What My Friends Need From the Church: A Men’s Shelter Worker Shares Tough Truths

by Mike Toth

Some of my better friends are not welcome in my church. It’s not because the people in my church are bad people — to the contrary, they are kind and generous.

Chances are my friends wouldn’t be welcome at your church either.

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“Becoming holy isn’t simply about sinning less, it’s about loving more.”

The friends I’m speaking of are people who suffer from homelessness and chronic poverty.

These are the people who we hurry past in the street, the mall, wherever, if we actually see them at all. Some are mentally ill, some have addictions issues, some come from homes of multigenerational poverty.

The lack of welcome in the Church is because the things the Church does well don’t reach my friends. Likewise, the things my friends need, the church generally doesn’t do well.

The Christian Church in North America responds very well and generously to disasters and crises. The disaster in Haiti is a perfect example, as churches all over emptied their wallets to reach those in need. There are many wonderful ministries out there, including the one at which I work, that endeavor to fix crises.

The dilemma for the Church, though, is that many of my friends will never be fixed. Some of them, regardless of their stand with Christ, will never look like the rest of us, act like the rest of us, talk like the rest of us.

There will be some, who despite a sincere profession of faith, will continue to struggle with pre-conversion sins for the rest of their lives.

As opposed to being “fixed,” what my friends need long term is something the Church does not do well: relationship and community.

When I look at churches describing themselves they will often talk about being a “community of 500,” or 5000, or however big the individual church has grown. The unfortunate fact is we actually resemble “community” in the municipal sense, as a town of individual dwellings in a similar geographical location than a community actually dwelling together.

My friends need a place to belong, to be accepted, to be healed, to be loved, to be themselves, warts and all.

We have so wed our beliefs of the blessing of God to the blessings of socio-economic wealth that we have lost the blessing of minor yet major miracles of God experienced in community.

In God’s economy the miracle of, “I finally got an apartment,” is easily as precious as the “I got that account” or “I got that promotion.”

As the Church we are called to be the light to the world through the preaching of the gospel, through ministry to widows and orphans, and through gathering together in true community.

Becoming holy isn’t simply about sinning less, it’s about loving more.

The blueprint can be found in Acts 2:42-47:  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Mike Toth is the intake/maintenance supervisor, Men’s Mission at Mission Services of London, Ont. Mission Services London is featured in the Nov/Dec Faith Today in our cover story “Poverty. What is it? And how do we fight it?”

 

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