Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Your House Doesn’t Have to be Perfect

Leslie Basham: Rosaria Butterfield has seen how informal hospitality can produce radical heart change!

Rosaria Butterfield: We’ve seen people come to Christ. We have seen the gospel change hearts and minds. We have watched people have their lives turned around by Christ, and all we’ve done is open the door to a pretty messy house!

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned, for August 14, 2018. Nancy is exploring the topic of hospitality with author Rosaria Butterfield. You can find the first part of her interview at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Let’s listen in as Nancy and Rosaria continue the conversation recorded at the Ligonier Ministry National Conference.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Today we’re continuing our conversation with Rosaria Butterfield, and I wish each of you could be sitting with me around this table. What a sweet conversation this is. Rosaria, I love how you take us into a world that so many of us have not been exposed to.

I knew about Jesus from in the cradle, “in the womb!”

Rosaria: Praise God!

Nancy: I came to faith as a four-year-old child, was nurtured in the Scripture and in the ways of God—and what a gift and a blessing that is! But sometimes when you grow up in that world, and not really knowing anything other than a Christian worldview, it can be scary and daunting to think about interfacing with those who come out of very different backgrounds.

Rosaria: Right. And I think part of why it is scary is that (I think without intending to) we have conceded a biblical understanding of identity in place of what the world has had to offer. I think what we’re scared about is we’re thinking, Well, the gospel’s good news for me. I mean, I was four years old. I hadn’t developed any super, super terrible sin patterns that I can think of that I was going to have to let go of. But, oh, if I share the gospel with my neighbors who identify as lesbian—they’re going to lose their family, they’re going to lose their children, they’re probably going to lose their house! You know, the gospel was good news for some of us, but the gospel’s just not good news for those people.

I think we really get stuck there. Here’s what I want your listeners to know (and, you know, I’m proclaiming to myself here, I need to remember this, too): Genesis 1:27, you are an image-bearer of a holy God. You are born male and female, and you have a soul that will last forever—either in eternity in the New Jerusalem in glory or in hell for eternity without God.

So our real identity, biblically speaking, is the highest identity you could have—an image-bearer of a holy God. There’s no more dignity than that! And so when the gospel asks people to give things up, we don’t have to worry that God’s asking too much of people.

But here’s where we get stuck, especially Americans. We’re just so democratic, we just want everything to be fair. And guess what? Life’s not fair. The gospel life is not fair. Some people have one cross and some people have ten. God promises to always carry the heavier part of that cross!

God also promises that there will be a Body of Christ that will function as a family. So not only are there spiritual blessings that are alien, they’re outside of you. They come with the power of firehose or a tractor beam or more. But also, there’s this command (and this is where the book comes in) that the family of God is going to care for you.

Nancy: I think sometimes our fear—even if it’s regardless of what people’s sexual view is or practice—sometimes may be the assumption that, “There’s no way they would ever be interested. There’s no way they would ever be open to knowing Christ and how would I get past their arguments or their worldview?" 

I think what’s disarming about what you’re saying in this book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, is that friendship is a powerful means to see strangers turned into family. So let’s go back to this thing you call “radically ordinary hospitality.” Let’s start with what it is. What does that mean?

Rosaria: It means that every night of the week our home is open. That’s what it means.

Nancy: Now that is radical!

Rosaria: Yes, and that means that we practice hospitality every night of the week. That means that if I’m still teaching a math lesson with a child and it’s five-thirty and you walk through the door, and you notice that I still have laundry on the dining room table that needs to be folded and put away before dinner, you know how to do that!

I mean it really does means that the family of God . . . that we kind of hang together. I think sometimes people hear this, and then they think, Well, how did this start? Well, it did have an important impetus, but even after the initial reason for it, we saw the utility of it.

The family of God gathering together daily for a meal, for a time of Bible and a time of prayer, and singing a psalm is something that everybody needs. And then, we had a crisis in our neighborhood, and we were able to pull in our neighbors and said, “Hey, what happened is really horrible, and it’s hard to process. We have an open dinner invitation at 5:30. Just come! Bring food or bring a friend or bring both or neither, but you’re welcome.”

Nancy: But before you could even do that, you had to know something about your neighbors. You had to have some connection to them. And you’ve been very intentional about that.

Rosaria: Yes to all you just said. We have been very intentional about that. When we moved to Durham, North Carolina in 2012 . . . And there’s something about moving to a place. It really helps. It’s a fresh start. I mean, it’s awful to go across the street and, tap-tap-tap on the door and say, “Hey, I’ve lived her for ten years, and I really . . .”

Nancy: “I’d like to know your name.”

Rosaria: “I’d like to know your name. If your dog gets out again, I’d like to be able to return him. Sorry it’s taken ten years.” And you know when you’re new, you don’t have that embarrassment, basically. 

