The Heart of Hospitality – How to Overcome “Fellowship Fear”

I have read several good articles/blog posts about hospitality recently, specifically how seriously lacking it is in the Christian community right now.  What I am seeing as a common denominator is a frustration, even fear, when it comes to showing hospitality to those with diet restrictions or food allergies.  To be honest, as someone who has a severely restricted diet, the fear and frustration goes both ways.  I would like to suggest that we are using these inconveniences as EXCUSES which boils down to the fact that we are being disobedient to the Word of God.

What Does God’s Word say about hospitality?

Here are a few clear-cut verses:

Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.    IPeter 4:9

Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.  Romans 12:13

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.  Hebrews 13:16

Straightforward, is it not?  Let’s not forget the example of Christ, who dined with not only his disciples and close friends, but what the religious “upper-crust” considered “sinners” and those to be avoided.  When dining with one of those “upper-crusty” ones, Jesus said in Luke:

“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”   (Luke 14:12-14 ESV)

Perhaps we could include those with annoying diets?  Of course!  Consider how annoying it is to have to prepare food and eat like this every day!  Most of us don’t choose these diets, but are on them for medical reasons that the Lord has seen fit to allow into our lives.  They can be very frustrating and isolating, because there is a degree of fear for us as well as for you.  Thus came about the term “fellowship fear.”  You’re welcome.  :-)

The Heart of the Matter

The Bible says that man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. I have shown above what scripture says about hospitality, that it is to be done without complaining.  Obedience to the Lord in this means that we ARE hospitable and that we are DOING it with a right heart.  I have interviewed many people on both sides of this issue.  Those who are hesitant to invite individuals over who have food issues and also those who are nervous to eat outside the safety of their own homes.  They have been very open with me about what is on in their hearts when it comes to “fellowship fear.”  Let’s look at both.

The Host – Let’s face it.  There are many reasons we are moving away from proper hospitality.  This is only one issue.  We won’t get into how busy our lives are and that our priorities are completely out of order.  Others have shared with me many feelings they have had that play a part in why they shy away from inviting people over with food issues.

  • “It is too much trouble”
  • “They are being too picky.”
  • “It’s too expensive.  The foods I would use to make thing go farther are food they can’t eat.”
  • “What if they get sick from food I prepared?”
  • “My efforts are never enough!”
  • “They are expecting perfection.”
  • “I want to do it on my own!  If you don’t let me, you are robbing me of the joy of blessing you.”

If we examine these closely, we see fear, selfishness and even pride.  Lest you think I singling out the “host”, look at these statements from the “guest.”  You will see much the same…fear, selfishness and pride.

The Guest – Hosts aren’t the only ones shying away from fellowship.  I have personally isolated myself because of my food issues in the past. God has been convicting me that not only am I hurting myself, I am taking joy from others as well.

  • “What if I get sick?  They don’t truly understand how picky I HAVE to be so that I DON’T get sick.”
  • “I don’t want to create extra work for them.”
  • “They just think I’m making a big deal out of nothing.”
  • “I’m tired of being different.  I don’t want them looking at me.”
  • “I feel like I’m being difficult. I’ll just stay home.”
  • “What if they make something and I STILL have to turn it down?  I don’t want to disappoint them!”

Listen up!

I am going to be straight with you.  It’s time to educate BOTH of you.

Home made cooking in retro style,First of all, to the hosts/hostesses out there.  I am sure there are some people out there who are going gluten-free, dairy-free, meat-free or fill-in-the-blank-free because it is the latest fad.  This is not about those people.  This is about those who have no choice.  Eating these foods makes them sick.  In cases of severe food allergies, it can kill them.  They ARE picky…because they have to be.  Some more than others.  They hate having to tell you that even though you went to the trouble of making two different pancake batters, and cooked them on two separate griddles, the fact that you use the same spatula to flip them both, means that it will STILL make some of them sick.  The fact that you prepared those gluten-free brownies in your trusty 10 year old pan that has held regular brownies means…they can’t eat it.  There are people so allergic to say, eggs, that they can’t even be in the same kitchen with them without their epi-pen handy.  They have seen hearts sink, when they tell a dear friend that their efforts were indeed, not enough, and it crushes them.  They have also been treated rudely and carelessly, by those who think they can do it alone and need no education.  When they offer to bring their own food, the host is offended.  And unfortunately, they can get to a point where they feel no one can do it enough, so they just do it themselves.

