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  • Writer's pictureNick McDonald

The Hospitality of Meals

Once we've established a hospitality of presence and initiative, it's time to forge a deeper connection through the hospitality of listening. That typically needs to happen with food of some kind. As one gospel commentator has written, "Jesus literally eats his way through the gospel of Luke." He shows the hospitality of meals.

Meals are an opportunity to share our humanity. A "meal" could be coffee, or lunch out. That's the place to start. They can also become progressively more intimate: dinner in our home, with our family, in our mess.

Meals are an opportunity to listen to people: to hear their stories, values and hopes. We normally can't effectively speak the gospel effectively to people unless we understand their "bridges". A quick survey of the gospels reveals that Jesus caters all of his gospel announcements to the individual: it's the same message, wearing different clothing.

So how do we listen well? Here are four categories I like to think about when I meet with students: their people, their place, their passions and their purpose. Below I’ll list some questions I keep in my head for each category. These aren’t a list of things to “get through”. They are just tools I always have in my back pocket as I “exegete” the people I’m meeting with! Take some of these with you, and see what feels most natural for you.

The first question I list in each category (the underlined question) is my “go-to” question. I’ve found these four questions really get me to the heart of the people I’m meeting with quickly. But they also suit my personality and style, so you may have to craft your own. You might want to think of the first questions listed as an intro question, and the rest as “follow ups”.

Know their PEOPLE. Tell me about your family. Did you have siblings? Where are they now? How did you get along with your siblings? Are your parents still together? Who did you have a better relationship with, Mom or Dad? What do they do? What are some favorite memories from your time with family? Who were your friends in high-school? Did you have a certain “type” (athletes, music kids, study buddies, etc). What is your Mom Like? What is your Dad like? How did your parents meet? Tell me about your roommate. Are you dating anyone now? How is that going? Who are your friends on campus?

Know their PLACE. Where are you from? What kind of city/town is that? What was your neighborhood like? Tell me about your high-school. What was the hardest part of high-school? What activities were you involved with in high-school? What was the best part of high-school?

Know their PASSIONS. What’s your story? (this question is actually a short-cut to someone telling you what they’re passionate about. But sometimes people have a hard time. When they ask, “What do you mean?” I just say, “Whatever you want.” This is a short-cut to their values, passions, etc)? What do you like to do? When you have free-time, what do you use it for? What are your favorite movies? Favorite songs? Favorite books? What did you do with your friends growing up? Who are your role models? What do you think about a lot? What do you tend to worry about? What do you tend to get angry about? How do you tend to react to stress? What are some of the “biggest” events in your past?

Know their PURPOSE. Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What’s your dream? What do you feel like you’re really good at? What are some things you don’t feel good at? Who are your role models? How do you define success or failure in life? What’s your major? Why did you choose that?

Three more things about listening.

Number one, PAY ATTENTION to what people get REALLY worked up about - really excited, upset, animated, etc. If you find that thing, you’ve found their heart. Don’t plow over this to get to the next questions: if you found something they want to talk about, let them! Think of all these questions like trying to find studs in a wall: you just keep tapping until you find something solid, and then you plant yourself there.

Number two, follow the 10/90 principle: even if you have NOTHING in common with someone…you probably have SOMETHING in common with 10% of what they say. Listen to their lives, and really hone in one what you have in common. You’ve got SOMETHING in common with EVERYBODY.

Number three: lead with vulnerability. One of the most attractive characteristics of Christianity is vulnerability. If the conversation feels like an “interview”, you're probably not leading with enough vulnerability. It needs to be two-sided - so open up!

Number four: Be patient! It takes at least 3 conversations before people will be willing to talk about spiritual/serious things. They have to feel known first.

Once you’ve had three great conversations with someone, you probably have permission to introduce the fifth category: Know their PULSE. How can I pray for you? Write it down. Follow up. What was the best and worst part of your week? How’s your relationship with your family these days? What’s your social life like these days? What do you think God is “up to” in your life these days? What are you learning about life these days? About God, the Bible, etc?


  1. Know people's passions. What do they like to do?

  2. Know their purpose. What do they dream about?

  3. Know their people. What's their story?

  4. Know their place. What's their demographic like?

  5. Finally, know their pulse: knowing all of these things helps you to check in effectively.

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