We started something we called “prayer walks.” Kent and I would put something out on this app called Next Door, which is just a social media app that organizes about 300 homes in our neighborhood.

And we would say, “Hey, we’re going to meet at the picnic table on our front lawn. We’re going to just get to know our neighbors and pray and walk through the neighborhood and pray. Come as you are. Come join us!”

It was a Thursday night that we’d do this. Sometimes we’d have one or two neighbors. At one point we had twenty-five neighbors!

Nancy: And even non-believing neighbors knew you were doing this.

Rosaria: Oh, yes, of course. And again, this is where Christians need to understand . . . we’re way too programatic sometimes, I think. I know why we do it, I do. You want to know how many people are going to come, and you want to make sure that you’ve got everything you need for them. Those are not bad things. Those are very good things.

And ultimately, this book is just a taste of what some people do. Everybody needs to practice hospitality with your comfort zone in your way, with your boundaries. Our boundaries have been different over the years. We’re in a place now where we can be a little more wide open.

What we have tended to do is just put open invitations on the Next Door app. And by “open invitations” I mean, “Dear 300 households, please come to a barbecue.”

Nancy: Wow!

Rosaria: Two things happen when you do this—and this is crazy—but if you invite everybody in your neighborhood, 100 percent of your neighbors are going to feel loved, and they’ll tell you that.

Nancy: They’ll feel welcome.

Rosaria: The little old ladies that never leave their house but heard about it, the recent widows, the person going through a divorce who’s lost all of her friends because of that . . . they will tell you that they haven’t been invited to anything in forever, and it just meant so much to be invited!

But then really—logistically speaking—about ten percent of the people are going to come. We’ve never had more than ten percent come.

Nancy: Have you had some just walk up to you that were new to you? Tell us about some of the people who have come by.

Rosaria: Oh, absolutely. In fact, that is a really fun thing. When the Bible commands us to love the stranger, one of the first questions is: “Where do you go get them? Where are they? How would I find them?” An ideal place is in a neighborhood.

We have absolutely met people just by doing that, and we’ve met their children, and we’ve met their dogs, and then we would build ministry from there. When we first got there, we just wanted to get to know our neighbors.

But then, soon after we got there and we were getting to know our neighbors . . . One of the things that happens when you get to know your neighbors is, you get to know their problems. So we learned that one of our neighbors was just recently diagnosed with ALS (also called Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

He was forty years old. He had a two-year-old daughter and a six-year-old daughter, and this is a scary, horrible disease! One of the things that we knew, as a family in a church, we certainly could be putting together meals for these people. But there’s no way that we would have known it without the prayer walk. You know, “Hey, what’s going on at that home?”

So that’s one of the the things that we did, we put together a "Take Them a Meal." We did that for years and years and years, because when you open your arms wide, that’s something that’s well within your wingspan. Churches do this all the time. So that was easy to do.

Nancy: I can remember, by the way, when Robert and I were first dating. He lived in Orlando. When I was visiting there he took me on a drive around the thirty-home development that he lived in. It was a circle.

As he drove around that circle (I was so impressed with this!), he knew who lived in every home. He knew about their family. He knew where they were spiritually (what church they went to or how they hated church). He could tell you things about their background.

Robert and his first wife, Bobbi, (now with the Lord) for fifteen years had been neighbors to these once-strangers, but now-friends. There were people who had no interest in spiritual things, totally different religious backgrounds, some of them a pain-in-the-neck type neighbors, but Robert and Bobbi had befriended them, had opened their home to them. 

Rosaria: Right. Oh yes.

Nancy: I remember thinking, This is a man who knows how to show hospitality to strangers!

Rosaria: Right, because you have to break down certain barriers.

Nancy: It took time. It was conversations just standing on the lawn. .The stories then, after fifteen years, of some of those who had come to faith in Christ were so precious! Some of those still hadn’t, but they loved Robert, and they knew he loved them.

Rosaria: Yes, right. One of things we discovered was that being regular about open hospitality was very helpful, because when we started these Thursday night prayer walks . . . There were some older people who had bad knees, and they were not going to be walking with us. But what they would do was wait until they saw us. Then they’d go to the porch, and they’d shout out their prayer request. That just became a regular thing. Thursday night, people would wait for you to walk, and then they would tell you how to pray for them.

Nancy: Wow. 

Rosaria: And so, when other things started happening . . . Our house was robbed, other houses in our neighborhood were robbed. When there were problems both at the personal level, but also at the more public level, as a group of people we were able to come together and pray.

When hospitality is consistent, regular, and inclusive, that’s how you’re going to meet people who are "strangers."

