Pastor Steve’s Full Blog Posts
There is a program in Portland, as well as many other cities, in which the most needy homeless are granted an opportunity to move into an apartment for six months, cost free. The idea behind this is to give a homeless person an opportunity to get off the street permanently. At the very least, for six months, they are no longer homeless.
However there are large percentage of homeless who are unable to stay in an apartment even for six months. Sometimes they leave of their own accord, but often they are thrown out due to drug use or for too many people in the apartment. Some hear this and think “how ungrateful.” The social workers who made a huge effort to get them into apartments are upset because the effort seems pointless. However, the reality is more complex.
The homeless who moved into the apartment understood and agreed to the requirements of the apartment building. However, when they were on the street, they learned about the need for community living for survival—the benefit of one becomes the benefit of all. And so how can they, who received housing through no effort of their own, not share it with their friends who helped him out when he was in need? So the apartment quickly becomes full of people, some bringing their addictions with them. But what else could they do?
Some of the same folks, after living in an apartment, find that after living for years on the street four walls are too enclosing, too claustrophobic—the air is too still, too stifling. There are too many people around them, it is too noisy. And they don’t know that they want to take on the responsibility of paying for bills again. It all seems too difficult to deal with and they aren’t sure they will ever be ready to live a “normal” life again.
Unfortunately, many of those working with the homeless, trying to get the homeless apartments or trying to find “solutions” to the “homeless problem” don’t know about these issues. They can’t imagine that an apartment isn’t a great solution for every homeless person.
In James chapter one, there is a wise statement: “Everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak.” James is saying that it is easy to make assumptions about how other people think or what they really want. When we have something that we really need, we assume that everyone has that same need. When we find something that is a solution for ourselves, we assume that everyone must have that same solution, offered to them in the same way. God, however, recognizes that each person has different needs, and God offers them different solutions to their unique problems. This is why although Jesus is the answer, the question looks different for each person and the solution Jesus offers differs depending on the question. God gives the Spirit to speak to each person in their own unique way, that no one can replicate.
For those of us who aren’t too sure, we are not God. And we don’t know the hearts or motivations of people. There is only one way for us to find out: we must ask and listen. We must trust what they say and act out of love in response to their need. Most of us recognize that if we want to speak to a person from another country about the gospel, we would probably need to learn another language, or perhaps learn a bit about their different point of view.
If we were going to speak to a Native American or a naturalized immigrant to our nation, we understand that we would have to communicate a little differently because we do not know their cultural perspective, and we don’t want to offend them by accident. Those who live in poverty live in a different culture than those of us who have always had a middle class life. They have different assumptions, different ways of communicating, different aspirations, different ideas of how the world works. They have different needs and different ways of meeting those needs than we who have always had our needs met.
Ruby Payne spoke of Hidden Rules among class groups that are basically cultural characteristics (you can find the lists here) These descriptions help us realize that there are cultural distinctions between classes. However, any list of characteristics do not apply to all people of these classes, and some of them not even the majority of the people who represent each class.
In the end, even if we learn a person’s culture, their language, their mode of communication, their background and their worldview, in the end, if we want to understand the person in front of us, we must talk to them and listen carefully to what they say. Only if we spend time with a poor person (or any person) can we expect to minister to them.
Only by listening can we express our care for them.
Only by listening can we know what another person’s needs really are.
Only by listening can we participate in being part of their solution.
So, last week we made the decision to stop running around like crazy people on the weekend trying to “attend” two churches.
We love our Calvary Chapel church but haven’t felt that was exactly where God wanted us to stay since we started attending. Which was hard to understand and we took several weeks before submitting to that nudging of the Holy Spirit. We feel He definitely had purpose in us being there, the church was and is everything we wanted, we wanted a church that had a heart for outside the walls and we met some incredible people that will forever be a part of our missions journey, the messages are great and the worship is amazing, but we still felt disconnected from something, then we started to feel the burden of our schedules and realized we were attending a traditional church on Sunday because that’s what we were “supposed to do”, that was in addition to our St Johns ministry which is amazing (and i could go on about it for multiple rants). We really begin to examine what “church” means, what we say it means and what our schedule demonstrates it really means to us.
Our St Johns Trails ministry is a church, we gather, worship by serving and we testify to His greatness and offer the Hope of His amazing Plan, we read the Bible and pray.
So we are attending Calvary Chapel Wednesday nights for the kids Awana and our worship time, an amazing time of being fed and sitting quietly before the Lord, but no longer going on Sundays. We are also going to continue doing street evangelism on Fridays if the week hasn’t been crazy.
Please continue to pray for our ministry, that more of our people would make it to the building. We were serving about 10 regulars and 5 newbies every week under the tree on the Trail, last week we had 3 regulars and 2 newbies in the building, so we are encouraged in that. Anawim, the homeless church in the east Portland area that we are a part of, has several people that serve Trails on Sundays, they are still doing church on the actual trail, they sometimes have close to 25-30 people. Hopeful that they will eventually all begin to come indoors on Saturdays and join us for a great message about His grace and that the Sunday team will have an opportunity to move indoors as well.
