A feel-good story tells of a new pastor who showed up to his church dressed as a homeless man to see how his congregation would treat him. Upon his introduction, he walked to the podium and delivered a moving speech. Is this story true or false?
The story is false but likely inspired by a similar true story. Let’s first take a look at the tale of Jeremiah Steepek:
Pastor Jeremiah Steepek (pictured below) transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000 member church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor at that morning. He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service, only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food – NO ONE in the church gave him change. He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit n the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him.
As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements and such. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation. “We would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with ALL eyes on him. He walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited,
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
‘The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry and many heads were bowed in shame. He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?”
He then dismissed service until next week.
Being a Christian is more than something you claim. It’s something you live by and share with others.
There is simply no evidence that a pastor Jeremiah Steepek exists. If he did exist and headed a church that size, he should be easy to find. No location or church name was given in the story.
The inspiring Steepek story was almost certainly inspired by a true story published in June 2013. Revered Willie Lyle of Clarksville, Tennessee lived on the streets as a homeless man for five days and kept a journal of his experiences. The day of his sermon, he lay under a tree on the church lawn disguised as a homeless person. He began his sermon while still wearing his disguise, and slowly transformed his appearance as he spoke.
The image circulated with the story was apparently lifted from photographer Brad Gerrard’s flickr account. It is labeled “Homeless man in Richmond, Surrey” and was taken on July 28, 2010. It is not a pastor named Jeremiah Steepek.
The Jeremiah Steepek story is a tale which appears to be based on the real story of Willie Lyle. Why someone felt the need to change the Lyle story into a work of fiction is unknown.
- Brad Gerrard (flickr)
- New Clarksville pastor goes undercover as homeless man for week (The Tennessean: June 28, 2013 – Now offline)