Dear Guest, most of your hosts really want to accommodate you.  Your food IS expensive.  They hear people like you complain about your other experiences and it makes them afraid and hesitant to take a chance on you.  I realize you are tired of being different, but…you are.  You need to do what you can to make it easier on the host.  If your dietary issues are severe, don’t expect them to do what you would do at home.  They can’t afford to buy new pots and pans to prepare your food.  They may not be able to afford to cook a meal for you at all.  Be content with just dessert or even just the fellowship.

Suggestions Moving Forward

Hospitality is about showing love and kindness to others.  It is about treating others they way you would treat Christ.  It is considering others as more important than yourself.  It is about expecting nothing in return.  It is part of the character of a biblical leader and a virtuous woman.  It reflects the heart of a servant.  It requires sacrifice and it may very well take you out of your comfort zone.  It isn’t about keeping up with Joneses.  It isn’t about doing it all yourself.  Remember Mary and Martha?  Don’t allow your pride to get in the way of showing true love to those around you.  Hopefully these suggestions will help.

If you are the host:

  • These days, it is best to ASK up front if your guest has food issues.  It shows that you are considering their needs up front and they won’t have to feel badly for bringing it up.
  • ASK for advice in preparing food for your guest and them USE it.
  • ASK for help in food prep, whether it means the guest brings dessert, a salad, or something else to ease the burden, financial or otherwise.
  • If your guest wants to bring their own food to ease your burden or because their restrictions are tight, don’t be offended!  It isn’t about you!
  • Example:  “We want to have you guys over for dinner!  Do you have any food restrictions?  I’d be happy to work with you on them but if you are nervous about me preparing food for you, I won’t be offended if you need to bring your own.  We just want to have you over!”

If you are the visitor:

  • Make your restrictions known up front so the host is not blind-sided.  They want to bless you.  Don’t make it more difficult for them.
  • Offer to help prepare part of the meal and bring it with you.  If necessary, bring your own food.  Don’t make a big deal about it.  When it’s time to eat, do what you need to do and enjoy the fellowship.  Again, it’s not about YOU either.  It’s about being blessed and being a blessing.
  • Be loving, but firm, if your restrictions are severe.  Stress to your host that you don’t want your food issues to take priority.  You want to spend time with them.
  • Don’t make your diet the topic of discussion.
  • Be gracious.  Send a thank you to your host.  Snail mail still works and goes a long way to making your host feel loved.

And to everyone, most importantly myself:

Get over yourself. It’s not about you. Loving Christ means loving others more than yourself. Every.Time.



Welcome!  Come in and make yourself at home.



9 thoughts on “The Heart of Hospitality – How to Overcome “Fellowship Fear”

  1. Beth…this post is just so helpful and practical; thank you. I’ve sent it to my daughter who has issues like you do.
    I always offer to bring my own gluten-free food and take my own tea-bags with NO real tea at all…..and most people are relieved when I do this.

  2. Great post, Beth! I think part of this issue is also that “fellowship” has somehow become linked with “big, fancy dinner.” Just an afternoon with drinks and maybe some chips/dip or cookies is fine! Save the big, fancy dinners for holidays 😉

    • I agree! I remember being taught how important “presentation” was…not too much of the same color, napkins/utensils just so… When Christ was alive, they simply “broke bread,” literally.

      Thanks for the comment, Barbara!

  3. I love this post. It’s so relevant to a practical issue the Church is facing today. I think as long as we lavish grace on each other as we’re obeying God in this matter of hospitality, all will be well (though likely not perfect). I see this same hesitancy in my own life, not in regards to diet, but in regards to our family size. With three biological children and two foster children, hosting our family is a burden! Since the kids are also on the young side, I’m hesitant to impose us on anyone who’s brave enough to invite us! Thank you for encouraging me to rethink this and identify it as the excuse (and sin!) that it is.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Jennifer. When I was interviewing friends, several of them made the same comment regarding family size. You are right, it is intimidating to have over a large family. We’ve done it a couple times and you definitely need a plan to keep things running smoothly. A friend actually asked me to write a blog post on that and do a series! I told her I’d pray about it. We’ll see if the Lord leads in that direction. Maybe He is telling me already.

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