Don Everts: Great News About Open Doors
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Don EvertsDon Everts is the senior pastor of First & Calvary Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Missouri, and is a writer for Lutheran Hour Ministries and the Hopeful Neighborhood Project. Don has spent almost three decades helping people on college campuses and in the local church become good stewards of their God-given gifts. Along the way, his wife, Wendy, has been helping Don do the same. His many books include The Reluctant Witness, The Spiritually Vibrant Home, and The Hopeful Neighborhood, all...more
Would you believe flinging open your doors could mean more intimate faith for your family? Author Don Everts reveals startling research about a packed house.
Don Everts: Great News About Open Doors
Don: Turns out God knows what He’s talking about—He calls His people, Old Testament and New Testament, to be hospitable—that part of a life, well-lived, and part of being His people is where you: “Love the stranger, “Love the alien, “Be hospitable.” The New Testament word, where the Greek word for “show hospitality” is philoxenia, which means “love of the stranger.”
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Over the years, we’ve probably had quite a few people live with us, in and out. How’s that been for you? [Laughter]
Dave: You had to bring that up! [Laughter] You’re laughing because—tell the listener why you’re laughing—go ahead; I’ll just let you express this.
Ann: I wanted you to express it.
Dave: It was always a wonderful thing to invite somebody. They usually lived in our basement that we finished and had their own living space. But after a period of time, I got a little frustrated; let’s just say that.
Ann: Why is that?
Dave: It cramped my life, and it’s a bad way to introduce a topic that we’re going to encourage listeners to do.
But we’ve got Don Everts back with us. Don, you’re a pastor; you’re a dad. You’ve written this book on research and how to develop spiritually vibrant homes.
First of all, let me say, we’ve loved the last two days, having you on here.
Dave: Welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Don: Great to be with you; likewise. It’s fun to think about these things together.
Ann: It is.
Dave: One of the reasons, obviously, we’re bringing this up—and you can remind our listeners—but as you studied spiritually vibrant homes to say: “What were the commonalities that made them spiritually vibrant?”—you found three things: “Messy prayers,” you call them; “Loud tables.” We’ve already talked about those two. If you [the listener] don’t know what those words mean, then we’re not going to tell you; you go listen. [Laughter]Trust me, those two conversations are going to change your life.
But then the third one, I didn’t see coming: “Open doors” is what you call it. It’s sort of a little bit of what we’re talking about, but explain what that means.
Don: We didn’t see it coming either. When you do research like this, we think we’re going to find this. We did not think we would find that one of the commonalities, that corresponds with more vibrant faith, is that households extend hospitality/that there are people in and out of their household on a regular basis every month.
Ann: Some people just said, “Oh, no!”
Don: I know; I know. There are going to be some people—because I’m about to get crazy excited about hospitality—so let me just qualify it by saying: “Sometimes, a household is not in a place/a healthy enough place to throw open the door. There are levels of how wide you can crack the door: you can open it a little wider or you can just take the door off the hinges. There’s different ways people can do it, so I just want to qualify that.”
Ann: At the same time, we’re saying, “Your house doesn’t have to be perfect.” It doesn’t have to be the perfect house, with the perfect décor, with the perfect meal.
Don: That’s right; that’s right. This was the surprising one, friends; this was surprising.
Now, it made us go back into the Scriptures, and then we repented and said, “We should not have been surprised about this.” Because it turns out God knows what He’s talking about—He calls His people, Old Testament and New Testament, to be hospitable—that part of a life, well-lived, and part of being His people is where you extend hospitality. We shouldn’t have been surprised; we were.
What the research told us is that the more you have people in and out of your household, the more vibrant the faith is of the people living there. It’s not necessarily that you have Christians coming in and out of your household. It could be non-Christians who are coming in; it could be people who are coming in because they’re a tutor—you could be paying them to come in and tutor a kid—or it could be grandparents coming in; it could be boyfriends and girlfriends. The more open your doors/the more hospitality there is, the more vibrant the faith is.
What shocked me in this—because the researchers at Barna/they never talk about causality: they’ll never say, “A causes B”; they just say, “There’s a correlation between A and B.”
This one—they talked differently—this one.
