It’s a bit complicated to describe our congregation. Some would say they’re a captive audience. While that description makes me flinch, it’s not all wrong. The residents in this six-month rehabilitation program are required to attend our Sunday service. A spiritual component is part of their recovery along with individual and group counseling, recreation, and work.
We have a congregation of all men. Most of them are addicts. Their church practices are fairly split between no church, protestant and Catholic. I would not describe them as church people. Few of them can navigate their way in the bible without searching the table of contents. You won’t hear them using words like abide or talk about sitting at Jesus’ feet or seeking his face. They don’t know the hymns of the church and, unlike the average church person, these men are very honest when they stand up to share in church.
All of them have come to us beaten down, in desperate need of a shower, clean clothes, a good sleep in a real bed and the consistency of three meals a day. There is more they need but that will come later. First, we tend to the physical. How will they hear the love of God if their stomachs growl with hunger?
“You cannot warm the hearts of people with God’s love if they have an empty stomach and cold feet.” William Booth, founder, The Salvation Army
Many consider this a great opportunity we have to share Jesus with this group of men. I have found it to be more about them teaching me about grace.
“Jesus doesn’t belong to church people. But church people belong to Him, in Him, and through Him.” ― Sarah Bessey, Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith
They are visible reminders that “Jesus doesn’t belong to church people.” This community reminds me The Church isn’t contained by walls or evidenced by steeples and crosses. This group of men, “tore up from the floor up” as one has said, are being called into the church family. Jesus is calling them just as they are, dope sick and hopeless.
If ministry is about us teaching and leading others, then we’ve made it about ourselves and not about serving God and letting him teach us through others.
This group teaches me to look past the outside. They have taught me compassion for the panhandler rather than contempt. They teach me to be honest about my feelings. They’ve taught me that when I accept help I’m helping another. They’ve shown me real discipleship through the 12 Steps. They remind me we can’t do life on our own.
Our congregation may be filled with people who don’t know much about church, but they are people who are learning how The Church can be Jesus to them.