  In both cases, being hospitable is a prerequisite. 

The lists in Titus and Timothy are worthy of serious reflection.  Most of the qualities Paul is looking for – such as self control, gentleness and marital faithfulness – describe character and everyday behaviour. The ability to teach is also among Paul’s non-negotiables, but it’s obvious that he is concerned about who they are, as well as what they can do. He wants leaders who welcome people into their homes and treat them well. 

“He wants leaders who welcome people into their homes and treat them well.” 

The content of Paul’s lists makes it clear that Timothy and Titus must have known the people they are choosing quite well.  The qualities Paul is asking them to look for couldn’t be covered by interview questions or psychometric tests (just imagine… Q1. Are you: a) harsh. b) gentle c) habitually violent. Q2: Do you hold on to the deep truths of the faith? a) always. b) sometimes. c) never).  You’d have to live around people for some time to know, using New Testament criteria, if they were suitable to serve the church as leaders. 

In the Kingdom of God, leadership is fundamentally different to the way it is practiced elsewhere.   The importance Paul places on hospitality reflects Jesus’ insistence that leaders should serve people, not boss them around.  Consequently, the way we develop and appoint leaders must also be different.  Commercial organisations tend to look for ambitious, driven people who will deliver growth and profits.  People are often seen as a cost to be minimised, so that profits can be maximised.  In Paul’s lists, the focus is on people and the growth he values is in holiness.  Business schools can teach many things, but gentleness, hospitality and raising children are unlikely to appear on the curriculum of any MBA.   

“In the Kingdom of God, leadership is fundamentally different to the way it is practiced elsewhere.”

You could argue that Paul’s lists reflect a particular context, where young, small churches, full of new converts and meeting in homes, required a different type of leader to, for instance, a large, well established modern church, with buildings and paid staff.  But while much has changed – Timothy, for instance, did not have to engage with social media – I believe the focus of leadership and the qualities it requires are the same.   

For the record, I believe strongly in developing leaders. I’m currently helping a church design and run a leadership school which has already had a good effect.  I’d be the last to say that churches should not intentionally develop people towards leadership.  But surely the aims, teaching methods, content, and context should be more like the New Testament and less like a business school? Again, for the record, I believe that leaders need to know and be able to communicate the orthodox fundamentals of our faith, particularly when so many of them are being challenged or just ignored.  But again, shouldn’t the focus of developing leaders be on the sort of people they are as well as what they know?

Back to hospitality.  Its importance to Paul underlines his understanding that leadership is not just, or even dare I say primarily, about church meetings.  He saw leaders setting an example and demonstrating how Christians should live.  Remember that Jesus didn’t just announce the gospel, he became fully human and lived among us.  Literally, he fleshed out his message.  His apostolic development programme lasted three years (full time), had just twelve participants (with one spectacular drop out) and included personal and practical challenges.  He and the twelve walked, lived, and ate together.  Jesus was certainly hospitable.  Not in the conventional sense, as he didn’t have a house to invite people into, but he welcomed people and frequently shared a table with them.  He was criticised for feasting with all the wrong people and accused of drunkenness and gluttony.  Even following his resurrection, he played chef at an impromptu beach barbeque.  He was such a good gatherer that the only way he could be alone to pray was by going into the wilderness or up a mountain.  Where did he get this welcoming tendency?  It runs in the family.

“His [Jesus] apostolic development programme lasted three years (full time), had just twelve participants (with one spectacular drop out) and included personal and practical challenges.” 

Our God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Three persons, one God.  He is in himself community, each person loving and honouring the others.  From the beginning, God is sharing himself.  He creates humanity in his own image, and walks with Adam and Eve.  After they fall into sin, his rescue plan is always aimed towards the goal of living right in the middle of his people.  God is not stand-offish or distant, he loves to welcome us into his presence and the atoning sacrifice of Jesus means that we can all do this.  Putting this another way, God is hospitable. 

Hospitality goes even further than people we already know.  In Matthew 25, Jesus turns to the righteous on the day of judgment and tells them that they fed him when he was hungry, gave him a drink when he was thirsty and when he was a stranger they invited him in.  When they ask when they had done this, he replies “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”.  The righteous, it seems, are hospitable.

So, far from being optional or less relevant today, it appears that being hospitable and welcoming is part of being like God.  All of us are called to be like Jesus, and that means being hospitable.  No wonder Paul thought you couldn’t be a leader without it. I know at least one person who has difficulty seeing themselves as a leader, partly because they spend so much time being welcoming, inviting people into their home and raising good kids and now grandchildren. They fit Paul’s list very well, leading through the way they live.  It strikes me as sad that somehow in the intervening centuries, things that Paul saw as central to leadership seem to some to be distractions.   

In this era of division and suspicion, coupled with increasing isolation and loneliness, it’s surely time to honour hospitality.