Dave: Really; why?
Don: Because they said, “It causes it.” There’s something about having more people, in and out of your household, that—actually, doesn’t just correspond with—but it affects and increases faith formation.
Dave: Okay, what is it? What is it about having people in and out?
Don: That they don’t know.
Dave: They don’t know.
Don: They don’t know that.
Dave: Well, you know; what would you say?
Don: I have my thoughts; I have my theories about it.
Here’s an interesting thing: one of the things that they found is there’s something about the dynamics of a household that has people, in and out of it, all of the time—where sometimes the effect is: say you have a strong Christian from church, who is coming over; and they’re having a great influence on your family—but maybe you have someone needy, or non-Christian, who’s coming in—but you’re still navigating them as a household, like you’re living out your faith and your relationships in a way that your whole household is seeing that and being a part of that together. The world coming in and hanging out—and you, as a household, navigating that; and your kids watching you do that—that grows your faith.
Ann: It’s so interesting; because we can feel like: “In this culture, we need to protect our family.
Ann: “We need to have us under the roof; put up the walls; protect us,” especially with non-Christians.
Ann: This doesn’t mean even Christian; this means just your door is open and people are coming in.
Don: It’s interesting: in the New Testament, it turns out we are called, again and again, and in the Old Testament: “Love the stranger,” “Love the alien,” “Be hospitable.” The New Testament, where the Greek word for “show hospitality” is philoxenia, which means “love of the stranger.”
I would say xenophobia—“fear of the stranger”—is more what we can be tempted by: “I’m going to close off my kids/I’m going to close off my household from the evil world out there.” I’m not saying, “Don’t be mindful”—obviously—"about how you interact with culture,”—that’s not what I’m saying. But what the research says is that the more insular a household is, the more there’s a risk factor for not having vibrant faith.
Ann: That’s amazing.
Don: I can tell you: Bassetti was a dear friend of ours, where we lived, when I was writing this book. She’s from Nigeria; she’s a single woman in our church. We just love her. She was in and out of house all of the time. I loved having meals with her, because she had such a different life experience. My kids were hearing about that.
We had my mom and stepdad move in with us eight years ago. We were raising our kids with grandparents in the home. My stepdad was weird; and yet, to be at a dinner table, and to be able to say, “Hey, Buzz, will you pray for our dinner tonight?” Here’s the deal: that was risky, because you never knew what he was going to say. [Laughter] But the kids/they’re getting to interact with someone else’s faith, other than just their parents.
Where we live right now, it’s regular that we have Muslims and Hindus in our house on a regular basis—because we’re right on the campus—there’s all these international students. My son, who’s a high schooler, is getting to see us interact with people from different contexts. He’s getting to see us just be really open, and build trust and build bridges of trust, to gain a hearing. Then, when they’re curious, he’s seeing us how we talk about our faith and how we don’t talk about our faith.
Ann: That makes me think of 1 Thessalonians 2:8, which says, “So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you, not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives; because you had become very dear to us.” That is exactly what we’re talking about.
Don: That’s it; it’s our lives.
We did a whole other research project on spiritual conversations with non-Christians—and how that goes, and what’s helpful, and what non-Christians like and all that—one of the things that it shows us is that/I mean, the first key is gaining a hearing; you have to build trust. Our kids are seeing us—not just: “Why do you pray to thousands of gods, as a Hindu?” and “What makes you think they are real?” and “Why are cows holy?”—they get to see us go: “Hey! It’s good to see you,” and to love them and talk about life. We’re modeling that sort of thing.
One of the tools we have in this chapter on hospitality—on our “open doors”—is a household map. We encourage people to map out their household: their core household, who lives with you in your household, and then the extended household. Like my kids’ friends, who are over all the time, they’re actually a part of my household, as the Bible understands households. The average household size in the Old Testament was 50 to 100 people.
Don: Yes, they didn’t have this idea of a nuclear household. It was us; and my uncles; and the cousins; and the grandparents; and then the other tradesmen; and then the traveler, who’s coming to town, who is staying with us. In Genesis, where you have Jacob’s household, is actually listed: 70 people are in his household.
