Last night, a client asked me why I’m drawn to pastoral work with homeless folks. I’ve been asked this many times, and there’s usually a genre expectation: people expect me to tell a story where I was once homeless myself, or a homeless guy’s generosity changed my life, or where I failed to help someone who later died, or a “lightning rod moment” when God gave me a special burden for the homeless population, or some such thing. (None of that is even close to true, by the way.)
The assumption behind the question is that ministry to homeless folks is uniquely hard, and unless you have some kind of special calling to that population, you couldn’t or wouldn’t do it.
The truth is rather more mundane: I’m not against it.
I know that sounds odd, but think about it this way: there’s a seminary just down the road full of students aspiring to “the professional ministry.” Guarantee you, very few of them are looking forward to a ministry that involves hugging someone whose last bath was 2 weeks ago at the sink in a Burger King bathroom. They’re looking for church jobs in the well-heeled suburbs. Most of them are realistic enough to know they aren’t going to waltz into a senior pastor gig first thing; they expect to pay their dues. They’ll start out as youth pastors, or associate pastors at a small church, before moving up to the mid-size churches. Some of them will be happy to stay there; others aspire to the megachurch, where there’s an on-site nursery and day care for the employees’ kids. Others are angling more toward a Ph.D. and a career in academia; still others for positions in publishing.
There’s nothing wrong with any of that, of course. We need books and professors and churches in the ‘burbs; there’s good work to be done there. But the point is, serving the homeless population is simply not on their maps as something one might do. Of course they know, at an intellectual level, that some people do that kind of work, but it’s never seriously occurred to them that they might do it.
And so, mostly, they won’t. They’ll continue to think of the default “ministry position” as a full-time staff position at a mid-sized suburban church, and caring for the homeless as an exotic burden specially gifted to other people. Some of them will think that we are losers — the ones who failed to make the cut for the cushier jobs. Others will think we’re especially dedicated. But neither is true. Me, I’ve no special calling or exotic gift for homeless ministry. But neither am I possessed of the delusion that such a thing is necessary. It’s just feeding Christ’s sheep and loving the lost.
Which ones? The ones He put in front of me. Who’d He put in front of you?