top of page

The Hospitality of Need

by Kevan Chandler, with Tommy C. Shelton

In the wake of the Great War, J.M. Barrie spoke to the 1922 graduating class of St. Andrews in Scotland and said, “Your God is watching to see whether you are adventurous.” But he wasn’t talking about fighting pirates, inventing something life-changing, exploring a new world, or even rebuilding the old one. The author of Peter Pan was referring to the adventure of loving people—choosing joy, forgiveness, and care in the face of a world full of anger, bitterness, and self-preservation. One hundred years after this speech was given, I called my friend Tommy Shelton, a pastor in Tampa, and asked if he would consider writing a book with me about this very adventure. 

There’s been a lot of talk over the past few years about isolation and “the disease of loneliness.” Community has become more of a buzzword than an actual solution, trending in church small group programs and meeting for coffee or having a meal together. I grew up on the living room floor of a small group meeting long before it was cool, so don’t get me wrong, there is value in these things. But is it actually sustainable in and of itself? True community isn’t found over a cup of coffee but in interdependence and is fostered through mutual vulnerability. And this can only happen when we step into others’ needs and invite them into our own.

The trouble with this idea is that we are a fiercely independent people born and bred in an image-centered pop culture of pride and social media. Our needs are often either burdens to be hidden or met by outsiders to not bother those closest to us, or they are idols to be flaunted or forced upon others as priority. In short, we either say everything is fine, or we say everything is wrong and the world should revolve around that fact. But what if our needs could be more than that? What if they could be tools for us to delve deeper into true community with one another? This was the idea I proposed to Tommy—we could love others, not in spite of our needs but through them. That sounds like quite the adventure!

It’s not an entirely foreign concept, though I didn’t have words for it until recently. I’ve spent my whole life in a wheelchair and almost fully dependent on others. Not a day goes by, maybe not even an hour, that I don’t ask for help in some way. Walking is the least of my concerns. I need help with using the restroom, showering, getting dressed, turning over in bed at night, preparing food, and eating it, opening doors, blowing my nose, scratching my head when it itches, grabbing a book from the shelf, and positioning my hands just right on a table so I can hold that book open to read it. This is the story of my life and the common narrative of needs. Whether I’m traveling or at home, because of my disability, pretty much anything I do is going to require more of me and others. Admittedly, I don’t like this fact for myself or for my friends who jump into my needs. Everything takes longer. Everything takes more forethought and effort. Everything involves more people and also disrupts more people. There’s a temptation to assume this is a bad thing, but maybe it’s a grace, as Jesus saw it.

Being so acquainted with the need, I have often struggled, wondering if I am, more than anything else, a burden. There are only so many ways to ask for help before you start to wonder. Then I read about how Jesus asked a Samaritan woman for a drink of water, how a sinful woman washed his dusty feet, how his disciples gave him something to eat after his resurrection. And through these needs that he took on as a man, the people serving Jesus were served in ways far deeper than physical thirst, dirt, or hunger. He saw the need as a door to be opened into fellowship, healing, and wholeness.

There is a special element of need that God designed us with, and Jesus exemplified while in human form. That is, the element of hospitality. Whether we are inviting others into our need or being invited into theirs, if together we approach it right, we can enjoy walking through the door that Jesus opened with his own human needs. We might find there the fruits of fellowship, healing, and wholeness, which are coincidentally the same fruits of our common understanding of hospitality, aren’t they? In the idea of hospitality, we say to our guests, “Come in and give me your time, attention, and presence, all for your sake.” We want our guests to find restoration in our space and company. On the other hand, with the idea of need, we traditionally say to our guests, “Come in and give me your time, attention, and presence, all for my sake.” But that’s not what Jesus said.

The Creator of Everything asked a Samaritan woman for a drink of water, giving her the authority to pull him out of the ditch of thirst. And so, walls came down for a far greater conversation. He related to her; he condescended to her; he even, in a way, submitted to her for her sake and ultimately her salvation. He then defended a prostitute who washed his feet. Jesus honored her, a woman he shouldn’t have been seen with culturally, and defended her against those he should have striven to please culturally. So, this sweet woman, who lived in dishonor, was given a profound sense of dignity at the feet of her Lord. And when he had risen from the dead, Jesus saw the disciples and asked them for a snack. He asked for a plate, not for its nutrients of sustenance, but for the sweetness of fellowship and assurance for his friends. The resurrected Christ could do anything. If He could appear in upper rooms, He could surely have appeared in Pilot’s chambers or the Pharisees’ council or before astonished crowds and demanded to be lifted high. But instead, He went to His friends and lifted them out of their fear and despair.

So, what does this look like for you? What does it look like for me and my inability to use the restroom without the help of others? My circumstances may be more extreme than yours (or they may not be), but it’s the example I have, so let’s start there. Because I have these needs, to be bathed by others, dressed, fed, and so on, my situation calls for a depth of connection that not many friendships lead to. 

The friends who step into my needs with me are fed by the experience, by the time spent together, the conversations, the sense of purpose, learning, shaping, laughter, and challenge. I am fed, too, in the same ways, and I have the same responsibilities as they do when I step into my needs with them. My needs may be what brought us together for the occasion, the door that leads us into the room, but the people who meet my needs have needs as well. And just as they are attentive to mine, I must be attentive to theirs. Just as they enter into my needs, I must enter into theirs. My needs may be considered more outward and demanding, but theirs are just as important and hospitable, and we will find the same depth together as well.

We all have needs, great or small, and they beckon us into the same intimacy. The question is whether we will step into these opportunities; this hospitality so that our needs not only call for a deeper connection but foster it as well. We can love our brothers and sisters; we can care for others, not despite our needs but through them. And maybe it’s not just that we can, but that we are supposed to.

The need existed before sin. Long before the fall, Adam needed a helpmate; trees needed sunlight, and fish needed the sea. Back then, every need pointed creation back to its Creator. What Tommy and I are suggesting is that every need still does. Every need—whether help with a shower, tutoring for math homework, or a ride to the grocery store—is all meant to draw us closer to one another and to God. It is in the vulnerability of need that we can overcome the disease of loneliness that plagues a generation. It is in the fellowship of need that we can find true community. And it is in the hospitality of need that we can experience the wonderful adventure of loving one another.


Kevan Chandler grew up in the foothills of North Carolina. He was the second of his siblings to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, type 2, a rare neuromuscular disease. In 2016, he and his friends took a trip across Europe, leaving his wheelchair at home, and his friends carried him for three weeks in a backpack. An avid storyteller, he is a writer and speaker worldwide about his unique life with a disability, being a featured speaker for Tedx and Google, as well as various conferences, pharmaceutical companies, and universities. Kevan has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Counseling from John Wesley College, and is also founder of the nonprofit We Carry Kevan. He and his wife Katie live in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where they enjoy growing vegetables, making homemade bread, and reading to each other.

Tommy Shelton, Jr. grew up joyfully as the son of a pastor in North Carolina, and is thrilled that God called him to follow in his father’s shepherding footsteps. He loves his wife and six children. He also loves to preach the Bible, pray over people, and build things. Tommy is the pastor of Live Oaks Bible Church in Palm Harbor, Florida.


bottom of page