In Jesus we see this most powerful picture of inclusion. This man of immense integrity, character and holiness is always inviting those to the table we would never expect. The prostitutes, the thieves, the loan sharks and the violent extremists. At Christ’s table there’s room for Trump, room for refugees, room for beneficiaries and room for billionaires. There is room for you and room for me.
This is the reckless hospitality of Christ that whips up some more wine for a room full of wedding guests who were likely already inebriated. It’s the outrageousness that kneels down and washes the dusty feet of his disciples. It’s the controversy of a saviour who looks over the crowd immediately in front of him to call the short swindler down from a sycamore tree to eat with him.
In my experience of leading Blueprint, a church community of Millennials in the liberal heartland of Wellington City, I can tell you that my generation loves this radically welcoming Christ. He sits well alongside our near-religious fervour for tolerance at all costs. Our Jesus is shaped by a culture which says daily, ‘how dare you judge me!’ Yet we also follow a Christ who said in Matthew 16 that people weren’t really his disciples unless they left behind their families and began to carry their own instruments of death too. To sit at a table with Jesus was one thing, but to truly follow him meant abandoning family, reputation, career and security. Christ is consistently welcoming, but there is something quite exclusive about the way of Jesus too.
BELONGING AND COMMITMENT
When we talk about what it is to belong we must remember that our sense of belonging will always be equal to our commitment to one another. We belong truly with those who are tethered to us and whom we have tethered ourselves to. So while inclusive hospitality is deeply important, this alone will not build belonging or a dedicated community of disciples. Faith communities that provide constant encouragement and inclusion without a call to look beyond themselves will inevitably create consumers instead of disciples.
Alongside Blueprint’s usual Sunday services we run several community homes of hospitality filled with young adults. My wife Anna and I live in one of these houses on upper Cuba Street with five other young change-makers. Every Tuesday we hold a meal for anyone in Central Wellington who wants to join us. This is an experience of inclusive hospitality where anyone and everyone is welcome, from university students to those in the grip of addictions, from young professionals to those sleeping on the streets. Our guests describe this as a place of love, care, warmth and manaakitanga. There’s something special and profoundly Kingdom-of-God that happens around that enormous table each Tuesday night.
Yet what our guests don’t know is that the power of that hospitality comes from the fact that the seven hosts belong deeply together.
We’ve made unbreakable commitments such as daily prayer, proactive conflict resolution, mission to our neighbourhood and honesty with one another. Everyone is committed to being in our house for at least a year, and some of us are entering our third. When you know you’re still going to be living with someone in a few years it starts to seem silly to avoid the hard conversations.
KNOWN BY OUR LOVE
Jesus said that the world would know we belonged with him “by the love we have for one another” (John 13:35). Love doesn’t just grow in church services or life groups. It grows when we’re committed to one another, when we resolve to belong together even when we’re not sure we necessarily like each other anymore. The power of our dinner table is formed the other six days of the week in a community of people who have done the hard work to love one another sacrificially.
Sadly, if the commitments of our faith communities to one another aren’t deep then our inclusive hospitality is normally severely lacking too. We’re drawn in by the hospitality of God, but we’re formed by commitment to the community of faith we now belong in. As Christians we’re called to become a ‘set apart’ people (1 Peter 2:9), an exclusive people with exclusive commitments to one another and ways of living that stand as stark alternatives to the mindless consumption of the world around us. We are exclusively Christ’s, in order that we may be formed into a radically inclusive people whose dinner tables are always bulging, whose spare rooms are always full and who live out costly empathy, compassion, care and hospitality for all people.
And here’s the really interesting thing. As we’ve begun to pursue this deeper and ‘more exclusive’ way together over the past few years, we’ve seen more people come to know Christ for the first time than ever before. Maybe it is as Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Scottie and his wife head up Blueprint Church in Wellington. He’s an ordained Deacon in the Anglican Church, a Social Entrepreneur, and has previously worked with a nationwide creative arts trust.
In what ways does Scottie’s example of the Blueprint house encourage and challenge you?
What would holding together high commitment and high belonging look like in your context?
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