Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Hospitality as Essential to Innovation

Written by: on April 11, 2021

I had walked by, in, and through nearly every building on campus, but finally one day I noticed a carved pineapple built into the architecture of one of the buildings. After inquiries, I finally found out its meaning. “That’s the international symbol for hospitality,” one student told me with a smile. Hospitality… now there’s a true mark of leadership.

While the categories of hero and servant are helpful metaphors, leadership guru Simon Walker suggests we move beyond these oft-traversed categories to that of host. “Leading other people is actually about the space between the leader and her follower. It’s about the relationships she creates and manages. [A leader is considered then] not in terms of her fundamental assets but of the space she creates around her.” (Walker, The Undefended Leader, 307). Host implies a party, a dinner, or the presence of a guest. It’s impossible to think of a host without a relational connection.

Hospitality might just be the single most overlooked qualification for elders we see in 1 Timothy and Titus. What might spaces, organizations, and churches look like that prioritize the leaders’ ability to welcome others into their midst? As the pandemic lifts in the coming months (Lord willing!), might churches and organizations consider the prioritization of hospitality. This need is heightened as my family moves to a new state and attempts to find a church family. Hospitality is extremely challenging to assess virtually.

True hospitality allows others to be free. I’m avoiding the language of “safety” because I don’t think that language captures that hospitality moves beyond not offending others. Safety language has been erroneously and popularly conflated with not offending others. Freedom implies that individuals and groups are free to be, think, consider, act, and feel without the consequence of rejection. Walker teases out the finer points of hospitality describing several ingredients that include creating places where people can be themselves and relax, facilitate encounters between people, and giving the occasion meaning and a sense of significance. These ingredients are essential for experiencing “laughter and the exchange of ideas and possibilities so that people leave enriched” (307).

Leaders hoping to inspire change must embody the role of host. Alternate future realities move from abstract to concrete when someone convenes people and ideas that develop in and through people. A collective groaning, lamenting, and hoping ruminate in a group where the environment has been created by the generous host. It is these encounters that fan the flame towards seeing redemptive change.

Of course, our model is Jesus the Hospital One. As he challenged others to leave old wineskins and consider the upside-down Kingdom, he fostered connections and welcomed them. He fostered an exchange of connections, ideas, and relationships. Only those who frequent spaces where they can be and act freely can consider lifting their eyes to the adjacent possible.

I’ll keep it to myself, but I think that if Jesus was from a more tropical climate, then metaphors of pineapples would frequently find themselves in his teaching.


Simon P. Walker, The Undefended Leader (Carlise, UK: Piquant, 2010).

About the Author

Shawn Cramer

6 responses to “Hospitality as Essential to Innovation”

  1. Greg Reich says:

    I love the connection between hospitality and relationship. It is an often over looked aspect of hospitality. I wonder it all leaders took on the attitude of being a host if their followers would feel more like family instead of hirelings? A gracious host can soften the hardest hearts and disarm even the most stand offish people all through making them feel like family

  2. Dylan Branson says:

    When people ask me the two lessons that my family instilled in me, hospitality and generosity are the two I always land on. Even as a social introvert, I love opening my space for others to enjoy. Our old flat (may it rest in peace) was the central hub where our friends would hang out. It was big and spacious (a rarity for Hong Kong). We would host dinners at least once a month, if not more frequent. All of the big holidays were spent at our place (our record number of people was ~30 for Thanksgiving, but that ended up being a mistake haha).

    When we were told we had to move out, my housemates and I kept talking about where we would go and whether we would stay together. One of them wanted to move to place called Ma Wan, which is very expat friendly and you can get a lot of space for a cheap price. On the surface, it sounded great. …until he said it was an island. When I shared with others about this potential place, they kept saying, “If you move there, we’ll never see you again. It’s too far.” That was the big deal breaker for me. I told my housemate, “I’m flexible on most locations, but if no one will visit us then that’s a no go for me.” We ended up settling in a place that’s fairly central, and now that things are finally settling down I’m looking forward to finally hosting people again.

  3. Jer Swigart says:

    Hospitality allows some to be free…but all to be brave. I appreciate your post, Shawn, as I agree that a defining characteristic of leadership for today is that of hospitality. We need to be able to hold space where people can be brave in their creativity, learning, ideating, and repairing.

  4. Darcy Hansen says:

    As a spiritual director, the first thing we are trained to do is host space for people. There is an art to it, on some level. It requires connection and a willingness to listen well. I love how you said, “True hospitality allows others to be free.” I see such freedom transpire in my directees.

    The church I used to attend was known as a hospitable church. It always felt welcoming, as small thoughtful touches were applied weekly to make people feel seen and known. But it had an ugly underbelly- you were only really welcome as long as you conformed to the ways and means of that particular space. There was freedom to become, but only to a point. Past that point and you had to leave or remain within the boundaries set by leadership. How do we create hospitable spaces where people can grow and give freely? Is there such a place, or maybe its best people outgrow their spaces and move on? Maybe that’s part of the freedom, the freedom to leave with the blessing of those who have poured into them in various ways?

  5. John McLarty says:

    I’ve discovered that hospitality is a true spiritual gift. Those who do this well seem to have a natural ability for inviting and including- whether that’s in a physical space, or into a conversation, or a relationship, or whatever. It does what scripture commands- looks to the needs of others. What would it mean for leaders to be known as much (or more so) for the ways they connected people rather than just how they directed them?

  6. Chris Pollock says:

    Why the pineapple? I wonder where/when that comes from?

    I appreciate Walker’s inclusion of the topic of hospitality. It actually came as a bit of surprise, at least for me.

    There’s a tuning toward hospitality that we centre toward upon arrival and in our imagination daily. Writing to you from a desk in front of the stage in the chapel as I wait for first coffees to boil up for those out on the street.

    This quote of Walker’s stood out for me (kinda near to what you offered):

    On generous hospitality as ‘a giving of ourselves to the world that transforms it, an opening-up of space in our lives in which the ‘other’ is welcomed and, indeed, utterly changed. As such, it is a task that depends on the ‘space’ available within the leader that others can be invited into. The quest to become undefended leaders is a quest to cultivate this interior space within ourselves, as well as the fluency to become welcoming hosts who can enrich our guests.’ (ch16)

    The climate of this space ‘in between’ that is so vital for awareness and sensitivity and care, eh!

    Hope for encounters of truest, Original hospitality. God bless you! Enjoy the day 🙂

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