Book Review: Extraordinary Hospitality (for ordinary people) by Carolyn Lacey (GBC 2021)

Extraordinary Hospitality

One of the most simple and striking examples of Christian hospitality in my life occurred when I lived in Scotland during my Masters. Far from friends, family, and my now wife, my church was a great blessing. One guy, a single man in his late 20s, would frequently invite me and/or a few others for lunch on a Sunday. He wasn’t a stunning cook, and he was one of the most introverted characters I have ever met. But he would habitually invite a few of us round each week. Every time I went, I was struck by his desire to bless us with a simple (and tasty!) meal, and provide a chance for church family to chat and get to know one another better. He was by no means an extraordinary host, and he often left the conversation to others, but it truly was extraordinary hospitality. This man was faithful to invite a few folk round each week, practically loving his Church family and facilitating the deepening of relationships.

My wife and I got married last summer, and though we often talked about our desire to host people in our home when we were engaged, the reality has been far from that! For most of the last year, it has been completely illegal to have others in our house. Whilst our new church family probably don’t realise the blessing in disguise of not having my own cooking inflicted upon them, it’s been such a shame not to host how we would have liked. Hopefully this will change soon!

In normal times (whatever that means), and indeed in strange ways during the present restrictions, hospitality is a huge part of our human existence. It plays an enormous role in our church family relationships, and in how we relate to those who do not yet know Christ. Carolyn Lacey’s new book is an excellent encouragement to think about our own efforts at offering hospitality after God’s own heart. Wonderfully warm and gentle in tone, and filled with examples of everyday Christians practising extraordinary hospitality, this short book is packed with helpful teaching on this wonderful theme.

A Call to Practise Extraordinary Hospitality

Lacey encourages the reader to be generous-hearted and creative with our hospitality, and provides plenty of little suggestions as to how to go about that. But our offering shouldn’t be self-exalting, and the book’s real value lies in challenging the reader to use our homes and hospitality for Christ. (24) “Our goal is not to show off our homes or our cooking skills (or lack of them!) but our Saviour.” The aim of our hospitality is to encourage brothers and sisters in Christ, and introduce Him to those who do not yet know Him. Lacey thus uses her chapters to encourage the reader into practices such as an embrace of Biblical compassion and to shun pride and foster humility. The book calls the reader to practise an extraordinary hospitality after God’s own heart.

Lacey sums up this aim better than I would, so I’ll let her book speak for itself. (73) “Remember the purpose of hospitality. You are looking to offer far more than food or friendship. The goal is always to showcase God’s generous, big-hearted welcome and to offer his invitation to eternal life. As those who have received grace, we want to share it with others.”

Addressed to Ordinary Hosts

This short book wants to tackle a big topic: practising hospitality in light of our new identity as sons and daughters of God. Such a grand aim could lead to a hefty theological exploration, or a weighty imposition. Lacey’s book is neither of these. The seven short chapters are immensely readable, and the author’s tone is warm and pastoral throughout.

Lacey knows she writes to ordinary, sinful Christians. She herself writes as an ordinary, sinful Christian, not as a prestigious super-host. Nonetheless, the author offers practical and Bible-based wisdom, encouraging the reader to give these things a try, even if our efforts seem weak or feeble. Throughout the book, Lacey weaves in examples from all manner of Christian believers. Whether the story of a young couple from her own church, or a church family in Lebanon seeking to welcome Syrian refugees, these short examples illustrate how gospel-centred hospitality is a wonderful tool for every believer, regardless of their circumstances or skillset. These stories show how ordinary hosts can truly offer extraordinary hospitality, and encouraged this particular reader that extraordinary hospitality is something I can really offer (even if my cooking skills leave a lot to be desired!)

Conclusion

My own culinary repertoire consists of a reasonably good flapjack and an average lasagne. I’m no Gordon Ramsey, and my house is no royal palace. But this short book offered a real encouragement to seek new ways to practise hospitality. Lacey knows there is no one-size-fits-all recipe for hospitality, but throughout the book the reader is offered helpful (and sometimes reassuring) tips. I was glad to be reminded the house doesn’t have to look like a real estate show home just to have someone round for a coffee, and each meal on offer doesn’t have to be gourmet.

But all of the practical tips came from a book based around God’s word. Lacey explores how God changes the heart of the believer more and more into His own image. Our hospitality follows that, and becomes a wonderful way by which we can bless others, and deepen relationships. I can’t wait for the day when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted and we can have a house full of guests, but this short read was a great challenge to experiment both now and in more ‘normal times’ with just how I can be offering extraordinary hospitality.

Extraordinary Hospitality is available from The Good Book Company.

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