Nancy: Some people maybe just aren’t comfortable opening their home at all, but I know some who are. When you think of Christian fellowship, Christian hospitality, I think often we think first of those who are like us. So we’ll have our small group over from church, or some people from the ministry where I serve. That’s kind of the most natural thing.

But you’re expanding beyond that to say, “We want those who are really strangers.” Hebrews talks about this: “Show hospitality to strangers” (Heb. 13:2). That’s not just the people in my small group.

Rosaria: No, but it doesn’t exclude the people in your small group. One of the things we’ve noticed is that, especially when you are reaching out to strangers, having a good core of Christians who know how to minister together is extremely helpful.

And you know what, if you’re struggling with how to be evangelistic, your small group is struggling also, your homeschool co-op is struggling also. So actually having the family of God already populating the table and inviting other people to join in can be amazing!

One thing that happened a while ago, maybe two years ago now . . . I have a friend; her name is Donna. She and I (well, mostly she, because she’s just the driving force), put together things like Christmas caroling in the neighborhood. We call her “Director Donna.” She’s really good at it!

Nancy: First-born. 

Rosaria: I just do what she says. I remember one year a few years ago, we were between ministering. We were singing carols in the neighborhood, and I received a text message from a friend who said, “We just got terrible news! Can we come over and talk about it?” And by “we,” this is a large Catholic family.

I said, “Yes, that’d be great. We’ll be home at six, and I’ll have dinner on the table at six-thirty.” We also had a missionary family staying with us that night, so we had twenty people! We expanded into two rooms—kids sitting on the floor. Who has twenty chairs, right? Who needs chairs!

I mean, if you’re over fifty, maybe you need a chair, but, c’mon, people. The kids can sit on the floor. At a certain point, the dad of this family was really brokenhearted to learn that a neighbor had just been diagnosed with cancer—and that neighbor was the only parent of a special-needs child.

He just said, “Why?” And he said, after we started eating, “Okay, look, I see I’m in a room full of theologians. I need to know why there’s this kind of evil in the world. Can you answer that?” And you know, you want your neighbors to come with those kinds of questions.

It was wonderful to see our missionary pastor and Kent and our family of God minister. We don’t have easy answers to this. But one of the things I remember was clearly taught that night is, “The time to prepare for evil is before it strikes.” 

And that had a powerful effect, especially on the children of this family. We became friends because there was a hard crisis. And you know what they thought? They thought, Well, I don’t know where to take this. This is a philosophical and theological problem. Oh, hey, let’s take it to the Butterfield’s. That’s a great place to take it!”

So that’s what we want. We want to create an atmosphere where people know that they can bring the burdens of their heart to you. And it’s dinnertime. We actually sit around a table at dinner, and we eat dinner, and you’re welcome to join us!

Nancy: There’s something disarming about that setting. We’re not setting up rows of chairs and inviting you to come to our Bible study. 

Rosaria: Nope, and we might not even have enough chairs. It might be the couch and the coffee table or the exercise ball and the piano bench. We’re not going to get hung up if some of us are sitting on the floor. People are more important, and being flexible enough to seize those moments is very important.

I’ve really learned that it’s better to say “yes” than “no.” I mean, there have been lots of times when a hospitality opportunity will come up. Like, for example, recently we were at a conference. We don’t get home until Saturday. We received a text message from someone who really wants to stay with us.

We’re not going to be there, so we said, “Well, you can pick us up at the airport.” And you know, it’s a little disarming, because you know what it’s like to go home after a few days away. You have to go grocery shopping. I’m not ready. But here’s what I am: I’m willing, but I’m not ready! And that’s okay, because the gospel makes you ready. Your house is a “hospital” and an “incubator.” And if there are idols that are getting in the way, those have to be dealt with!

Nancy: For example?

Rosaria: Well, for example, if you just feel like you are too important. You know, “Hey, I have an important job. I need my quiet time.” (And it’s a 24/7—apparently—quiet time!)

Nancy: You’ve said that you’re more naturally introverted.

Rosaria: I am. I’m an INTJ (Introvert, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging). And I think that I now know, probably, all of the Christian women who are also my Myers Briggs score! Because I get people writing to me all the time saying, “I’m one, too!” So I officially know all of the two-percent of the INTJ’s.

But that’s why I get up early. I get up two hours before anybody else in the house is awake, because I do, I need my “alone time.” But we’ve seen people come to Christ. We have seen the gospel change hearts and minds! We have watched people have their lives turned around by Christ, and all we’ve done is open the door to a pretty messy house!

Nancy: And you’re okay with the house being messy. 

Rosaria: I am. 

Nancy: You’re not trying to make it messy. 

Rosaria: I’m not trying to make it messy. 

Nancy: But you’re willing to welcome people into that and say that having all those people means there’s going to be more mess than what you might love.

