I realize that it is not wise to question Jesus who said that “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” but recently I’ve been wondering if the impulse to give might also mask some deeper problems within the Christian community.
Not too long ago a dear friend challenged me by saying that my well-intentioned acts of service were actually form of “insincere benevolence.” My giving inhibited a healthy mutuality of giving and receiving. I was always the giver and never had to face my own need of others. What if my giving actually keeps others at arm’s length and inhibits genuine relationships from developing? In the role of giver or host I am the one who holds the power in the relationship.
One of the best gifts of working at Calvin Seminary is the diversity of students. These students have a wealth of ministry experiences from around the world which are rich gifts to the seminary community and to me as a professor. This was brought home to me on one particular Friday evening this spring.
Ann Plantinga Kapteyn, our missionary in residence, convened a gathering and invited several of international students to share their pastoral experiences related to these questions: Have you ever hosted a short-term missions team? What was your experience of being a host to these teams? The responses were illuminating. I wish that the entire community had been in attendance that night! (You can read Ann’s reflections on this evening here).
Ann’s leadership empowered others in the community to share the gifts of knowledge and experience. Instead of remaining in the position of host and teacher she created an opportunity for students to act as host and the rest of us (including me!) to be the guests. To act as host and to serve others is good, but I get concerned when we are rarely in the role of guest. When we always play the host it is easy to overlook the ways in which we require others to live on our terms. This problematic way of being Christian has been termed “reverse hospitality” by Willie Jennings.
The day after this gathering I took part in a pastoral care training program put on by the Timothy Leadership Training Institute. One of the participants from South Africa shared his frustrations with Americans and hospitality. “Whenever I have Americans over to my home,” he said, “they never want anything from me. I offer them food or tea and the answer is always, ‘no.'” He then said something that struck me deeply, “Unless you are willing to receive from me, I can’t open my heart to you.”
These experiences have got me thinking, what would it look like for the seminary’s culture to increasingly reflect the diversity of its student body? What would it look like for the seminary to not only make room but also give space for students to play the part of host and teach us from their experiences?
In future posts I will share some stories and lessons from these gatherings that provide everyday practices that help instill these values deeply within our community.