The gospel for rough sleepers

  • Justin Moffatt
  • 9 May 2016

Barbecuing bacon

If the gospel is for everyone, then it is also for rough sleepers. (That’s the new term for ‘the homeless’.) And if in the Gospels, Jesus meets ‘unacceptable’ people and touches, serves, loves and teaches them about the kingdom of God, then that means that we must touch, serve, love and teach the homeless too.

But how do you go about doing that? That was the question facing my church, Church Hill Anglican, when a group of people from our evening church started feeling uneasy about a section of our society that effectively remained ignored. Up until that point, we spent our time either saying “No” to requests for coins, occasionally buying someone a meal or offering them a cup of coffee, and telling ourselves that working with the homeless “wasn’t a good use of our time and resources”.

We knew that there was something wrong with that. So we invited Anglicare, the urban mission and welfare arm of the Sydney Anglican Diocese, to come and teach us a little about homelessness. The upshot of that meeting was one person saying, “This is not rocket science; let’s just host a great barbecue and invite rough sleepers to join us.”

So we started the City Care Lunch. The City Care Lunch is not about food: homeless people can get food at various places around the city each day. It is not a ‘soup kitchen’ (whatever a soup kitchen is). It’s about people whom God created. It’s about lavishing ‘grace’ in the form of good company, good steaks, tasty salads, and wonderful desserts. It’s about God’s grace, as we share the gospel both before they enter our lunch and during the conversations around the tables.

Here is our motivation for doing this: we too are sinful, needing forgiveness. We too are broken, needing healing. We too are ‘poor’ and are made rich in Christ. We too were ‘homeless’ before finding a home in the kingdom. So we share the hope we have with people like us.

But we also realized that we needed to go deeper and make the event even more evangelistic. So the Tuesday morning after each City Care Lunch, we host ‘Bible and Breakfast’ for rough sleepers—Bible study for the homeless!

If you wanted to host one of these yourself, here are some random tips:

  • Get a team of helpers to think through details, and prepare to cook, meet, greet, speak to and love people.
  • Serve good hot food, but start the ‘study’ before breakfast is finished.
  • Make the study no more than 15 minutes long.
  • Tell a good, fun story from your life at the start that leads into the one point you are getting from text. Make the point simple.
  • Choose either an accessible story from the Gospels, or one or two verses from an epistle or Old Testament text.
  • Hand them an actual Bible. Mention the page number, but also openly acknowledge that they are free to just listen (assuming some illiteracy among those gathered).
  • Read the passage.
  • Make a few reflecting remarks. Don’t make the study inductive. Your questions won’t make much sense and the conversation will derail. Just asking one or two simple questions is about right. No more. The key is how to follow Christ and what difference this could make to their lives if they do. Make the pathway clear, as well as the power to make that choice.
  • Manage random discussions. Bring it back to your story at the end.
  • Give them a written prayer they could pray each night. (I’ve included one at the end of this article.) Laminate it on a card. Suggest they keep the card as a bookmark in the passage you read.
  • Let them take a Bible. Encourage them to take a Bible.

Here is what we found: we are building trust with this group of people like never before. Many of them stay around for hours after the food is long gone. Some have started coming to church. And on the basis of that trust we’ve established, we remain prayerful that more of them will come to know, love and serve Jesus Christ.

If you do something similar, get in touch with us. I’d love to compare notes.

A written prayer

Dear God,

You are God, and I am not.

Only you can fix the messiness in my own life, in the lives of others and in the world. Please fix it.

Please forgive me for ignoring you and for the way I mistreat and hurt others.

Thank you for Jesus. Thank you that you forgive me because of his death on the cross.

Help me to remember how much you love me and help me to forgive others like you forgive me.

Protect me from sin and evil, and change me to live in a way that pleases you.

Please give me and those I care about the things we really need.

Help me to trust you and thank you, because you are God and all good things come from you.


Photo credit: Church Hill Anglican.