Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Helping the Poor or Enabling Laziness?

Again today I have encountered a dilemma that I am regularly encountering as a pastor of a local church. We have a benevolence fund through which we help people in the church and in the community financially when there is a need. And I am the one in charge of it (even though biblically the deacons are leveled with this responsibility, but no time for that discussion now, maybe later). And with the economy the way it is needs are coming faster.

In my discipleship triad this week, our discussion centered around God's justice including helping the weak, poor, downtrodden, imprisoned, and hungry. And so we discussed how we all fare poorly in our compassion for those less fortunate. And we repented and lamented our lack of love for Jesus demonstrated in our care for those around us. So, off we go to better live under the empowerment of the Spirit exercising compassion...

Then I get two benevolence requests today from single moms that are not married, not employed, not churched, and not bothered by these things. But they are bothered by the fact that their water bills are overdue, and their children (nine children between the two of them) might go without a bath. One of them by her own admission goes from church to church and agency to agency continually to get by; all the while having more children (the youngest child was 4 mos and the oldest was 7 years).

I know many of you would have been much more spiritual than me at a time like this. I will not tell you all that I thought. But I don't understand their mentality and their lack of concern coupled with their willingness to expect everyone else to take care of them. And then I wonder about my own coldness and jugdmentalism. And I think about the lesson that we had on Monday, but I am little moved to compassion.

So how are we to handle situations like this? We have policies and forms and verification systems, etc., but that's not what I mean. I mean how are we to make discerning, wisdom-filled, God-honoring decisions related to circumstances like these? Are we enabling their laziness? Should kingdom resources be used like this? Is it not truly the church's responsibility to care for the poor, and not the government, or even the association? We don't want Jesus to say, "when you did not do for the least of these, you did not do it for me." Nor do we want him to say, "You used kingdom resources on this need?" There are children involved, but resources are limited. Does loving people always mean giving them what they need? And the questions could go on...

So what do you think? Maybe you have a better way?


  1. I see where you are coming from. Although I have never been in charge of a situation like that, there have been similar experiences at my Home church. Its hard to help people that need help when it appears obvious that they are doing little to help themselves.

    It would be wonderful if there was plenty of money to give everybody...but since this is definately not the case, somewhere a line has to be drawn regarding a matter such as this.

    I may be dead wrong, and this is just me, but I believe that if someone isn't trying to help themselves, giving them help will only encourage them to live off of others. Granted, not all are able to help themselves, and exceptions can be made there. But personally i believe that If someone is able and not trying to improve their own situation, you cannot help them no matter how much you try (That is, until they learn to help themselves.)

    Just some food for thought,
    Justin S.

  2. Jesus The poor you will always have with you. The Jeruslem church said to remember the poor. Compassion dictates case to case. The options are the clergy association pool all the churches to one food bank, etc. that you refer the people too. The bank either hires or volunteers someone to check those in need to make sure they have need indeed. Or your leff with a gulity time consuming conscience evertime someone asks for help.

  3. i'm not sure how we can KNOW if someone's need is based on their laziness or extenuating circumstances or what. i don't know if that should matter to us. maybe we should give in love and that will honor God. maybe those people shouldn't be taking our resources but i don't know if that is our responsibility to discern. what is your biblical precedence for giving? does it say anything about discerning if the person deserves the resources or not or about "kingdom resources"? surely none of us deserve God's grace through Christ. We are all spiritually dead through our own bad choices, but God still grants his grace to us. none of us deserve it any more than others.

  4. Jason,

    You're asking some very good questions. I think that much of the way we structure ourselves as the church leads to the problems that you're seeing. In the last few years, we've stopped asking people to "give to the church", because we don't want to take the responsibility away from everyone else - that is, every believer is responsible to give to others as they have means and opportunity. Since we're not sitting on a "fund", we don't have to worry about giving other people's money. So, when someone approaches me, if I have money, I give it to them - or food, or whatever. If I don't have money, then I don't.


  5. Justin-
    Thanks for reading!

    We do choose to go case by case, and we do have an association that handles most of the area's benevolence, but I don't feel like it's their responsibility, but the church's, so we also do benevolence and use them as a check resource.

    Agreed, you can't KNOW. And agreed, that sometimes you just have to give in love and let the Lord take care of it, and if you get taken, then at least it was in love. Our study listed four reasons that people are poor, and one was sin/laziness. And biblically, Paul says if they won't work, they don't eat. And "welfare" system of Israel only applied to those who couldn't work. But I agree that it is not our job to decide if they "deserve" it, and really didn't mean to imply that. I guess I was just wondering if help in that circumstance is really help, or does it simply further sin. praise the Lord we all don't get what we deserve, and far be it from me to judge the "deservingness" of others. Thanks for the comment.

