The Possibilities of Hospitality | Terry A. Smith

The Possibilities of Hospitality

Thankfully, hospitality offers us the possibility of creating environments where people are willing to listen to one another, even when listening challenges us to our core.

Some time ago I tackled a subject in a sermon that was very controversial in terms of the larger societal conversation. I felt I needed to do this in order to address questions my congregants 

It’s the truth, wrapped in grace, that helps us become who we were meant to be.

were asking and to be faithful to my calling as a Christian pastor. As I stood in the lobby and greeted people afterward, a couple came up and introduced themselves. They were first-time guests. He is the producer of a very highly rated national television talk show famous in part for humorously disparaging people with a point of view similar to the one I had just espoused. He said, “I disagree with nearly everything you said today. But I respect that you said it and appreciate the way you said it.” They have become regular attenders since that day. Still disagreeing on some points, no doubt, but still listening. They know that I love them. That I will hear them. That I respect them and their right to hold views antithetical to what I believe to be true. That they are welcome.

The key to speaking truth that has the potential to be received and that promotes positive change and growth is to create an environment where we listen and speak in a way that encourages people to listen to us. In his wonderful book Leadership Communication, Richard L. Stoppe suggests that “Communicative climate is as important to emotional life as the weather is to physical life. Communicatively, climate describes qualities such as trust, love, provisionalism, acceptance, active listening, empathetic understanding, positive attitudes, recognition, and respect.”

In my experience, it’s amazing what you can say to people when they know you love them and when you convey your message hospitably. A chief technology officer at one of the largest firms on Wall Street told me that this hospitality paradigm has changed the way in which he fires people. He tells me that when it is necessary to dismiss people, he does it from a genuine perspective of love for them. He really wants what is best for them and the organization he serves. He has conversations with them about their lives and gifts and passions. He helps them understand why they are not the best fit for his organization. He encourages them into their future and does everything in his power to help them land on their feet. He now fires people hospitably, if you please. And he tells me that this has made a meaningful difference in this most difficult of experiences for him and for the people he is trying to love through a hard transition.

I know that loving people—even those you have to let go—is not necessarily rocket science. But thinking about it in this way was a significant paradigm shift for this powerful CTO. He is becoming a more hospitable leader in the crazy world of Wall Street. I think that’s a pretty good place to strive for practical implementation of organizational love and hospitable communication.

The need to create safe places where truth can be spoken and heard is one of the most important responsibilities of a hospitable leader. I am thinking about truth here in two ways. One is the claim of Jesus to be the Truth and the mandate Christ-followers have to promulgate this truth and the life-giving truths of Scripture. From my perspective, this speaks to an objective truth that must be clearly communicated even when it might appear people have no desire to listen. I am also thinking about truth as it concerns our own more personal and subjective truths. What we think and feel and believe—that which is true to us, but which does not rise to the level of objective truth. It’s appropriate—and necessary—for us to be able to communicate out of who we are about things that are important to us. This could be in regard to anything from what is true to us about our marriage to the way in which we want work done by our teams.

Leaders must create space for authentic communication to happen. Leo Buscaglia emphasizes how necessary this is: 

The need to create safe places where truth can be spoken and heard is one of the most important responsibilities of a hospitable leader.

“Communication, the art of talking with each other, saying what we feel and mean, saying it clearly, listening to what the other says and making sure that we’re hearing accurately, is by all indication the skill most essential for creating and maintaining loving relationships.” I can’t imagine a more important leadership effort than ensuring that the people we lead feel at home enough to be who they really are, and feel safe enough to engage in honest interactions that promote love and spiritual growth.


Terry A. Smith is the author of the new book The Hospitable Leader: Create Environments Where People And Dreams Flourish. He has served as Lead Pastor of The Life Christian Church for twenty-seven years. TLCC - a non-denominational faith community with campuses in West Orange and Paramus, New Jersey – is known for its vibrant diversity and robust leadership culture with people from more than 132 distinct communities in the New York City Metro area participating in the life of the church.

This is an excerpt from Terry’s book The Hospitable Leader in association with the Baker Publishing Group (bakerpublishinggroup.com). Used with permission.