Now that doesn’t mean we need to live in communes—and all that sort of thing—but to understand a whole household includes your nuclear or your core household—people you live with—and all these other people.
When I was doing the research, I started thinking about it: “Well, Bassetti, she’s a part of my extended household. Just thinking about that made me more mindful of that relationship. My kids—same thing—because my wife is a great cook, all their friends are coming over; they’re part of my extended household: “What’s my role to try to influence them, and try to love on them, and be an encouragement for them?” It changes the game of how you are thinking of things to map out.
We’ve even created a cartoon video to help people figure out, like, “If the grandparents live really far away, but they Zoom® every week, are they a part of our household?”—there’s ways of thinking about that. But that more mindful we are of this larger orbit, the more active we’re going to be with that; the research tells us it causes our faith to grow.
Dave: What do you say to the parent, who is hearing this, and they’re gripped with fear because often we think—and you used the analogy of the submarine versus the rescue ship—we think submarine: “I want to lock our family down,” “I want to lock all the doors.
Ann: —“Put a bubble around us.”
Dave: “I’ve got to protect my kids; there’s bad influences out there. They may have to be exposed to them at school, or in the public square; but in my home, I can control, so I’m not letting any of that in my home.” You’re saying almost the opposite. [Laughter]
Don: Yes; well, again, there may be occasions—and there may be contexts and situations—where that is the right thing to do. I really want to acknowledge that.
Ann: And we’re not saying, too—like we’re protecting our kids, I’m thinking,—
Don: Exactly; totally.
Ann: —in terms of any kind of abuse: they’re not alone.
Don: Exactly; exactly.
But I will say this: the default assumption—that insulating our kids, or our households, from the world around us will necessarily grow our faith—is false. It’s kind of like cul de sacs. Cul de sacs are great—right?—and they’re really fun. But the image that we have is that they’re safer, because it’s our little pocket right here [for] my kids.
It turns out, traffic-wise, cul de sacs are statistically more dangerous than regular streets. That doesn’t mean: “Don’t live on a cul de sac”; right? You just have to be wise—it’s just that they’re different; that’s why they’re not quite as safe—because people aren’t used to navigating them and all that.
It’s kind of similar in the sense that we just assume: “If you circle the wagons, my kids’ faith will grow,” or “…will be stronger.” It’s just not necessarily true. There’s something about hospitality that, if your family has occasion—I’m trying to get to an answer to your question; I’m qualifying my way to it—
Don: —so if people have a fear of that—if there’s something real to fear—then fear it.
But if the fear is this general xenophobic—like: “I need to protect my kids’ purity above all else,”—default thought that that’s what it means to be a faithful believer—then I would challenge that, both through what the Scripture calls us to and what the research tells us.
Actually, there is a way—I did campus ministry for 18 years—some of the people, who struggled most to launch, as believers, and to own their faith, and to know how to navigate the world, and be salt and light—some of the people, who have the hardest time with that—were the ones who grew up in a little Christian bubble. They had been so protected that their muscles didn’t develop.
We want more for our kids: “What do we want for our kids? Do we want more for them than to be safe and happy?” We were talking about your goals for your kids, like: “I want you to be used, and to be a warrior for God, and to thrive in this world,”—and all that—that protection, alone, actually will not result in that, probably.
To someone with fear, I would say, “Just crack your door a little bit.” Even a way of doing that: just in the prayer life of your household, start praying for people who are outside your household. That’s even safe; you don’t even have to really open the door to do that.
Ann: Yes, you’re just praying.
Don: You’re praying for others but you’re inviting those in your household to be more mindful of people, who aren’t in your orbit.
Ann: I would add this, too, Don. I was thinking about this when we wrote our parenting book: to know who you are; to know what your passions are; to know what you enjoy. I’m thinking of Dave—he may not have some person come in and have this face-to-face really deep conversation immediately—but what Dave is a genius of is playing; he is so good at: “Hey, let’s play a game,” “Let’s make up this game,” “Let’s play basketball,”/“…football.”
He’s in our front yard; and I would say, too, he’s the only dad outside.
Don: Yes, there you go.
Ann: These kids—he is a magnet—when the kids were little: even 10-year-old/12-year-old boys/they would knock on the door, and they would say, “Can Mr. Wilson come out and play?”—[Laughter]—every time. And he’s fun; he’s funny.
