I am quite aware that reaching out to the poor as a matter of outreach ministry is not simply a simple matter. There are legitimate complexities and concerns that cannot just be overlooked and left unattended. However, in pointing them out, I in no way suggest they are daunting complexities. No. As the old saying goes: Where there’s a will, there’s a way. How much more The Way when the Spirit of God empowers it? Churches engage in far bigger complexities all the time! So, let’s not blow this out of proportion.
And anyway, the single biggest hurdle to caring for the poor is our own contempt. Let’s not be in denial about this. Acknowledge and accept that we must get past our contempt and stop blowing complexities out of proportion as a way of hiding it behind a smokescreen of excuses.
That said, let us address a few complexities, at least in the broad strokes.
Right off, I am mindful that street homeless people in need of a warm, dry, safe place to crash for the night bring complications with them. The first thing I note is that this will be an overnight ministry, which is unusual for most churches. We will need to deploy night shift ministers!
I expect that at least one or two ministers will need to be trusted, responsible people in charge. And getting someone like that to take on a night shift may be a challenge, however, I am sure that shepherds in The Lord’s Church are familiar with sacrifice, and hopefully will be willing to rotate a schedule. But Lubbock hosts two Christian universities that educate hundreds of young people who stay up late regularly and who would love to join adventuresome ministry such as this. I have not mentioned the major state university which also has hundreds of young Christian people who might well volunteer, and there is a local junior college too. I expect that finding help chaperoning the homeless will be fairly simple.
I am certain that some churches are closer to homeless areas than others, and it may be difficult to attract them. However, those youth group vans that haul our kids to all those ski trips can be used to round up homeless people just as well as take kids to ski trips.
People living on the streets and taking refuge in shelters (whether a church building or somewhere else) are apt to bring drugs, alcohol, and/or conflicts with them. There will need to be a list of rules, though hopefully it is short, and someone with clout to inform and enforce. Some real forethought is important along these lines. But honestly, those lock-ins with the youth groups may or may not be more wild or less tame.
I think the bulk of the remainder of complexities have more to do with UNLEARNING actually. Most people think that in order to offer ministry to the poor and homeless, it is important to give some sort of job training assistance, drug rehab, and a concern for showers. And I don’t mean to suggest there is no value in such ministry, but neither is it all necessary. Let us not smuggle this mentality into the Matthew 25 or Luke 14 directives. We really can throw a party and take in a stranger AND THAT BE THE MINISTRY! So, let us just focus on those matters for this proposal, and shed all the cumbersome concerns that go beyond that focus.
Basically, we will help these folx love Jesus and sense the love of Jesus for themselves rather than try to FIX them. This is a goal we actually will achieve, and it will surprise you how often their lives will show signs of healing when we stop trying to FIX them and just love them “where they are at”, as we like to say.
Honestly, offering a warm, safe place to stay the night, where a celebration of Jesus (worship) involving a meal (cheap pizza), space on the floor to sleep, and a couple overseers, to make sure neither the sleepers nor their few belongings are molested, is actually not only adequate, but once experienced begins to open up hearts and minds to the love of God in surprising ways. Grace at the Table of the Lord is not actually a new idea, but actually full of dynamite power that usually goes unnoticed. Let me point out that in the famous story in Luke 24 about the encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, it comes to a climax when Jesus is revealed in the breaking of the bread! Communion is powerful like that; try it sometime.
Please, let us discuss these complexities and discuss them along these lines. I think you will find the Shalom you are seeking!