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 is enormous potential for good in every individual, family and 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).
All 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 every 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, about 1,100 BC.
The fact is that 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 she’ll have 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, avoiding the painful matter of resolving the sinful problems of humanity. But He involved Himself personally; 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, rude 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 and deal with 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 apples (and I’ve told you 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 accusation. It would leave many shocked, and in tears. These lies take some getting used to. Being prepared for people (from within or without the church) who attempt emotional manipulation is a major part of preparing to administer welfare.
And remember this:
The Lord will not allow the righteous to hunger, but He will reject the craving of the wicked (Prov.10:3).
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.
For a starving family, a box of apples each week and three loaves of bread is something. More would be better, but more may be impossible at the moment. What if there are 300 of those needy families in your area? 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 and church members is just as 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, more people respecting the church’s work, being prepared to come to Christ, ultimately 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? Remember this: there are still many enemies to place under His feet.