My staff position at the church I serve involves a variety of things, among them lay mobilization and leadership development. They roll off the tongue pretty easy, but they are among the most difficult areas of service in the local church. In addition to that, we are trying, gently but firmly, to move our church away from the traditional attraction models of growth, and from traditional methodology, into a more relationship oriented movement centered in small groups. There have been long stretches of time where there has been little to no measureable success, and we are in a period now where it seems that people would rather revert back to the “old way” of doing things, instead of venturing out and giving something new a try. I’m sure this all sounds familiar.
God never fails, however, to bring things along that cause a stir of excitement, and which send the message that he’s watching, he’s in charge, and he knows what is going on.
We’re located on a busy street, next to a freeway interchange. One day, a man named Ty came through the door looking for assistance. He was definitely a down and outer, and when I sat down and talked with him, I got his story. He’d lost his job, and his wife and kids, through years of drug and alcohol abuse. He’d been through a divorce. He couldn’t hold down the simplest of jobs, and so he was compelled to live on the streets. The day he came through our door, he had resolved to get himself back up on his feet. He didn’t ask for money, or food, he asked if there were anything he could do to earn some money. As it happened, we needed someone to pick up some trash and mop the gym floor, which is a three hour job. We paid him $50, and told him that if he’d come back the next week, we’d do the same. Through a Jazzercize group that uses our gym, he found a job cleaning a bowling alley four hours a day.
Of course, that didn’t provide him with enough to live on, but it was a start. The next time he came back to the church, I had some good news for him. A homeless shelter had opened up just a few blocks away from us, and they charged a nominal fee in exchange for room and board. I went to visit to make sure it was a decent place, and it was a ministry of another church in the area. Ty got a place there that day.
We have some members in our church involved with a ministry to runaway teens in another part of the city. They got some clothing together for Ty. Every time he came by to mop the floor, he asked me to pray for him. He was trying to “deliver himself” from the drugs and alcohol in his system, and frequently suffered from withdrawal, but he stayed off the stuff. On several occasions, I approached him with the gospel, but he wasn’t ready. Still, whenever he came by, I found something for him to do. I talked to him. I took him to lunch a couple of times, and discovered that he was delighted to be eating at the tables in front rather than out of the dumpster in back, which he had done frequently. I discovered that he loves college football, so we went to see the University of Houston twice.
He would come to church, on occasion, but would sit in the back and leave before the service was over. He wouldn’t discuss his spiritual condition.
Last week, he came by my office, not to accept a temporary job, but to tell me he had been accepted into a truck driving school and had a promise of a job when he was finished. He’d saved enough money, from his job and other odd jobs he had been doing for months, to buy his own bus ticket to Michigan. He’s there now, in training, and by all reports, doing well.
There are those who would say that since he could not be engaged in a spiritual conversation, this kind of work is a waste. But I don’t see it that way. My friendship and my help were not conditional upon his accepting Christ or responding to what I had to say. In fact, this relationship and Ty’s situation taught me an awful lot about investing in relationships to help people. While he may not have wanted to talk about faith, I certainly had a lot of opportunities to share mine with him unconditionally. There is no way he could not have been aware of that. But I was excited for him in that his life took a definite turn toward the better, and that was a blessing for me.