Ian Stackhouse on gospel hospitality

Guilford Baptist Church has a long-standing involvement with global mission. Notably from the early 1970s they were sending church for former OMF General Director Michael Griffiths and his wife Valerie.
However, in the last year, it’s had growing opportunities to welcome the nations on their doorstep. We sat down with Ian Stackhouse, the senior pastor, to find out more.

Menus in Cantonese and English list a traditional three-course meal. A starter of boiled egg with garlic and vinegar; rice, lamb and scallops for main; and egg tart for dessert, washed down with Hong Kong tea. Hong Kong Christians serve the staff team at Guilford Baptist Church with this special lunch. Families the church has welcomed now spread a table for others.

‘It was great fun … I used to have egg tart when I was a kid!’ Ian Stackhouse, the senior pastor, smiles as he remembers this scene from earlier in the week of our interview. We’re chatting about how this large town centre church has welcomed around 30 families from Hong Kong in the last year.

‘At some point’, Ian tells me, ‘you want to get to a place where people don’t know who is the host and who is the guest.’ He explains that the meal is just the start of something bigger. As a church he wants to ask how they can – together – get to a place where they are receiving from the very people they are welcoming.

Gospel hospitality
Hospitality is clearly a central part of church life at Guildford Baptist. I’m keen to understand why.
Ian says that as a motif of the gospel, you can’t do better than hospitality. ‘In terms of God’s hospitality towards us, first and foremost, and then of course, how to be therefore hospitable, in like manner.’

As pastor of the church for the last 18 years, Ian has sought to emphasise the importance of hospitality, which he describes as ‘the heart of the gospel’. For much of that time, the church has held quarterly Hospitality Sundays where people sign up to be hosts and guests for lunches in homes, building new friendships. ‘The Hong Kong families really availed themselves of that which is great,’ Ian says.

The church sees hospitality as a core tenet of making Jesus known locally and globally. They’re steadfastly committed to global mission, having been a sending church for the late OMF General Director Michael Griffiths and his wife Valerie, and currently supporting a dozen gospel workers around the world.

Yet mission isn’t about recruitment, but building robust communities rooted in the Holy Spirit. ‘You can’t manufacture it,’ Ian says. ‘[You need to] be open to people. If you just treat people as a category, or even an ethnic group, I think you’re falling short of Jesus, who seemed to see through those categories and saw actual individuals and people.’ A theme Ian explored in his book The Gospel-Driven Church.

All this led the church to join the UKHK initiative and welcome Hong Kong families, keen to build a truly inclusive community. Today, Guildford Baptist has around 30 nationalities among their 500 adult members and aims to be a truly international, intergenerational community. That has looked like continuing the Hospitality Sundays and, integrating Hong Kong families into mid-week small groups so they get to know other church members. There’s also a translator in Sunday services.

Open to change
Going deeper, Ian shares a current challenge with their children’s work. For the 10 to 12-year-olds, around half are now from Hong Kong. This brings logistical challenges, but also interesting cultural questions of differing teaching styles. The teachers have risen to the challenge, Ian says. There’s not only the opportunity to help children from Hong Kong adapt to British teaching styles they will find in schools, but also the humility to ask, ‘What is there to learn from this for ourselves?’

In recent years, the church has sought to diversify its leadership and staff to include people from various cultural contexts. They appointed an Indonesian-background elder, while Ian tells me the Malaysian church café manager is ‘just brilliant’.

Ian believes God is behind the movement of Hong Kong Christians to the UK to strengthen the Church here. He’s impressed by the spiritual hunger, commitment, and passion for prayer of those who have joined Guildford Baptist from Hong Kong. He wants the church to learn from them and see them become part of the life, ministry and mission of the church.

‘We’ve got a long way to go’, Ian muses. Yet, that Hong Kong meal is a picture of serving and being served, together, around the table of the King.

Reuben Grace
OMF (UK) Content & Books Coordinator

We had a much longer conversation with Ian, covering lament, more about hospitality and his advice for pastors in this season of church life, which is available here.