The Hospitable Leader: Create Environments Where People and Dreams Flourish

I loved the title of The Hospitable Leader by Terry A. Smith (Baker Publishing Group, 2018) , and eagerly signed up to write a review. But when the book arrived and I saw the seven pages of endorsements–yes, seven!–from the chairman of Joel Osteen Ministries, CEO’s of various other ministries, best-selling authors, and more, I wondered how this book could possibly relate to my more modest life and ministry.

What could it say to those of us who aren’t in some sort of mega-ministry? Who are leading in churches and other Christian ministries that don’t have the waterfall, fountains, and coffee bar, and don’t aspire to? Who are leading in homes and neighborhoods and ministries and communities that don’t minister to 3000 people every weekend? The pages of stellar endorsements had quite the opposite effect on me from what most publishers might hope for. I dutifully added the book to my review schedule, but otherwise set it aside.

When I finally started reading, I flipped past all the endorsements to start with the author’s own words, and wow, I devoured that book. I had intended to read just a bit before getting back to work on my own book manuscript (especially since I’m behind where I’d like to be and need to get caught up, but that’s another story); instead, I just had to keep reading. Here’s why.

1. A posture of learning

Author Terry A. Smith is the lead pastor of The Life Christian Church in New Jersey, a nondenominational church where he has served for 27 years, and has grown from 54 to 3000 people on two campuses. He is also the cofounder of The New York City Leadership Center and holds a master of arts in organizational leadership. In his view hospitality needs to extend to everyone in the church:

. . . it is even more important for our employees or teams. Ken Gosnell blogged that “business owners need to view their business as a home and their employees as guests on a regular basis.” I like that he didn’t say to treat employees like family. Sadly, we are often more hospitable to guests than we are to our families. We should treat our employees as guests.

This has been a paradigm-shifting challenge for me. Am I hospitable to the people who work with me? . . . . I hope this is reflected in the hundreds of simple interactions that occur as the days fly by–through kind words, by trying to catch people doing something right, in finding any possible excuse to praise them. And with simple courtesies such as please and thank you and my pleasure and you’re welcome. I’ve not always been successful at this. I have learned. I am learning,” (pages 33-34).

For all his years of experience, education in leadership, and great endorsements, I love that he’s still learning and invites readers to learn along with him.

2. Drawing lessons from diverse people

Smith understands Jesus as “the ultimate hospitable leader,” and draws much from the example of his leadership. He also includes many stories and quotes from other hospitable leaders, including his wife, Sharon, who homeschooled their three children; Starbucks founder Howard Schultz; research professor and author Brene Brown; civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Christian mystic and theologian Julian of Norwich; and many more.

3. Communicating in an engaging style

With plenty of stories woven with biblical teaching. One chapter begins with a family trip to Paris that leads to a reflection on hospitality to strangers and to Hebrews 13:

I like the progression of this passage in Hebrews 13: first, we are to “Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters.” This phrase has its etymology in the Greek word philadelphia, which is also translated famously as “brotherly love.” Second, we are reminded to “not forget to show hospitality to strangers.” This phrase comes from the Greek philoxenia, which literally means “love of strangers.” According to Scripture (and Google Maps, I  think), we must go through Philadelphia in order to arrive in Philoxenia.

We must–as I discussed in part in the previous chapter–take care of home in order to have anything of value to offer anyone else. By “home” I am referring to any number of actualities, including the condition of our soul, our family, and the physical space in which we live, our place of business and the care of our teammates and employees, and the community or nation in which we live. Before we can move to philoxenia we must take care of philadelphia. (pages 63-64)

4. Addressing leadership in diverse contexts

At home, in church, in business, in the classroom, and anywhere influence is exercised. The author recognizes that hospitable leadership takes many forms, so while he speaks highly of his wife’s hospitable leadership in homeschooling their children, he also recognizes that not everyone can or even should homeschool.

He writes:

Hospitable leaders are not interested in creating people in our image. We are interested in creating space for people to become who they were made to be. To find their place and to be everything they were meant to be in that place. (page 112)

5. A Concern for Moral leadership

On good leaders vs. what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “mis-leaders”:

Leaders have inordinate power to create environments where dreamers and their dreams can flourish. Conversely, leaders also often have the terrible power to engender environments where dreamers are discouraged and their dreams are crushed. . . . History is littered with leaders who appeared to believe that the primary purpose of their leader power was to make their own dreams come true. Of course leaders must have dreams, and the bigger our dream, the better. But I submit that a central emphasis of our dream must be to serve the dreams of the people we lead. We must be able to focus on the goals of the entity we are leading–a company, a family, a football team, a nation–while focusing on the dreams of the individuals in it. (94ff.)

Most of all, I appreciate this book as a good example of the hospitable leader, for the author’s posture of learning and engaging style invited me in, the book spread out a feast of food for thought from the leadership of Jesus and lessons from many others, and created space for me to dream about being a hospitable leader in my own context.

Thank you to Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications for providing me with a complimentary copy of The Hospitable Leader: Create Environments Where People and Dreams Flourish. As always, the choice to review this book and my opinions are my own.

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Ordained minister with 25 years' experience as lead pastor of a mid-size, multi-staff church, now resident author with a liturgical worship community, and editor of Purpose, a monthly magazine of everyday inspiration. Author of Four Gifts, Sacred Pauses, and other books on Christian living. For more, see aprilyamasaki.com and WhenYouWorkfortheChurch.com.

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