Book Review – Practicing Hospitality: The Joy of Serving Others

October 20, 2009

Practicing Hospitality: The Joy of Serving Others. By Patricia A. Ennis and Lisa Tatlock. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008

What is biblical hospitality? According to Pat Ennis and Lisa Tatlock, biblical hospitality is simply a demonstration of love (p. 50). The motivation for this love comes from a heart that responds to God’s work in our lives. When we demonstrate love for others, we demonstrate our love for God in a tangible way (p. 50).

While all Christians would probably agree that hospitality is important, even commanded (Romans 12:13), most would also acknowledge this is a neglected area in Christian practice today. If we are honest, many of us would have to admit to rarely, if ever, practicing biblical hospitality in a formal, intentional way. This is the issue addressed in Practicing Hospitality: The Joy of Serving Others.

Perhaps it is not for lack of good intentions that hospitality is neglected in today’s world. For many of us, life simply gets in the way and we forget to make time for others. We find our lives are busy and pressed already—who has time to invite that new family at church over for lunch? We find ourselves pressed financially. We rationalize that we really don’t have the money to present a nice dinner to someone else. We find we have so little “alone time” as it is, we guard our evenings and weekends with a jealous fervency. For some, the particular season of life presents unique challenges. What if you have several young children and babies at home as it is? The house is barely livable for you and your family, let alone presentable for company. What if you just aren’t Martha Stewart and you don’t feel that creative or even adept in the kitchen?

These concerns and many others are answered in this book. The authors assure readers right away that perfection in being the perfect hostess or quantities of money spent on expensive foods are not necessary for biblical hospitality. An important distinction is drawn between entertaining and offering hospitality. When we entertain, we are more concerned about presentation—the perfectly clean home, the dinner cooked to perfection, and the serene atmosphere at every moment. While events like this may be fun and appropriate at times, they really miss the mark when it comes to biblical hospitality. Hospitality is concerned with showing simple love to people and ministering to their needs. It involves humbling yourself and offering the best of what you have however simple it may be. It means being willing to be vulnerable before others and not worrying if someone sees you or your family in a less than perfect condition. Hospitality focuses on others where as entertainment focuses on the impression others are getting of me and my abilities. For this reason, the first chapter of the book addresses the character qualities all Christians should be striving for as they live everyday life and practice hospitality.

Chapter two challenges believers to follow the biblical command to reach out to strangers. This was common in the New Testament times, but is much neglected today as people find it much more comfortable to associate with those they already know.

Chapter three addresses the very important topic of showing hospitality to your family. Readers are challenged to remember that family always comes first in God’s economy. If we neglect our family, we have no business opening our homes to others. Also, balance is needed, especially in families with young children. This chapter includes some helpful ideas regarding family traditions and special times of year, as well as everyday ways women can minister to their families.

Chapters four and five offer many practical suggestions for ordering your home and life to make hospitality easier to accomplish. Home management is crucial if we are to have homes that are ready for visitors. There are many practical suggestions here for preparing foods with minimal preparation time, decorating economically, keeping the house basically clean on a daily basis, and even how to brew the perfect cup of tea!

Chapters six and seven talk about offering hospitality to people from other cultures as well as those with special needs such as hospital patients, those who are sick, and those who are grieving. Sometimes hospitality happens outside of the home and we take demonstrations of Christian love to people where they are. These chapters will be especially helpful to those who find themselves in situations where they want to reach out to people who have different needs, but are nonetheless important in God’s eyes and in need of a special touch from God’s people. There is also an emphasis on using hospitality as a platform for ministry and evangelism. Especially helpful are ways to incorporate children into learning to serve others and share the Gospel through hospitality.

Study questions and suggestions for creating a personalized hospitality notebook are provided at the end of each chapter for those who want to make personal application out of their reading. Recipes are also provided at the end of each chapter. These recipes are practical and often geared to be economical and easily expanded to accommodate even large groups easily.

Perhaps the most practical and helpful part of the book is the suggestions sprinkled throughout gleaned from a survey the authors took while writing the book. The women surveyed represent all walks of life from single working women to stay-at-home moms, to pastor’s wives, to those married for many years. Reading these hands-on suggestions from real women who have had many different experiences in practicing hospitality is very helpful and motivational in giving us all a push toward serving others on a more regular basis.

Throughout the whole book, the authors’ clear intention is to motivate and enable believes to follow the biblical directive to practice hospitality to all people. The book is neither pushy nor difficult to understand. Instead, it seeks to encourage all believers to take up once again this very important aspect of Christian ministry and to reap the many blessings that come with practicing biblical hospitality.

Tracy Mickle is a homemaker living with her husband Allen. She has a Bachelor of Sacred Music and a Bachelor of Science in Bible from Baptist Bible College, Clarks Summit, PA. She is also a certified Suzuki piano teacher. She and Allen are currently relocating to Tunkhannock, PA where Allen will begin serving as Senior Pastor of Tunkhannock Baptist Church in the near future.