August 2013 

The Next Big Thing (Part 1)
By John Ashmen

The primary assignment of an association is to be prophetic. Unquestionably, producing relevant resources and advocating on members’ behalf are essential tasks. And setting a spiritual tone for everyone connected is a fundamental charge. But prophecy is job one.

An association needs to look ahead—far ahead—and try to ascertain the future and prepare for the inevitable. And at that point in time, be it a year or a decade later, when the prophecy comes to pass, the association needs to say: Don’t panic; we’ve been expecting this. Here are your resources and talking points for this next chapter in our association’s story.

It is from the perspective of prophecy that I make the following assertion: The emphasis on homelessness in our culture—and resultantly, in our missions—will diminish over time. It will be replaced with something else. Prophetically speaking, homelessness is a cause that has faded in, and is now blaring in surround sound, but will eventually fade out. Inevitably, we will move on to the next big thing.

Back when LBJ was president, my father took me to Queens for the New York City World’s Fair.  From that enthralling event I have two memories that have outlasted all the others: eating Belgian Waffles with ice cream, and going through the General Electric carousel theater. GE’s exhibit was unlike anything I had ever seen. The uniqueness was that the seated audience revolved around a stationary stage. (An updated version of this was later built at Walt’s Disney World’s Magic Kingdom).

In a way, rescue missions have been like that carousel theater. Together, we look at whatever is front and center in our society and react to it. But all the while, a new drama is just a rotation away.

Homelessness was not the emphasis in Jerry McAuley’s day. The big thing back then was male debauchery. McAuley’s vision was to clean nefarious men up on the outside while God cleaned them up on the inside. In the 1920s, the emphasis was alcoholism, brought on by the post-war prosperity and free-flowing spirits. During the 1930s, in the height of the Great Depression, hunger was front and center—providing sustenance for men who stood in long unemployment lines all day to no avail. The 40s, 50s, and 60s put World War II, Korean, and Vietnam veterans’ issues front and center. In the 70s and 80s we were looking at mental illness and drug abuse. Indeed, homelessness has been a factor since the very beginning, but it didn’t start to become a key word in our mission statements until the 90s. It has remained front and center because of the Great Recession, but I believe we will eventually rotate past it.  

So what it the next big thing? Before I go there, I want to make a couple of statements about society’s emphasis on homelessness and the trap that could catch rescue missions if we are not careful.

I invited Nan Roman, the president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) to our 2013 convention. She gladly consented. (We have been building in-roads with NAEH for quite a while because many of their folks thought rescue missions people hated them.) In Phoenix, most of our members were affable in their engagement with her. I believe she saw AGRM-affiliated missions in a new light, and her respect for what rescue missions do every day grew a little bit more. Nan and I pledged to continue a collaborative relationship.

Last month, AGRM Director of Public Relations Nicole Daniels attended NAEH’s conference in Washington, D.C., and continued building a rapport with Mark Horvath, founder of Invisible People; Jerry Jones, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless; Barbara Poppe, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness; and Michael Stoops, who writes the “Bring America Home” blog.

We need to become consorts with these and others, and remain in regular dialogue. Just as they do, we also want to see homeless end. (It’s even mentioned in AGRM’s vision statement.) But we will continue to make it clear that even though some of our desired outcomes coincide with their desired outcomes, we are fundamentally different: Their entities exist to connect people to houses so their physical poverty can begin to end. Gospel rescue missions exist to connect people to a pursuing personal Savior so their spiritual and relational poverty can begin to end. We are convinced that once this happens, the path to sustainable, self-supported living is more clearly marked and more brightly lit.

I believe that in the gospel rescue mission world, our temporary and permanent housing initiatives should be broadened, emphasized, and introduced earlier in the process for some who seek our services. I also believe that the traditional chapel service is not the only way to describe and prescribe the Living Water that Jesus offers. When it comes to meeting the needs of people today, we must be attentive, responsive, proactive, and creative. But we cannot get caught in the trap of thinking that we are merely God-friendly social service agencies.

Ending homelessness is an outcome we all deeply desire, but if we desire that more than seeing God’s kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven, we have abandoned our birthright. And now, more than ever, we need to embrace it. It’s a birthright that was relevant through every rotation in our past, and will continue to be through every rotation in our future.

So when our seats move to the next position, what will we see on stage?

To be continued as The Next Big Thing (Part 2), coming later this month


September CEO Summit to Tackle Critical Topics

If you’re a CEO, I encourage you, regardless of the size and scope of your organization, to join me next month in Panama City Beach, Florida, for our annual CEO Summit. It’s September 10–12 at the Edgewater Beach and Golf Resort. These events have become rich times of fellowship when leaders can speak their minds and ask the difficult questions about our most pressing issues.

At this year’s CEO Summit, we will be looking at some matters that all of us will be dealing with sooner than many think.

A poll following the recent Supreme Court decisions revealed that 55 percent of Americans now say that marriages between same-sex couples should be recognized by law as valid, with the same rights of traditional marriage.
  • How should Jesus-followers respond to requests from same-sex married couples who seek accommodations in our family shelters?
  • What are the options at a time when gay marriage is increasingly becoming legalized, and when you may not be able to legally deny access based on religious beliefs?
  • Would Scripture support their accommodation in your family shelter? (Don’t answer too quickly.)
Every week there is another story about a religious figure being publically challenged (and even prosecuted in places like England and Scandinavia) for declaring homosexuality to be a sin.
  • With the accommodation factor being an attention-getter, how does a mission avoid a local or even national media fiasco?
  • How do missions protect their campuses and assets from the marked increase in lawsuits filed against any organization that does not go along with the current culture?
  • Has Pope Francis set an example for us to follow?
We’ll also be looking at immigration and re-urbanization issues that could affect rescue missions.

Naturally, because of the nature of the discussions, no recordings will be made. So if you want to be part of these discussions—or if there is anything else you want to bring to the table—you need to be part of the CEO Summit.

Read more information, including details about accommodations, on our website. I encourage you to take time to register online.

Don’t delay. It’s just over a month away!

NOTE: Because of the important nature of this year’s discussions, should a schedule conflict keep you from attending, your associate director or assistant director may attend to represent your mission.

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