We Christians are always people with ideals which have to be translated to reality, and this can be painful for some of us. We cannot solve all the problems of the world, for after each generation has passed, there are still problems. But this does not render us powerless.
On the contrary, we ought to view ourselves as people to whom the promises of God have been given, and this means there really ought to be an enormous potential for good in every church.
But potential is not enough by itself. We always have to be willing to move from ideals to facts, from theory to practice. And in relation to welfare, this really separates the men from the boys.
The Bible speaks of our priorities:
So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith (Gal.6:10).
People need to eat, be clothed, and have somewhere to sleep. With this in mind, we begin with caring for our own people, the members of our local church. When the church starts doing this successfully, it is quite logical that there will suddenly be a lot of people who want to join the church, or at least take advantage of its generosity. They would like a free feed, or at least access to cheap food.
Immediately this creates a problem. Who gets a feed, and who doesn’t? For there are sharply defined limits in relation to what any church can do.
This is a good problem for the elders in the church to face. They had to find a way to deal with this problem in the early church (see Acts 6:1-8). It’s a problem that’s been with us, at least as far back as Ruth and Boaz.
So power flows to those who take responsibility, and that’s a good thing. And with that responsibility also come lots of problems to face.
You thought it would be a good idea to get involved in works of charity in the community? Now get ready for all the problems that come with the package. As they say, it comes with the territory.
How we deal with the problems determines whether we succeed or fail in the task we’ve commenced. But the woman looking forward to motherhood had better face the fact that there will be labour pains. Apart from the Caesarian section option, no labour-no delivery.
The problems that come with involvement in welfare could swamp or divide an unprepared church. “All of a sudden, all these things to face!” It would be a lot easier to leave the issue of welfare alone, carrying on as we were. It would have been a lot easier for the Son of God to have stayed in heaven too, not bothering to involve Himself in the sinful problems of humanity. But He did, and so must we.
Unity of leadership, rethinking church priorities, availability and reliability of helpers, human weakness under pressure, sourcing goods, refrigeration, storage systems, transport, rosters, deciding who gets what, and for how much, theft and violent people and perseverance over years. These are some of the basic problems to face, and there will be more.
People do need to be encouraged and motivated to participate in welfare. They need Bible teaching. They also need to be prepared to see a lot of the ugly aspects of human nature. When there are tough times in the community, and the government money is drying up, people want resources. When the hand-outs are severely restricted, they will quickly resort to blame and guilt. Like this:
You call yourselves Christians, but when I ask you for a bag of those onions (and you know I’ve got no money), you want me to pay. You’re just a bunch of sanctimonious, greedy, thieving hypocrites!
Well-meaning but unprepared Christian people can be easily manipulated by attempts to use guilt and pity, like the above. These lies take some getting used to. Being prepared for those who attempt emotional manipulation is a major part of preparing to administer welfare.
You might think, “Gee, my church really couldn’t do much. There aren’t a lot of us, and none of us are rich.”
But if that’s how we should operate, the boy with five loaves and two fishes should never have come to Jesus. We are always operating with the imperfect. It’s better to be willing though imperfect, than unwilling. The first category of people will actually get something done, and be net contributors in their community.
When a family is starving, a box of apples each week is something. More would be better, but more may be impossible at the moment. What if there are 300 of those needy families? Something is better than nothing, and some practical preparedness for a severe recession (and possibly Depression), is better than putting our heads in the sand and just hoping it would all go away. Finding paid work for family members is actually much more important.
Power really does flow to those who take responsibility. There are lots of practical problems to consider when dealing with welfare in practice, but lots of potential results, too. When the church is really engaging successfully in welfare in the community, and is beginning to really carry the load, this can lead to important, long-term outcomes: think of growth in the church’s credibility, tax cuts and much, much more.
When Christian success in this field leads to a reduction in governmental welfare, that will be a tremendous milestone, and a most significant aspect of Biblical, social reconstruction. It will be a significant step that we should rejoice at, but there is still much more for us to succeed at. We will have only just begun.
Are you ready to begin? There are still many enemies to place under His feet.