Like many others, I was shocked this week when I heard the news that an overnight shelter volunteer had been stabbed in front of First Presbyterian Church while trying to help the homeless find a place to sleep at night. While I don’t know Richard well, I do know him to be a kind, thoughtful, peaceful man who gives his life to making a difference for others.
As a result of this violence, we have renewed our efforts at New Story Church to make sure that everyone, guests and volunteers included, is safe while at our church. We have installed cameras around the church for protection, we make all overnight guests go through a metal detector, and we take several other steps to make sure everyone is as safe as possible. Can we guarantee safety? Of course not. Life (and ministry) come with no guarantees.
But this whole issue has got me thinking about something much more profound: Front Line ministry is hard. Really hard. It’s one thing to write a check and mail it to a homeless shelter. It’s totally different to open a homeless shelter in your church, serve 60 meals a day, make sure they all have warm clothes, and have volunteers minister there every night.
Front Line ministry comes with great highs, and precipitous lows. Each week we get to watch some people move forward towards self-sufficiency while others fall prey to their old demons of addiction. Great friendships are formed, only to be ripped apart by an outstanding warrant that leads to jail time, an unexplained absence, or a street fight that puts someone in the hospital yet again. Some volunteers come with great enthusiasm, only to realize that Front Line ministry is dirty, and smelly, and wildly tiring. A few run for the hills looking for a church that will focus more on them and their wants. But others stay and find a deep spiritual awakening.
A great friend of mine told me that New Story is like a spiritual M.A.S.H. unit. We patch people back together again the best we can and help them along their journey. And while there never seems to be enough money, or volunteers, or time, God finds a way to weave all of our efforts together into a beautiful tapestry that seems to pull miracles out of tears.
Front Line ministry is hard. But it’s totally worth it. When we started New Story Church we were adamant that we would be out in the streets feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving the homeless a place to sleep, and showing a hardened people that the love of Jesus is real. Have we made mistakes? Tons. Do we make the same mistake twice? Rarely. Are we sure that we are following Jesus? Absolutely.
Yes, there are days that we all want to give up. But what we are doing is meaningful. And dangerous. Jesus never said this would be easy. So please pray for our church. Ask God to give us strength, and wisdom, and courage. To fight the good fight. To make a difference. And to love wildly.