When Should a Church Refuse to Help Its Members Financially?

Gary North – June 05, 2015

This was posted yesterday.

When an individual or family attending or who are members of a church, come to church leadership and ask for financial assistance, what are the biblical criteria for meeting those needs? I’d like to know when to say yes or no.


Whenever you get to the issue of money, Christian leaders clam up. I call it the pastoral shuffle. It is like a song and dance, except there is no song. They haven’t the slightest idea. They mumble.

In Presbyterian circles, deacons distribute the funds. There is no training for deacons. There is training for ruling elders. Teaching elders, meaning ministers, have to go through at least three years of seminary, and sometimes more. But there is never a course on the diaconate. There is never a mention of money.

The courses in practical theology are among the most impractical courses on the face of the earth. You have to have been there to believe this. I was there. I left. That was one of the most practical theological decisions I ever made. When it comes to practical theology, almost nothing is better than leaving seminary. Well, one thing is better: never going to seminary. (It costs more than an MBA these days.)

Seminary is taught by men who either never went into the pastorate, or else men who were in it, got tired of it, and wanted a more cushy job. That is reality, and nobody ever talks about it. All of seminary education could be put on YouTube free of charge. It could be taught by men in the pulpit. That would be practical theology. But seminaries do not teach practical theology. That is why they are seminaries. They are there to teach impractical theology.

I know of only one reasonably good book on the diaconate: The Deacons Handbook: A Manual of Stewardship (1980).

You might imagine that there would be a YouTube series on church finances. I have never found it. You might think that there would be a YouTube series on the diaconate. I have never found it.

I have been a member of Presbyterian churches for over 40 years. I have never been invited to give so much as a talk to the diaconate.

Here is an institution that began in the early church. It is described in Acts, chapter 6. This was before there was even a church council, since the first one took place in Acts 15.

So, what I say here would be regarded as horrendously mean by deacons everywhere. That’s why I’m saying it here. I want to maintain my reputation for being really mean. (Mean = practical.)

Anyone who walks into a church looking for money should have to go through a bunch of hoops. Here, the church would be wise to imitate government welfare agencies.

The first thing for a deacon to say is this: “You must be willing to reveal all of your finances: your household budget and your income tax returns over the past three years.” This is a nonnegotiable demand. If they want money, they are going to have to turn over their records.

This is only the first step. The second step is this: “Next Saturday, you and your wife will have to come in for an all-day session. We have a specialist on the diaconate in household budgets. You’re going to have to create a household budget, and you’re going to do it on the church’s Quicken software. You will be given a flash drive with your records on it. This will be kept confidential. But you are going to have to do everything you are told in terms of budgeting before you get any money from the church. Is this acceptable?” If it is not acceptable, then the person is sent on his way in the name of Jesus. “God speed, brother. Go in peace.”

The third step is this: every month, the husband and wife must come in for a session with the person who is managing the Quicken program, and they will have to present evidence of how they have controlled their spending. This will involve credit card records, check stubs, and whatever else is necessary for them to prove to the diaconate that they are doing everything that they had been told to do.

Fourth, basic to the budget is mandatory tithing. They must reconstruct their budget so that 10% of all the money that is earned by the family goes back to the church. No tithe, no assistance.

Fifth, the husband will be guided by the deacons in getting a second job. The husband will work an additional three hours a day, and all day on Saturday, to earn more money. In other words, the husband is going to wind up working at least 11 hours a day, plus travel time. This is what the whole world did, at least in summertime, prior to 1900. In cities, everybody worked a half day on Saturday.

Sixth, the deacons will begin training both of them with some version of Dave Ramsey’s strategy for getting out of debt. This begins on the day that the first check is written by the church to the family.

Seventh, deacons have to look at the family’s life insurance and health insurance options. The church should not be burdened with any obligations that insurance contracts would cover. This will involve the purchase of at least a $500,000 10-year level-term life insurance policy by the wife, with the insured being the husband. The husband should be required to buy at least a $250,000 policy on the life of the wife. If necessary, the church will pay the premiums for a time. The church has to protect itself.

I would require every member to take a course in personal finances in order to become eligible for any kind of aid from the deacons. This way, members would be told to get their financial house in order. They don’t have to do it, but if they don’t do it, they might as well skip coming around to the church for a handout. No course, no handout. Simple.

Nothing like this is done, and I do not expect it to be done until the Great Default. When the Great Default comes, and the lines form for handouts, with middle-class Americans asking for money, then deacons may change. Maybe then I will put up a YouTube course on the diaconate.

I know the course is necessary, but a lot of things are necessary. My view is this: I will produce nearly hopeless projects if I think there is a ray of hope that the church may accept my teaching. But in the area of the diaconate, which has to do with money, there is no way that churches are going to accept my teaching. The deacons would have to become hard-nosed. They would have to demand evidence. They would have to force people seeking handouts to reconstruct their finances, beginning with their spending, and extending to their earning capacity. Deacons want to be sweet. So, they don’t have much money to hand out, and they really can’t make much of a difference, but they can pretend that they do, so nothing ever changes.

Insurance covers many of these crises. Good budgeting solves most of them in advance. But deacons don’t know anything about either. So, nothing gets done.

Most diaconates simply send people who are in need to some government welfare agency. They don’t offer any further guidance. This is practical theology, 2015. This has been practical theology since about 1940.