In the ministry of Street Church there has been a lingering question as the Pastor of this community: what does it mean to care for the souls that we encounter in this work?
We know that this work takes a posture of coming alongside and providing holistic care for the whole person, but how do we know where we are needed most? Especially when our time is spent in a lot of crisis-care work.
What I have come to realize is that before we can truly show up for this community, we have to intentionally listen and hear where God is stirring in our midst and on our streets.
This Sunday, we spent some time reading the book of James, the brother of Jesus and resident “doer” of the New Testament. Our collective homily this week was from James 1:17-27 where our group quickly honed in on verse 19. Here, James is urging with importance that we “MUST” be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”
Together we opened our discussion with, “what does it mean to truly be heard?”
Many in our community responded with verbal and non-verbal cues for listening. However, what struck me the most was how often they explained that their reactive anger was often connected to not being “heard” or listened to. The feeling of being cast aside was so deep that their pain was rooted in not being seen. That was the true root of their anger.
Often we encounter people in our community who wrestle with what it means to be heard and known. They have been labeled in such a way that their experience has told them that no one actually wants to know their story or help them. As we are called to come alongside them in this neighborly work, we too have to be in touch with what it means to listen.
It struck me that I also have struggled with being heard or seen. I thought about the amount of times that I have been more focused on being heard by God in my prayer life than focusing more energy on listening to what God had to say to me…
While I would like to think that my education and training has prepared me for what ministry would look like while serving in this ministry role as Micah’s chaplain, oftentimes I realize it is our people who truly are training me for this work. They teach me what it means to really listen to the needs of the community through their prophetic wisdom and grace that happen in everyday conversations in the different environments between our Day Center, to our hotels, and everywhere in between.
One neighbor in particular stopped me in my tracks this week as she taught me what it means to really listen…
“I don’t think you’re actually hearing me,” she said, as she sipped the coffee from the Keurig in my office.
(Note to self: these are not the words you want to hear as a new pastor to a budding community.)
Walking in on Monday morning, stuck with writer’s block, I was distracted as I walked to my office, not expecting this impromptu visit from one of our neighbors. I walked downstairs going through my mental list when I looked up and saw her.
“Hi. Can I have some coffee?” she asked.
I was grateful to know that she saw this as a safe space, but I had a list of things to do before the day started. My head rattled with the things that I was already behind on… it was only 9:30 AM.
“Yes, of course,” I said. “Come in.” (Those things on my “list” can wait.)
She paced around my office as she waited for the coffee to brew. The Keurig made its sputtering water noises as it heated up, and she asked about things hung up around the walls: the coloring pages with scripture references; the prayer wall; the doodles from group time. There was a web diagram with “self care” written in the middle circle. Practices like prayer, sleep, good nutrition, community, scripture study, and mental health care were all scribbled on the page stemming from the center point of the diagram.
She stared at the page for a while, agitated. (She seemed to be having an on-edge day.) Then she looked me right in the eye and asked,
Stunned and feeling convicted in my own spirit, I asked, “Tell me more about that.”
She rolled her eyes at me as if to say, ‘Do I have to teach you everything, Pastor?’
“Spending time with God is not an option…” she said. “It is not something we just do for us or something to check off the box! It is essential to LIFE. Being alone with the Lord, in quiet, opening your heart of flesh to hear God speak is one of the most beautiful things you can encounter. You should not do ANYTHING else in your day until you have spent time asking God, what GOD needs you to hear. You have to spend more time listening than speaking…”
I started to feel tears well up in my eyes—her response was perfectly articulated and prophetic. It was beautiful.
It occurred to me, how often do we take the time to listen to God through the voices of our people? God shows up in these beautifully unexpected conversations. Rather than focusing on doing ministry, the focus really needs to be about listening for God first. Instead of getting angry about the ways that suffering has permeated our culture causing pain and sadness, what if we spent more time focusing on the goodness of God’s grace in the simplest encounters? When we focus our energy on listening before speaking, we begin to truly hear the needs of God’s people.
For the neighbor wrestling with transition or even sabotaging the process—when we truly listen, we hear the stories of grief and how change can be triggers.
For the friend who is wrestling with isolation, we may find out when we truly listen, the stories of shame that encroach their identity.
When we truly listen to the whole person, underneath the reactions, we can see the areas where we can respond with compassion. However, we cannot see or hear any of it unless we take time to listen to where God is calling us to open the eyes of our heart.
God doesn’t need us to come with our to-do lists for “fixing” or just “hearing” what our people need on the surface. Instead, we are called to come alongside and be “doers of the Word.” Not just going through the motions, but truly embodying what it means to listen to God’s people and respond with compassion and assist in the process towards restorative justice and grace.
Being with our people, hearing their needs, starts with our own relationship with God. It is longing to simply be with God and listen, not speak over the still small voice that comes through the Spirit of peace.
“Be quick to listen and slow to speak,” then wait for the Lord to guide you to where you are needed next. For me, this is an intentional practice that is needed to take the next step as their pastor on the streets of Fredericksburg.
When we spend more time on the receiving end of God’s guidance, rather than trying to manipulate our own path to righteousness, then we may find God’s grace waiting for us… perhaps, behind an unexpected cup of coffee.
Be still & well, friends.
Thanks be to God.
This weekend we were grateful for the opportunity to give back to our community by using Street Church Offering funds to purchase backpacks for kids at Fredericksburg City Schools. Neighbors used their offering money to purchase towels, face masks, and stuff backpacks before church. We asked our community churches for donations of backpacks and together we hosted our own blessing of the backpacks to give back to the community showing that together we can come together as One body of Christ.
Please continue to pray for our community, friends! Here is our prayer list for this week: