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Why Hospitality and Entertaining are Not the Same Thing

  • Liz Kanoy
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  • 2016 Apr 11
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Have you ever thought about the difference between hospitality and entertaining? Does one excite you more than the other, or do they both make you cringe? Entertaining can be stressful; it feels like everything has to be perfect before your guests arrive—and the perfection must continue throughout the visit with the food, décor, conversation, and games. Hospitality is not about perfection or appearances... In fact, hospitality says I’m not perfect and neither is my home, but please come over anyway and fellowship. Hospitality has an open door / open life policy; whereas, entertaining says wait until I have everything perfect then come over. Entertaining is exhausting, and when hospitality is confused with entertaining it can lead to an avoidance of hospitality all together.

Jen Wilkin, Bible teacher and author, has written a piece for The Gospel Coalition titled Why Hospitality Beats Entertaining. She once tweeted, “Moms: keeping an orderly house frees you to exercise hospitality at will. Both the order and the hospitality are examples to your children.” She states,

Several years later, I still cringe remembering that tweet, mainly because I’ve failed to live up to it repeatedly ever since. I presume my house was spotless on November 6, 2010, but it has rarely been so since.

…But more importantly, I regret that tweet because I have come to recognize that the standard it proposed is flawed. It revealed my own lack of understanding about the nature and purpose of hospitality. In my self-righteous desire to offer advice, I had confused hospitality with its evil twin, entertaining.”

Wilkin describes entertaining as a Pinterest ready landscape with a goal to impress. Entertaining puts the focus on self instead of others. Hospitality may not look Pinterest ready, but it has a comfortable environment ready for anyone. Hospitality values face time over perfection; it is others focused. However, Wilkin shares that the two practices can appear similar at times but with different motives. The difference she says is,

Only the second would invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind to pull up a chair and sip from the stemware (Luke 14:12–14). Our motives are revealed not just in how we set our tables, but in who we invite to join us at the feast. Entertaining invites those whom it will enjoy. Hospitality takes all comers.”

Wilkin has since revised her earlier tweet to say, “Moms: exercise hospitality freely, clean house or not, to any and all. Willingness and generosity are the hallmarks of a hospitable home.”

Hospitality, “is a means by which we imitate our infinitely hospitable God,” writes Wilkin. I can’t help but think of Mary and Martha when I think of hospitality and entertaining. Both women had good intentions, but one focused more on preparation and provisions, while the other focused more on conversation and fellowship. This doesn’t mean that service and preparation are not important, but it means that we should be careful not to let them overtake fellowship. Luke 10:38-39 tells us,

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving.”

Most guests would be less inclined to spend time looking at a place setting and would rather spend time simply talking with you and sharing about life. It’s challenging because sometimes preparation and service are done out of love and a willingness to care for others; however, there are still things that can be missed when the focus is on service rather than fellowship. When we focus more on our service to our guests than our time spent with them … we miss out. Hospitality creates an open environment where it’s OK to share struggles, doubts, or ask questions. Hospitality says it’s OK to be messy because life is messy. Contributor Tony Merida explains,

Following Jesus includes following His practice of hospitality—joyous, authentic, generous, countercultural, and hope-filled hospitality. When Jesus says, “Come follow me,” He isn’t calling us to offer a class or start a program, but to follow His way of life. And that way includes opening up our homes and lives to others. But before we’ll do this, we must open our hearts.

If we aren’t showing hospitality, we must ask “Why not?” At the end of the day, it’s a heart issue. The goal is to open our hearts to people, not merely pass the potatoes.”

If entertaining has always seemed like a daunting task, there is hope! Hospitality is something we can do regardless of how our home appears or how intact our life seems. Inviting people into our mess shows them that we're not perfect; it opens up doors for conversation and fellowship. Just as Jesus invites us to fellowship in the midst of our mess, we should invite others to the table—messiness and all. 

Related article:
Why Hospitality is Important to the Kingdom of God

Related video: What does radical generosity look like? - Eugene Cho from crosswalkquestions on GodTube.

Liz Kanoy is an editor for

Publication date: April 11, 2016