I’ve been reading Blue Collar Resistance by Tex Sample and I really click with his notion of “pitching tent” among the people with whom one does ministry. Theologically, the idea stems from John 1:14, which reads as follows: “the Word became flesh and lived among us” (NRSV). The Greek word translated here as “lived” is skenoo, which literally means “to pitch one’s tent”. I like Eugene Peterson’s rendering in The Message: “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”
Whether one is pitching a tent or moving into the neighborhood, the connotation is the same: Jesus shows up where people “do life”. Christ meets his disciples in the midst of their daily work: mending fishnets and gathering water. His parables of God’s kingdom were inspired by the most mundane activities: planting seeds and baking bread. None of these events are thought of as explicitly “spiritual” activities, yet they seem to be Jesus’ preferred settings for encountering people.
I must admit that I sometimes struggle with my sense of call as a pastor on the street. I sometimes feel like an amateur social worker. Yesterday morning, I helped one guy make flyers and post them around town. In the afternoon, I sat at a cafe with someone and helped him fill out applications for new housing. Neither of these activities seems very “pastoral” at first glance.
We don’t always talk about the Bible or Christianity. Does that mean our time together is spiritually empty? I can’t bring myself to believe that it does. When I look at these growing relationships, I can see God’s hand at work in our ministry. Making flyers and filling out applications are part of “doing life” with people in the margins of society. Following in Jesus’ footsteps, I am trying to pitch my tent with people who have no other pastoral connection. As an act of spiritual solidarity, I have to believe that counts for something.