Ministry to the poor is messier than I expected, and because of that reality, I have spent some time in recent weeks really questioning whether I actually had a heart/love for the poor or not, especially the homeless and the addicted. They have felt like a burden to me at times, not a joy. They have felt like a “they” and not a people. Doing what’s right and best is confusing, more so now that I am in a position of authority at my church, having to make decisions on how to use money and resources which are limited when faced with seemingly endless and unlimited need.
How do you make the best decision when the way seems unclear? For example, there has been a group of homeless people sleeping on our church grounds for months and months, and the decision of what to do about this situation has been confusing. On the one hand, it is good that many see our church as a place where they can sleep safely, a place to call home. On the other hand, our church has many more things going on during the week than simply being a place where folks can sleep, and there is no way to monitor or know who is staying on our grounds, what their background is. As a church leader, I have a responsibility for the big picture of our church, but sometimes two halves of the picture don’t line up. On the one hand, wouldn’t Jesus let the homeless people stay on church property (or let them sleep inside the building for that matter)? On the other hand, a few bad apples have stolen some things, peed on the doors, left excrement on the sidewalk, which reflects poorly on the whole bunch. On the other hand, where else do you "do your business" when you are outside? Many who slept at our church would say that Grace is their church home, and when we put up No Trespassing signs, indicating that they are not welcome to stay there anymore, they felt as thought their church were turning on them.
That’s just one example. Then there is the example from this a couple of weeks ago when a person I was meeting with lied straight to my face about their living situation and their substance abuse issues. It’s hard to help someone that you don’t trust, and it’s hard to trust someone that you know is lying to you.
And so it becomes easy to be jaded, to lump every poor or homeless person into categories, or to withhold love because they have lied, but the love of Christ constrains us from doing so.
My desire for those we help is whole-life transformation. Their desire is, often times, survival. I don’t know what it is to have to simply survive. Many of them, I believe, don’t know what it is to be transformed from the inside-out. How to love someone, while not enabling them, while still helping them even when they don’t have it all figured out, while not being overly gullible and taken advantage of, while showing Christ’s love even when you say “no” is a very hard thing. It’s a Spirit thing. I am still learning how to listen.