Maybe, if you’re a dad or a mom, and you think, “I don’t feel as comfortable of going to this deep spiritual conversation,”—just—“Who are you?”—maybe, you’re a gamer. I think Dave—
Dave: “Use your gifts as a magnet.”
Don: “Use your gifts,”—and here’s the reality—the research told us the three things: “Messy prayers,” “Loud tables,” “Open doors.” The research also told us there are two catalysts that make all three of those happen more: food and fun. Those were the two catalysts.
Having fun—interacting with people/doing things—creates an atmosphere/draws people in, which makes those other three things more likely to happen—so start there!
Dave: One of the things you say—under this part of your book: “Crack the door a little bit/open a little wider”—is: “Start a small group.
Don: Yes, that’s it.
Dave: “Maybe even have a Bible study in your home.”
We did that; and our kids—we weren’t even thinking about it, when they were seven and eight years old—they’re watching our neighbors walk in our door, sit around, open a Bible, and have spiritual conversations and arguments/disagreements about these topics—that’s a really good thing. We didn’t even realize it; right?
Don: But they’re seeing it’s—not just: “Well, my parents go to church,”—“They must care about the Bible, because they even do it at home. They even have friends, who are over, doing it.”
For those, who are listening, who are like: “Oh, I’m no good at any of these things,” and “I’m a new Christian,” or “How do I do this?”—here’s a real cheater—you guys want a pro tip here? Someone at your church—who you’re just like: “Man, I want to be like them”; or like I’m a parent: “I want my kids…”—man, invite them over/have them over. Have your kids sit at the table with them, and just tell them, “Hey, tell us your testimony; or tell us something about your faith.” Let them influence you; you know what I mean? Let them rub off on your kids—that’s just a little cheater—and guess what?—they’re going to rub off on you too.
Dave: Here’s a question that I didn’t see directly addressed in the book: “What about your marriage?
Dave: “How important is a good marriage for your kids in a spiritually vibrant home?” I mean, it wasn’t the focus of the research; but—
Don: We don’t have research on that, but I’ve been married 25 years;—[Laughter]
Dave: That’s research.
Don: —I’ve been doing ministry for 30 years. [Marriage is] something so key; because that’s the furnace of everything in the household—for a married/for a couple household—right?—for a household, where you do have a husband and wife—the health of that. By health, I don’t just mean it’s pristine—and it’s always: “Hello, honey,” and things are perfect—but like we have a saying in our marriage and in our household that my wife made up: “Mess up; fess up.” One of our rules as a household/one of our virtues is: “You mess up, you fess up.” For our kids to see Wendy and I reconcile with each other is just huge. The health of a marriage—but that doesn’t mean that we’re perfect—but that they see us communicating, that they see us mess up/fess up with each other is huge/is key for all the reasons; right? You’re just smiling; because you’re like, “Yes.”
Don: It’s so key to all of this. That’s why, if someone’s marriage is on the rocks, and all that, maybe don’t start with hospitality. You’ve got to focus on that [marriage]: that’s the next right thing; get good there.
Dave: Yes, it feels like, in some ways, when I hear you say that, Don, it’s like I can’t really lead or model for my family a spiritually vibrant home—all the things we talked about: messy prayers, loud tables, open doors—unless it’s an overflow of my own personal walk with God.
It’s the same thing with the marriage. Man, if we’re not working on our marriage first, we don’t have a lot to give to our kids; because you’re frustrated and you’re angry. But if you’re working on that—and I’m not saying it’s perfect; you’ve said that very well—but man, that’s where my energy is going first. I’m going to meet with God myself, and out of that are going to come prayers, and conversations, and hospitality. But if it’s not first real in me and in my marriage, good luck with it ever being extended to your family.
Shelby: You are listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Don Everts on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear more in just a minute; including encouragement if you have an unbelieving spouse.
But first, what Dave was saying is so true. Your marriage is foundational to the health of your family. We’re excited, here, at FamilyLife; because we’ve got Weekend to Remember marriage getaways going on all over the country this fall. I’ve got the president of FamilyLife, David Robbins, with me. David, these events are life-changing; and we’ve got an exciting deal going on right now.
