Charles Sheldon grew up in a deeply pious family, and with his family was immersed in daily devotional time, including Bible reading and prayer, from his earliest days. He was a good student and loved reading, and he began writing at the age of 12. He was eventually educated at Andover Theological Seminary, and began ministry in Waterbury, Connecticut, where he later met and married Mary Merriam.
Sheldon's ministry was always centered on the individual's responsibility before God. He refused to make distinctions between rich and poor, old and young, educated or uneducated, and his clerical work often meant him really getting his hands dirty. He was involved in helping create clean water sources for people in rural areas, and in other social service projects. At one point, he even disguised himself as a down-and-out bum and went seeking employment, trying to understand the hardships of men who found himself in that situation. He developed a real empathy for the working class, and this permeated his ministry for the rest of his life.
In his novel In His Steps, his feelings for society's working class comes through loud and clear. His challenge to Christians to become real and relevant in their world is one that has touched many lives over the century since the book was released.