My husband and I moved into our first home this week after five months of renovations.

Throughout the renovation process, I couldn’t help but dream about the events, meals and celebrations that would take place in our home when it was no longer a construction zone. While we tore out old cabinets, I thought about the people who would gather in our kitchen one day. When mudding drywall, I prayed over our walls and the people who would gather within them. While sanding and painting doors, I prayed that our doors would always be open to our church, friends, families and neighbors.

I couldn’t wait to ditch the power tools and replace them with a kitchen mixer. Although we still had a long list of projects to complete before move-in day, we couldn’t wait to open our doors, so we began hosting our Bible study in our unfinished home.

Everyone brought their own lawn chair, and we sat in a circle on drop cloths in the kitchen. It was fun and fruitful, but far from perfect. We didn’t have appliances at the time, so there were no freshly baked cookies or ice-cold beverages. The house was empty and smelled like paint and wood stain, but our friends did not mind. They even came back the next week to do it again.

It was a sweet glimpse of what was to come.

From the beginning, we knew the Lord had given us our home to use for Him. But soon after we moved in, the joy I had about hosting people quickly turned to anxiety. When the boxes were unpacked, I believed the lie that our home not only had to be finished, it had to be fully furnished, decorated and comparable to home design magazines in order to open our doors again.

After a while, I thought it might get old inviting friends to dinner and ending the invitation with BYOLC (bring your own lawn chair). I chose to get busy “home-making” before inviting another guest. Then, the Lord quickly reminded me what Christian hospitality is, and what it is not.

When we think of hospitality, we often think of Southern hospitality—an endless pitcher of sweet tea, the front page of a Better Homes and Gardens magazine, and a sweet grandma in her apron at the door waving goodbye and hollering, “Y’all come back now, you hear?”

I’m learning that Southern hospitality and Christian hospitality are much different.

The word “hospitality” comes from the root word, “hospital.” Our homes are to be hospitals for others. The thought of blood makes me queasy, but laying down my own desires for perfection in order to care for someone is something I can stomach, if only my pride would get out of my way.

Being hospitable means nurturing, caring, strengthening and serving those who enter our home. It doesn’t mean that there are always fresh flowers and a perfectly cooked pot roast.

Hospitality reflects the Gospel.

In Luke 10:38-42, a woman named Martha hosted Jesus in her home. Martha’s sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet and enjoyed His company while Martha ran in circles, worried about the preparations that needed to be made. Jesus stopped Martha in her tracks and reminded her of the most important task. It was to sit and to be with Him.

Being available to God and to others is the most important task. Jesus reminds us of that in this passage. While Martha sought to be the best host possible, she missed the opportunity to visit with her greatest guest. To focus on the person in front of us, we have to sacrifice something else. How often have we missed investing in a relationship because we’re wrapped up in what is more important to us at the time.

In the “Unleashed” sermon series, we studied Acts 16:11-15. Here, a woman named Lydia gives her life to Jesus and is immediately changed. She hears the Gospel message, is baptized, shares Christ with her family members and invites those who shared the Gospel with her into her home. She says, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay with me at my house.” And they do. It’s likely that her home was a launching pad for the Gospel as Paul, Silas and Luke left and continued sharing Christ throughout Europe.

Hospitality nurtures and grows the family of God.

Lydia sought to encourage the men and to spur them on in their mission to share Jesus with others. When it comes to hospitality, let’s think like Lydia, and ask ourselves, “Who can I invite? How can I make them feel seen and known? How can I serve, encourage or support them both now and after they leave?”

Entertaining is not a show, but an act of service that builds community every time we open our doors. It is worth doing, whether or not the house is clean or the menu is nailed down. Christian hospitality means that people come as they are and leave more whole than when they came.

The lonely neighbor needs our invitation. The friend who doesn’t know God needs our invitation. The new family at church needs our invitation—even if they have to bring their own chairs.

Madalyn Latter is a Women’s Ministry associate at Southeast’s Blankenbaker Campus.