Every Friday i have dreams about the room we are in being filled (FILLED) with people needing food and a Savior. I love that dream and am looking forward to it tonight.
I have this friend who was homeless for a long time, moved out of state who is now doing well with housing and meetings and all. I haven’t heard from for a while, but he called me the other day. I saw his name on the caller ID, but I was busy, so I let it go. He called me again about an hour later, and I was in a meeting and so I let it go. I knew that he just wanted to chat my ear off, so I didn’t worry about it. But then he called me again and again, each time I was in the midst of something else.
He literally called me for days. I thought he might be boasting that Obama got elected (whom he was supporting), and didn’t worry too much about it.Finally, yesterday, I got around to calling him back. He said, almost immediately, “Steve are you okay?”I told him I was fine and asked why.“The other day I had a dream about you. You were in your large chair and crying. I wouldn’t have thought about it, but the next night I had exactly the same dream. I think that if I have a repeated dream, then it’s something to be concerned about, so I started calling you. Are you sure you’re okay? When you didn’t call back, I thought there must be something wrong.”I said, “I’m really tired, as usual, but I’m okay.”And then I felt ashamed because I thought he was calling to use up what little energy I had, but in reality he was calling to minister to me. Eventually, if you give and give, people will give back, not because they want to pay back but because they really care.It’s good to know I have friends who care.
I have a friend, Bert, who is a strong follower of Jesus and also is homeless. He travels from church to church, from homeless ministry to another, receiving when he must and helping when he can. He’s often a bit too loud, and sometimes he just has to suddenly leave, but he has been a great encouragement to me for many years.
Bert related a story about a time he visited a church who was going to have a free meal for the public after their Sunday service. My friend, as was usual, arrived as the sun was just rising. He squatted against a wall and read the Bible, preparing for a long wait. Unexpectedly, it began to snow. Bert wasn’t ready for that, and his camp was a distance away. He wasn’t sure what to do, when he noticed that the church had a basement window open. He said to himself, “I’ve helped this church out a lot and they know me. I’m sure they won’t mind that I slip in out of the snow for a couple hours.” So he entered through the window and hung out in the basement. It was so warm and cozy in the basement, he fell asleep.
He awoke to a screaming church member who discovered him in the basement as she was preparing for service. She ran to get the pastor and Bert gathered his wits to get out. The pastor confronted him and Bert tried to explain. The pastor was already on the phone with the police. In a brief time, Bert was arrested for breaking and entering, and ended up spending that day in jail.
When every church begins a ministry to the homeless or poor, allowing non-members on their facility, there are questions that get brought up:
- “Does our insurance cover this?”
- “What happens if the property is damaged?”
- “How do we deal with violence?”
- “What precautions should we take against theft?”
- “What will be the neighbor’s reaction?”
Questions like these are important to consider. They must be brought up, and precautions should be made. Some may want to say that such questions are unworthy of a compassionate church. After all, we should be welcoming, not cautious. It is true, we need to be welcoming, but we also need to recognize that for every hundred people we serve, most of whom will be grateful and helpful, but a few will want to take advantage of more than just our hospitality. Very rarely, but occasionally violence can occur. Rarely, but occasionally a thief will steal in with the sheep. And we must be wise, recognizing that we will have to deal with it.
But if we are going to minister to the poor, we need to be sure that our compassion outweighs our concerns about security. If we, or some of our congregation, have a tendency to call the police at every sign of trouble, our ministry will be considered a blight not only for the poor who know we cannot be trusted, but for the police who are spending time caring for our anxieties instead of serving the public. If we are going to serve a needy population, we need to be prepared for the inevitable problems that will be “unacceptable” to most of the church.
Love is dangerous Every true ministry involves risk. Jesus recognized this when he said, “If you love only those who love you, what reward will you get? Even sinners love those who love them.” Jesus was trying to communicate to us that our love should not be determined by worldly limitations. Our love should be dramatic, overflowing, even unthinkable. If we are living out the love of Jesus, outsiders should be able to say about us, “Those church people are crazy, but they are helping people no one would help.” We should get complaints from neighbors that we are too generous, too kind. And yes, at times we should be so generous that we might get our insurance cancelled.
Obviously, this is a difficult calling. But let’s face it: love is difficult. And to truly, completely, unconditionally love means facing problems that the average church member would consider unimaginable. But choosing ministry over security means entering an adventure of love—and adventures are never comfortable.
