GAINESVILLE, Ga. (BP)–Every church that seeks to serve the Lord should have caring programs established to help people in their own congregation as well as the needy in their community and those in the world.
However, many times the surpluses that a local church requires in order to minister to the needy aren’t available. Too often, Christians have been consuming or wasting the surpluses God provides for them, and the load of personal debt prevents many families from giving generously. As a result, there is little available to help others.
Local churches should offer regular, ongoing programs of sharing the biblical principles of managing money in the home and even teaching practical courses related to planning, budgeting, insurance and housing. Once God’s people learn God’s plan for their finances, the funds will be available to meet any legitimate need.
On the other hand, when church members spend their finances the way our consumer society encourages them to, often there is little left for God’s people to use for God’s work.
Statistics show that about 20 percent of the average evangelical church members tithe. However, in churches in which a consistent program of teaching God’s principles of finances has been established, the percentage of those who tithe is more than 80 percent.
The typical American family spends more than $2,000 a year on interest payments alone. Imagine what could happen if Christians were shown how to become debt-free. From the money they would save on interest, a church of 100 families could have an additional $200,000 a year available for the Lord’s work.
Does benevolence really help?
Churches that have a system in place to help those who have legitimate financial needs often call this a “benevolence” program. Benevolence is recognized as kindness and generosity, but benevolence should not be a “give-away” program.
Definite biblical guidelines should be established for those who need a church’s help. Every member of any local church should be able to look to the fellowship they attend as an extension of God’s provision. After all, why shouldn’t God’s people feel the freedom to share their financial needs just as openly as they would physical or spiritual needs?
Unfortunately, the benevolence program in most churches is pretty inadequate. Often it amounts to no more than a pastor directing a secretary to write somebody a check for food, gas or rent, and usually that is the worst thing to do. Without any controls, accountability or follow-up, giving more money to someone in financial straits is like pouring gasoline on a fire. And such a system certainly doesn’t address the needs of those who have long-term requirements due to accidents, illnesses, layoffs or age.
Benevolence is not an event; it is a vital part of ministering within the body of believers. A true benevolence or care ministry actually involves several ministries that have to be coordinated to assure good stewardship of God’s provision.
A care or benevolence committee should be made up of church members who will meet and evaluate needs presented within the church. Often this requires emergency action by one or two members to evaluate situations that result from “drop-ins” at the church office or parsonage.
Aside from serving those in need, a well-coordinated care or benevolence committee helps to free the pastor from the pressures of some of the emotional appeals. The most effective benevolence committees have members with varied spiritual gifts and temperaments. “All the members do not have the same function…. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:4-8).
The balance provided by a committee of people with diverse spiritual gifts helps avoid many problems and pitfalls that might arise when desperate and emotional appeals are handled.
In order to meet the needs of individuals and families in an adequate and timely way, resources must be available in advance. Obvious examples are food and clothing, but don’t stop there.
Short-term emergency housing is sometimes required, and the church should develop a network of contacts with businesses that are able to provide part-time or temporary work. This is very important, because often people claim they can’t find work but simply don’t want to work, unless the job is the finest available.
One of the most effective ways to test a person’s spirit of willingness to work is to have the means to help them find a job even though it may not be their idea of a dream job.
Other resources might include the availability of legal or accounting advice and medical or dental care. And every church, regardless of the size of the congregation, should have some members who are well-trained budget counselors who can work with families going through financial difficulties. Accountability is an essential ingredient for any successful benevolence program.
Finally, compassion requires action. No successful benevolence program will be developed until God’s people in the local church decide to get involved and make it happen. “Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all” (2 Corinthians 9:13).
Burkett is chairman of the board of Crown Ministries, which merged last fall with the ministry he founded in 1976, Christian Financial Concepts. A Southern Baptist layman based in Gainesville, Ga., Burkett is the host of the national “Money Matters” radio program and author of two resources published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention: “How Much Is Enough? 30 Days to Personal Revival” and “Jesus on Money.”