Steve Taylor explores hospitality as mission.
'Welcome Home' is a song by New Zealand singer/songwriter, Dave Dobbyn. The chorus is gorgeous: 'Welcome home from the bottom of our hearts/from the bottom of our hearts… So welcome home, see I made a space for you now.' It is a song sung in response to a racist incident, in which a far right group suggested Chinese migrants were no longer welcome in New Zealand.
Which got me thinking about the church and hospitality. First, it's one thing to say 'Welcome'. Words are easy. It is quite another to move, to actually 'make a space'. This expression of hospitality is physical. The welcomer must move, must let themselves be disturbed in this act of space-making.
So all this talk about the church being hospitable, all this talk about the church being mission-shaped, must be more than words. It asks that we shift, we make changes, we let ourselves be disturbed as we explore the mixed economy and fresh expressions of church.
Second, there is a much deeper mission-shaped question around the phrase: 'Welcome home'.
Theologically, did Jesus ever say, 'Welcome home'?
Is it not the opposite, that in the act of incarnation, Jesus left 'home'? What about the fact that much ministry was done not in Jesus' home? Rather, Jesus constantly experienced hearing the words 'welcome home' – at Matthew's house, in Zacchaeus' place, at Mary and Martha's.
It is like Jesus is the song hearer, the migrant, not the singer.
Which makes me increasingly disturbed by a hospitality which places the church as the singer of 'welcome home'. This was the dominant ministry posture of Christendom, an era in which the church was the host and we expected the world to come to us.
Now in a post-Christendom world I hear people rifting off the Prodigal Son, the church becomes the father, waiting for the culture, which has stomped off. So if we are patient, like the Waiting Father, in time we will get to welcome the returning. 'Welcome home.'
And all the time I keep hearing the incarnation. And wondering what it means for the church to see itself as homeless rather than home-owner? To forget practising welcome and instead go looking for welcome? To make ourselves reliant on people to make space for us?
Which is certainly the heart of Luke 10.1-12, in which the disciples are sent, speaking peace, to be reliant on the welcome and hospitality of another.