On the other hand, there is a balance. We must be innocent as doves and as wise as serpents. We must love adventurously but not recklessly. We want our environment to be both compassionate and safe. Here are some recommendations to have our ministry strike that balance:
- Be generous to a fault and to a point. Be free in what you can give, and try to be as joyfully generous as you can. But also make determinations of what you give and what resources you provide. Get used to saying, “We don’t provide that, but let’s see if we can find someone else who does.”
- Set boundaries. Basic boundaries are necessary for the safety of all who come to the facility. There will need to be rules, and the rules should be posted. If they are posted, they should be simple and not long. We have four posted rules: “No violence or provoking violence. No stealing. No alcohol or drugs on the property. No blasphemy.” We have posted that no one can spend the night without written permission.
- Plan for the worst. Have your staff gather together to talk about potential situations and about situations that have occurred. Everyone should be allowed to express their concerns, but in the end, Jesus’ call to welcome all and to care for all should win out. It might be recommended for some of the staff to obtain peacemaking training or training on working with the mentally ill.
Some tips on dealing with conflict in ministries to the poor.
When should we call the police? There is a time to call the police, and a time not to. Every church must make that determination themselves, but it should be decided ahead of time. Some of these issues are discussed in this article This essay might provide a beginning point for discussion.
It was cold, but no freezing rain or snow. More than a hundred hungry people from the community were in the basement, waiting in line for a meal. A group from a local church was in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on the soup, bread and salad they were serving that night. A leader of the church group announced, “Okay, let’s pray.” And the kitchen group gathered in a circle, held hands and prayed a blessing and the Lord’s Prayer together. Then they served the meal on plates, handed it to the waiting folks, who sat down with their meal, ate and left. The kitchen crew gathered all the dirty plates, cleaned them, cleaned the kitchen, swept the floor and they too left.
Sounds like a good night. Why was there something wrong?
It reminds me of a potluck that the apostle Paul went to. It was in Antioch, his home church, which was mixed with Jews and Gentiles. The potluck was good, and while most of the Jews were sitting in a couple tables and the Gentiles had their own table, a number of the Jewish leaders made a point to sit with the Gentiles.
They did this because in the first century, to eat with a group of people is to include them as family. This only made sense because a group meal, in the ancient world, was a messy business. No one had utensils, they ate with bread, and everyone at the table would dip their bread into the same stew in the middle. So everyone at the table was eating off of the same plate, so to speak. Because eating together was such an intimate experience, to welcome someone to a table was to make them family. We still have a shadow of this sense today.
Jesus had made it clear that he was welcoming the outcast as family. He would eat with the sinners and tax collectors. He made a point to have his feasts in the homes of some of the most disreputable people in town, such as Zaccheus. The early church continued that practice. And the church in Antioch, at their potlucks, with the mixed Jewish and Gentile group, did the same thing. The Jews would eat with the Gentiles, which any proper Jew would never think of. But Jesus made the church somewhat improper for the sake of love.
But this potluck in Antioch was different. Peter had come from Jerusalem to visit and some VERY proper Jews had visited with him to check out the church. And on this day, Peter and Barnabas and the other leaders of the church didn’t eat with the Gentiles. They didn’t welcome them as family. They played a segregation card.
Paul was furious. He stood up and rebuked Peter and the Antioch leadership publicly. And he said, “Why are you treating these Gentiles as second-class Christians? You may have been a ‘proper’ Jew before Jesus, but Jesus showed us how improper we all were! That we had to recognize ourselves as inadequate before God and only Jesus makes us right before Him! If that is so, we need to treat these Gentiles as our equals, as our family, because we are no better than they.” *
Today we recognize that segregation between races and sexes isn’t right—yet we still often practice the segregation between the servers and the served. We are implying that those who are served are not worthy to be serving, and those serving are of a different tribe than the poor being served. In doing this, we are neglecting to welcome the poor as family, as brothers and sisters in Christ.
While certainly not all the poor are believers in Jesus, a number of them are. And whether they are or not, we are all children of God, and needing to be welcomed into the kingdom. If we, who are confidently in God’s kingdom, neglect to treat the poor as our family, then we are neglecting the practice and command of Jesus. When we see a poor brother or sister, we are to treat them as if it was one of our own family coming to visit us, or, dare I say it, Jesus himself.
- The server should eat with the served: If we are providing a service to the poor, we should take time to fellowship with them, to appreciate them as company. We should not do this as a “ministry”, but as we would for family, because it is important to connect with and spend time with them.
- The served should be invited to serve: If there is someone who asks to help, we should find a way for them to help. Not only does it give them self-respect, but it gives them a sense that they are a part of the “serving” group, at one with the ministry of Jesus. To allow someone to serve is a ministry to them.
- Weep with those who weep: The ministry for the poor should not be like a fast-food encounter. There should be laughter and compassion and high-fives and sorrow. We need to appreciate the needs of those around us, to not wall ourselves off from them. We need to sympathize, empathize and pray for those with needs.
*You can read about this incident in Galatians 2:11-21.