Above All Else: Love Expressed Through Hospitality

Ben DirksenThe CACE Roundtable5 Comments

Teacher hugging two students, showing hospitality.

Take a little journey with me if you will.

Let’s explore these questions:

If you truly experienced freedom, how would you know?
What would you experience?
What would be absent?
What would you loosen your grip on?
What would you elevate?
What would those around you experience?
What keeps us from experiencing this freedom?

In response to the last question, if we are being honest, almost all of us would say, “Fear.”  We are afraid. 

Afraid of what?  

Well, you’ll have to answer that for yourself.

We may not always understand fear. But one thing we know is that perfect love drives out fear. We all need to experience love to be free. Our students do, so do our families and so do our coworkers. 

How can we create an environment/climate where students, parents, faculty, and administration experience freedom from fear through love?  

What if we started with unreasonable hospitality?

Will Guidara is the former co-owner of Eleven Madison Park in New York City, one of the greatest restaurants in the world. In his book Unreasonable Hospitality, he details his journey of taking this restaurant from #50 in the world to #1 by focusing on hospitality (to an unreasonable degree). Will’s definition of hospitality is “genuinely engaging with the person you’re serving, so you can make an authentic connection” (p.5).  

The power of hospitality is that it shows dignity to each and every person. It’s an acknowledgement that they are worth acknowledging. Acknowledgement leads to connection, connection leads a person to believe that they matter, and that belief leads to a sense of belonging. We all need to be seen, known, and loved. When we experience being seen, we may risk being known, and in turn, embrace being loved. Hospitality is about seeing people; it begins with eye contact, the use of people’s names, and a smile. From there, go figure out what unreasonably hospitable action you want to offer to your community.  

Will emphasizes that “fads fade and cycle, but the human desire to be taken care of never goes away” (p.4).

What does it mean for students and staff to be cared for in an educational setting?

If we want to transform our communities into ones marked by love and freedom, then we need to start our own inner transformation and develop a focus on hospitality. If you’re looking for an actionable way to start this pursuit, Will encourages us to ask these questions:

How do you make the people who work for you and the people you serve feel seen and valued?
How do you give them a sense of belonging?
How do you make them feel a part of something bigger than themselves?
How do you make them feel welcome?

When thinking about these questions, the people of Pella Christian Grade School decided to start with our new staff by inviting each of them in for a morning of one-on-one intentional connection with members of our administrative office. This time offered space for them to ask questions, be invited into the greater mission, and become equipped to take their first steps as members of our school community. Another group of people we wanted to experience unreasonable hospitality was our middle school students. Our teachers have designed our first day to be all about relationships. Students spend the day connecting with and celebrating each other, worshipping, and creating social norms that promote belonging. Our teachers want students to know that we are thrilled they are here, they are important contributing members of our community, and joy is a vital part of our world here. 

“When we experience being seen, we may risk being known, and in turn, embrace being loved.”

As you think about those questions and consider possibilities, pay attention to what energizes you, then step toward them. 

Unreasonable hospitality doesn’t need to be uniform or extravagant. What happens in your school will look different from what happens in another. How this value is embodied in your classroom likely won’t be delivered in the same way down the hall.  What matters is that we pursue this kind of hospitality individually and collectively. 

Let’s pursue love. Let’s pursue freedom. Let’s drive fear out of our communities.

Administrators, take care of your people.  Teachers, take care of your students. Students, take care of each other. After all, the only thing that really counts is faith expressing itself through love. 

Above all else, put on love.


  • Ben Dirksen

    Ben Dirksen is on a continual quest to live wholeheartedly and facilitate experiences for others to do the same. You can find him in Pella, Iowa where he gets to serve as the Early Education-8th Grade Principal at Pella Christian Grade School.

5 Comments on “Above All Else: Love Expressed Through Hospitality”

  1. Wonderful article – I think it describes the irresistible attraction that Jesus had with everyone He met, but I never thought of it as a form of hospitality before; actually it is just that.
    I travel to Pella a lot for Western Theological Seminary, and maybe we’ll meet there someday, Ben. I ama friend of Sid Verdoorn who has tuned me into CACE. I love what you guys do.

  2. Ben – what a wonderful take on the connection between hospitality and belonging. I appreciate your thoughtful approach in seeing new opportunities promote being seen and belonging to your school.

  3. Ben– what a great reminder. I see you fostering a leadership space that elevates teachers’ gifts, students’ curiosity, and each person’s strengths. As Guidara points out, hospitality is a dialogue, not a monologue. Thanks for reading the rooms where you lead!

  4. As soon as I read the title I thought, I think I know the author of this article. Good work. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and vision!

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