Rosaria: I am, because I came from a house that wasn’t messy on the outside, but it was messy in the hearts. So I think that that’s a really important thing to realize. For people who are raised in Christian homes, there’s a standard of safety that you were raised with and that you feel is normal. It’s a blessing. And for most of the people in the world, that’s not their reality.

Nancy: Yes.

Rosaria: How would you know if you had a neighbor who was an alcoholic? How would you know if you had a neighbor who was struggling with some kind of abuse-related issue? Nobody’s going to wave a flag about that. You wouldn’t know it, and so having time in your house can be very helpful.

And we pray. We want to know what the gospel road is to somebody’s heart. And it’s a different road. What you need is different than what I need. But to actually build in margin time so that you can take an older neighbor to the doctor, so that you can watch children after school.

You know, there are some basic things that if you have the privilege, as I do, to be a stay-at-home mom, taking care of my kids, homeschooling my kids. I have a privilege that has blessed my neighbors. And they’ve told me so!

Nancy: And this is something that is so missing in our world today!

Rosaria: Oh, yes, yes, yes.

Nancy: You read through the Scripture about the power of kindness, the power of good works, of kind acts. Titus is talking about, of course, there’s teaching of doctrine, there’s discipling older women and younger women. But Paul keeps saying to Titus again and again (and in Timothy), “Remind God’s people to do good works, because this is how we showcase the friendship and the loveliness of Christ!"

Rosaria: Right! And we don’t have to worry! I’ve had people say, “Well, aren’t you worried that people will think that it’s just like ‘the social gospel’?” Well, here’s what I know: If people don’t think you’re either a rabid conservative or a fallen-off-the-edge liberal every time you proclaim the gospel, you’re not really proclaiming the gospel!

Okay, I’m not worried about what people think. I want the heart of Jesus to touch the heart of my neighbors. I also know that the more time you spend fearing what your house looks like, who’s going to come, how’s this going to work? . . . The more time you spend fearing, you start to tell "ghost stories" about people.

I mean, you don’t mean to. I don’t think any Christian wakes up saying, “I really want to gossip about my neighbors and tell ‘ghost stories.’” But you functionally end up doing that. It’s only because you lack proximity. Proximity is sharing a rhythm of life and living transparently.

Kent Butterfield, my husband, he is “steady Eddie!” That’s why the Lord knew I needed to marry Kent Butterfield. Because I’m all the way out there, and he is steady Eddie. We have dinner. He opens the Bible and reads a passage (usually a chapter from the Bible), we sing a psalm, and we pray. We have had a such a regular time of this that we have children at our table and maybe their parents are going through a hard thing.You know, children are people, too!

Nancy: Right.

Rosaria: I mean, I don’t know what else to say. Children have deep lives, they have hard struggles, they have major life crises. And we have children who are regularly at our table, even to the point where they remind Kent where he is in family devotions.

Nancy: Sweet.

Rosaria: I mean, when you’re at the table long enough to get through Isaiah . . .

Nancy: You’re taking that in.

Rosaria: Yes, and so you budget for that.

Nancy: You budget time?

Rosaria: You budget time, you budget money. But it is amazing to see God answer your prayers. I am convinced that we would be a joyful, vibrant Christian world if we continually saw the Lord truly adding to the Kingdom!

For too many of us, our Christian life works on a parallel road to the facts of our troubles. You know, our job as Christians is always to apply faith to facts. It doesn’t make the facts go away, but it gives you a lens through which to see them. Open, daily hospitality has been one of the ways that God blesses us, to show us that He is adding to His Kingdom.

Nancy: When we come back to this conversation tomorrow, we want to just keep going here, because this is so rich. We’re going to come back tomorrow and talk about what are some of these barriers? What are some of the different configurations? How might this look?

But the challenge is, for every one of us in the family of God, to practice radically ordinary hospitality. This is not just for people like Rosaria, who bubble over when they’re talking about this. This is for introverts, this is for extroverts, this is for singles, this is for marrieds, this is for whatever season of life you may be in. This is a powerful means of grace to believers and non-believers alike.

I want to encourage you to read Rosaria’s book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, and we’re making that available this week to any listener who makes a donation of any amount to help support the outreach of Revive Our Hearts . . . which is taking the gospel to those who need is most (which is all of us!). And so, as you make your gift this week, just let us know you’d like a copy of Rosaria’s book, and we’ll be glad to send that to you.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been telling you how to get a copy of the book from our guest, Rosaria Butterfield. I’ll give you the info one more time: Just donate any amount at ReviveOurHearts.com, or call 1–800–569–5959 and ask for the book The Gospel Comes with a House Key.

Rosaria Butterfield says when the family of God lives like the family of God, it puts Jesus on display to a watching world. She’ll explain more tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth knows the gospel is good news for everyone. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

Join the Discussion