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).