    That is a really great thought. Never thought about it as robbing others of their responsibility. Always thought about it as simply pooling resources. regardless of how I handle specific situations like the above, I need to better emphasize this truth. I know that our people view the "fund" as an out--that their responsibility has been met. thanks for the comment.

  6. We are to be good stewards of God's resources and therefore we do have to discern what is best. God would not have us squander our own resources so why should we squander His. I think every situation needs to be judged on a case by case situation. If we allowed certain individuals, they would drain ALL of our resources and they contribute nothing back in time or talents, much less treasure. There comes a time when you do have to say 'no' in some cases. It's not an easy call to make.

  7. Jason,

    I just want to respond to your response to Dan. Specifically "If they won't work, they don't eat." I believe the context of that is about Christians, not nonChristians. So it doesn't necessarily apply to your above situation.

    God Speed,

  8. Kevin-
    Thanks for reading!

    I was just giving biblical grounds for discernment in giving. I understand your point, and the context of the passage. But could we use that as a guiding principle anyway? Why or why not? Anyone...

  9. What about Matthew 5:42 as the guiding principle? There doesn't seem to be a context problem there, since is talking about both brothers and enemies.


  10. Jason,

    We cannot (and should not) expect non-Christians to act like Christians. So, unless there is a Scriptural example of discipline on non-believers (or you've had one revealed to you), then I think it would be unfair to use that example as a general principle.

    With that said I do believe we are called to be discerning and good stewards. But there are two sides to that coin as well. If a beggar comes to me and asks me for money for food and I give him 5$, but he uses it for drugs. It would be absurd to say that I had done something wrong. Maybe I should have just purchased him food, but either way it's money in his pocket and what he does with that money is between him and God.

    Perhaps there are better ways to go about serving people who are clearly trying to take advantage of the system. Pay their bills for them, offer them classes to make budgets, or express interest in helping them fill out a resume. Eventually one of two things will happen. They'll either get sick of you actually helping them and will then stop asking for money or they'll accept your help and become more responsible with their lives.

    What probably won't happen is that God probably won't think you're not helping the needy and the person in need probably won't think that you're ignoring their suffering (even if it's not real suffering).

    God Speed,

  11. Jason,

    It is funny that we say we serve a God that helps the helpless, then we turn and justify not helping others by saying "well they won't help themselves". I am glad that Jesus isn't like us right?

    But furthermore as Alan pointed out, there doesn't seem to be much of a qualifying statement from Jesus in Matthew 5. If we take it a bit further we come across Luke 6:27-36. I think Jesus slams the door on ANY qualifying statements here. This seems to be an imperative not to be questioned. Jesus also attributes this "mercy" to an attribute of God.

    It seems that we say some people must meet some type of standard before we give, but Jesus says not so. Jesus doesn't say "well, if they have budgeted correctly" or "if they have held a job for such, and such a time" or "if they are hard workers". He simply says give to "whoever" begs. Human wisdom then steps in and says "well Jesus couldn't meant that".

    As for Paul's statements to the Thessalonians. These men and women seemed to have had an hyper-eschatology that was a result of false teaching and when corrected they wouldn't (or couldn't) see that this was a theological error. So Paul commands them as a form of church discipline not to give them anything, because Paul or someone had already corrected the false teaching and they refused to listen to sound counsel.

    Jason you know what else I see as funny? Many times I hear pastors say "you just give and allow God to judge if the church handles the money unfaithfully" but then the same pastors turn and say "well I can't give to them because they will handle the money unfaithfully". Whats your thoughts brother?

    BTW, I came through Alan's blog.

    Lionel Woods

  12. Great discussion. I have been convicted this week of trying to find and follow a formula (not in this area, something in my own life)for one my major life responsibilites. I put a lot of frustration and effort into searching for the right formula. Could it be in this arena also (the poor and needy) that there is no formula? That with each person/family to pray and be guided by the Spirit? I'm really asking...

    And if so, I agree with Alan's point that each person would need to do this concerning their own resources.

  13. This is a very good discussion. We are instructed to go into all the world and make disciples. Our own neigborhoods would be included in that. Discipling obviously means to help people to follow what the scripture requires of them. It occurs to me that when you pay someones water bill that's all that you've done. But, if you pay their water bill and then teach them to be responsible for their families needs, you've paid their water bill for life.

    I know it sounds simplistic. But, I've done inner-city ministry for many years and learning is definitely a work in progress. But many people grow up in families where they have no example of what it means to take responsibility for themselves. Today we live in a society where many people grew up soley on welfare and they are not just in the inner-city anymore. Section 8 government housing is everywhere.

    Just a thought.


  14. I have been a senior pastor in 3 churches and this situation is very common. Long ago I decided to follow Paul's policy in 2Th 3:10: "For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat."

    As long as a person is physically able, I attempt to find some kind of suitable work around the church for him or her to do and then pay them for their work, rather than enable them to continue getting handouts. This approach has seemed to work well for me.

    Pastor Sam Taylor