David: Yes, this is an exciting time at FamilyLife; because this is, every year around this time, we have a half-off sale that gives you the best price possible to come to a Weekend to Remember and have a life-changing experience, as a couple, and invest in your marriage very intentionally.
I was recently at a Weekend to Remember and had someone email me afterward. It was a couple who’s been married 16 years. In their email, they said friends had invited them to attend a Weekend to Remember and told them it was a game-changer for them. I quote: “We came, thinking our marriage was in a good place, and not sure how it could improve; but we believe that God had a vision for us that was beyond what we could see. We came, and God answered our prayer, and exceeded our expectations. I’m surprised, but grateful, and glad that we also can say, ‘This has been a game-changer for us too.’”
Wherever you are, if you’re married—Meg and I have been to Weekend to Remembers, through the years, when we have been at really struggling and challenging times; we’ve also gone to Weekend to Remembers during times that have been great, and we’re on the same page, but we want a tune up—wherever you are, God will meet you there; and it can be a game changer in this season of your life. I want you to go and take advantage of this half-off sale.
Shelby: Yes, please do. Just go to FamilyLifeToday.com to find your getaway and save 50 percent; that’s FamilyLifeToday.com.
Alright; now, back to Dave and Ann with Don Everts and some encouragement if you have an unbelieving spouse. Here’s Don.
Don: We did do some qualitative research/some interviews with people. There are a number of people—it’s not/I can’t give it a statistic—but where you have one spouse, who’s a believer, and the other who’s not. That was part of the research as well.
Here’s the good news that I want to say is: that for the one, who is a believer, who is sitting there—maybe listening to this, and they’re like, “Maybe that would be great if my husband was a believer/cared about his faith,”—the good news is the kind of spiritual coaching—the kind of initiating—all that stuff even works; I mean, it can work.
Is it more powerful if the two are like lock step with each other?—absolutely, unquestionably. But there are people listening, who aren’t in that situation for whatever reason; and the good news is they can be a spiritual coach—they can initiate the things/they can be creating a spiritually vibrant household, even if there’s a hold-out in the household—does that make sense?
Ann: They still are having a great impact.
Don: Absolutely, and that’s why it can be messy. That’s what we found: it doesn’t have to be pristine—it doesn’t have be a husband and wife, holding hands, leading a devotional—it can be a messy thing that is happening and, even that, helps grow the faith.
Dave: Don, would you be willing to pray a messy prayer for the family that’s listening—mom or dad that you mentioned earlier—who feels like: “Wow; we’re not vibrant; we’re dormant. But we want to get out of that.” Would you pray for them?
Don: Yes, let’s pray.
Father, I thank You for the ways that Your Word shines a light into every area of life, including in our households. I just intercede on behalf of those who are listening, Father, who are maybe feeling conviction, or shame, or guilt, or confusion, or excitement, but not knowing what to do. Father, I just pray that Your love would surround them, that they would be uplifted and inspired by the reality that You care about the health of their household and everyone in it even more than they do, and that You are a God, who is pursuing all of them.
I pray, Father, that You would use some of the Scriptures that we’ve talked about/some of the insights from research to call them to one small step. Would You even, right now as they’re listening, bring an image to mind of one little thing that they could do, out of faithfulness? And even if it’s out of fear, I’m just bold to ask, Father, that You would give them one picture, right now, of a step that they could take; and give them the courage to do it, Father.
We thank You that You care about households—that one of the agendas of Your Holy Spirit is to be moving in our households and helping them grow stronger and heal—thank You for Your activity that precedes our activity, even in the household. We pray in Jesus’ name; amen.
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Don Everts on FamilyLife Today. His book is called The Spiritually Vibrant Home: The Power of Messy Prayers, Loud Tables, and Open Doors. You can get a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Join us tomorrow with the Wilsons and film producers, Stephen and Alex Kendrick to hear how they stay in step with the Lord while creating new films. You’ll hear about the latest project they’ve been working on, a film called Lifemark. It’s a true story of a woman, who chose life, seconds before she was about to get an abortion. It’s a story of joy, life, adoption, and hope.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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