If Gordon Gekko was right—that “lunch is for wimps”—then I’m one of the strongest people I know, because I almost never take lunch.
And I’m not alone—80 percent of American office workers don’t take regular lunch breaks. Instead, we eat alone at our desks in just 15 minutes. This trend is so common that social scientists have a name for it—“desktop dining.”
In the 1980s, when Gekko starred in Wall Street, productivity was our reason for skipping lunch. Today, though, we’re just as likely to be checking Facebook or YouTube as we are to be working.
But desktop dining takes a toll. Work is a context of community and collaboration, a place where relationships matter. When we prefer tasks or social media over real-life engagement with people, we miss opportunities for gospel hospitality at work.
Not Just for Home
Hospitality is both an attitude of the heart and also a practice of the hand. It seeks to turn strangers into friends through acts of welcome and generosity. Throughout Scripture, God calls his people to show hospitality to strangers—orphans, foreigners, the poor, widows, and more (e.g., Deut. 10:18–19).
When we think of hospitality, we often think of images from Martha Stewart or Good Housekeeping. But biblical hospitality is simple. It’s hosting a small group, inviting a neighbor to dinner, or listening to a friend over coffee. It can be done at home or in alternate “homes”—like coffee shops or restaurants—for those who lack enough space to host at home.
Yet hospitality is not just for the private sphere of our lives. It’s for our work, too. God called Israel to leave the edges of the harvest for the sojourner and the poor (Lev. 23:22). The harvest was their work and livelihood. Leaving some harvest for the poor cut into their proceeds. Their hospitality was costly.
Ways to Be Hospitable
There are many ways to be hospitable at work. Eating together is one—and it makes a difference. One study of firehouses found more cooperative behavior and better performance when firefighters ate together. “Workplace satisfaction is so much higher if you eat with your colleagues,” Cornell professor Brian Wansink says. “You like your job more—and you like your colleagues better.”
But eating together isn’t the only way. We can let people know we don’t mind being interrupted by opening our office door. We can invite others to join us for a morning or afternoon coffee run. We can ask someone to hang out after work. We can be known as people who say “yes” to others.
Hospitality can also be built into the work itself. Like the Israelites who were called to leave the edges of their harvest, we can make serving others a part of our work itself. Tegu, for example, is a wooden toy company in Honduras that’s built on hospitality. Instead of taking larger profit margins for themselves, its co-founders started a matching savings program for employees. They also replant trees to replenish the resources they use. In these ways, they’ve hardwired hospitality—taking care of strangers—into their operations.
Another way to show hospitality “at work” is to mix our work and social lives. So often we segregate our public or work lives from our private or social lives. We host a BBQ for just our work friends or just our church friends—but rarely for both together. But hospitality can be a group effort when we combine these groups. In fact, our non-Christian colleagues may connect more with our Christian friends than they do with us.
One of the most significant hospitality moment I got to show “at work” was when I offered to plan a meal schedule for an atheist colleague who’d recently had a baby. In our church subculture, this practice is somewhat common. But in her life, she had never experienced it. In the midst of being a new mom with new questions, she felt affirmed and loved.
Fear of—and Power for—Hospitality
Hospitality at work is hard. We’re tempted to organize our workdays as a list of tasks and to view people as interruptions. We have to get our work done, and relationships are inefficient. Some jobs don’t include lunch breaks at the same time as others, making it almost impossible to eat with colleagues. Other workplaces are centered around cubicles, not offices, so “open door” hospitality is moot. Taking a lunch break can often mean staying at work later.
Whatever our particular situations, though, the heart behind hospitality seeks to turn strangers into friends. And it’s amazing how many colleagues are strangers—needy, unseen, relationally disconnected people. Seeking them out for a relationship might be a rare kindness to them.
People are almost always loved, not argued, toward faith. We sometimes think the life of a Christian starts with conversion, then community, then discipleship. In reality, though, it usually starts with community. We first get to know some Christians. Then coming to faith seems plausible—in spite of our initial objections. Sometimes conversion takes years. When we build authentic, hospitable relationships with our colleagues, we begin to embody the truth of the gospel with our lives—even if we don’t immediately share it with our words. In our relationally broken culture, being a true friend is a rare thing.
And we get the power to do this only when we remember that we were strangers to the covenant and love of God. He showed hospitality to us. John 1 tells us that the Word became flesh and “moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14 MSG). He left his comfortable home in heaven, where the perfect love of the triune God danced with joy, to come to us. Jesus ate with sinners and showed hospitality. He played host and turned common things—like loaves and fish—into massive meals.
And then, in his death, he left us a family meal, the Lord’s Supper, to remember him. When we befriend others, we invite them to consider the gospel by loving them. And we can do this just as much with our colleagues at work as we can with anyone else.