One of the biggest dilemmas that I experience in ministry is when to face people with themselves. Sometimes you will have someone in front of you who is engaged in strategies to explain why they are in such a mess for one reason or another, why they have again spent their money on alcohol, or why they didn't turn up to the crucial meeting with regards to their housing situation etc etc etc.
And yet in the midst of knowing that, you also know yourself, you know that perhaps *today* your patience is thin because your own life is taking energy in areas that demand your time, that your children are struggling, or you feel ill, or someone has said something nasty about you on Twitter (irony people)
This is the concept of praxis, knowing yourself within the practice of particular situations - and so practice may change, depending on the 'self' you bring that day, week, month.
And it can be difficult to negotiate - I often find myself questioning whether I am responding out of my lack of breakfast that day, or the true need of the person in front of me. The reality of course is that I can only bring myself, breakfasted or not, *me* is who they get.
My predilection is towards tough love, or articulating the reality. I am well aware that sometimes people feel I am too blunt, or I should couch what I am saying to soften the blow - but sometimes people need to hear that if they carry on down a particular road, they will find themselves rough sleeping/friendless/without choices. Sometimes it is important to say that addressing their addiction is imperative to their wellbeing and future.
Yet, on some days, I find myself feeling a complete bitch. Suffering is not easy to ignore, even if it is to some extent self-induced. So I intentionally make myself think of language that is not so blunt. I ask more questions, I articulate that my hope is for their best. I take more time than I might otherwise. Sometimes I fluff it and wonder if I have colluded with them in their destructive choices.
This will always be the wire I walk. Grace and Truth are inextricably bonded, but often we can feel like they are pulling each other apart.
No more pertinent is this issue, than in the case of homelessness. In the work we do as Street Pastors, we are often engaging with this and are constantly having to deal with the reality of government policy vs personal responsibility - the fault lines are not clear and easy to navigate. The reasons and solutions are many and complex, as much so as the human beings themselves that they seek to explain and help.
Below is a short review by my husband, Quinton Stowell (twitter @qstowell) of a Grove Book which begins to talk through this reality. The book is written by Jon Kuhrt and Chris Ward and tackles some of the issues and difficulties of Christian ministry in this area.
Homelessness – Grace, Truth and Transformation
by Jon Kuhrt and Chris Ward.
Grove Books P135 ISBN 9781851748778 £3.95.
Review by Quinton Stowell, Coordinator, Harrow Street Pastors
Can I recommend this little booklet to you? It’s a brief but very insightful book that tackles the issues of homelessness and is particularly useful for those who come into contact with homeless people through their involvement with their church activities. It’s only got 28 pages, but is packed full of useful information.
The main author is Jon Kuhrt, who has been involved with homeless people for over 20 years. As both a Christian and a full time worker in the ‘voluntary sector’ he sees the situation from both sides of the fence and gives clear guidance on how this partnership can work effectively. Complementing Jon’s overview, Chris Ward shares his testimony of how he battled with homelessness and how his life has been transformed.
From my perspective of being a Street Pastor and coming across homeless people in need of help on a regular basis I had a fair idea of the basic “dos and don’ts”, but Jon’s wealth of experience goes much further. I particularly like the chapter which deals with the need to balance Grace with Truth.
Churches/Christians are often good at showing unconditional, unquestioning care for those in need which is a powerful side of our understanding of Grace. In contrast homeless agencies and local authorities will focus on encouraging homeless people to face reality and take greater responsibility for their situation – to tell them the Truth. We must strive to improve our communication with our partner agencies and learn to balance the need for grace with truth so we can see more lives being transformed.