The Bible teaches that it’s a moral obligation…
There are two main areas to examine when determining how to screen access to a church’s emergency relief fund:
- Biblical ethics
- Christian economics
First, let’s start with Biblical ethics. The clearest statement in the Bible that the church must not fund indolence, laziness, and idleness comes from Paul: “If anyone is not willing to work, do not let him eat” (2 Th. 3:10).
Turning to the book of Proverbs, there are numerous condemnations of the behavior of the sluggard. This is because Proverbs is practical. It assumes the importance of gaining wealth through hard, diligent work and planning. Jesus did not repudiate the book of Proverbs.
Proverbs 6:6-12 – The lazy person is condemned because they waste time and miss out on opportunities. They are compared to the ant who exercises self-discipline in gathering food today for consumption later when the harvest has passed and the opportunity to gather is gone.
Proverbs 10:4-5 – Lazy people end up in poverty. They bring this upon themselves. A hard working person rarely finds himself in abject poverty. The wise person is like the ant who gathers during the harvest, and the sluggard who sleeps when they ought to be gathering is called disgraceful. “A lazy hand causes a person to be poor, but the hand of the diligent person gains riches.”
Proverbs 12:24 – Lazy people have to be forced to work. Their self-discipline has languished and atrophied.
Proverbs 12:27 – The sluggard is wasteful. In his commentary, Matthew Henry wrote: “The slothful man makes no good use of the advantages Providence puts in his way, and has no comfort in them. The substance of a diligent man, though not great, does good to him and his family. He sees that God gives it to him in answer to prayer.”
Proverbs 20:4 – The sluggard does not plan for the future. So, he ends up begging others for the things he needs, but which he should have prepared for himself. This is called improvidence. “The lazy person does not plow in autumn; he seeks a crop at harvest time but will have nothing.” This improvidence is reminiscent of Jesus’s parable of the 10 virgins. “The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil because our lamps are going out'” (Mat. 25:8).
Contrast the foolish traits above with the financial behaviors of the righteous.
The righteous person tithes to God (Mal. 3:8-10; Prov. 3:9-10). He provides for his family (1 Tim. 5:8). The righteous household budgets its spending and tracks all income and expenses (Prov. 27:23-27).
The righteous person plans for the future (Prov. 6:8; 10:5), is resourceful (12:27) and diligent (12:24). He focuses on practical work and well-devised projects (Luke 14:28) and does not waste his time or money on fruitless fantasies (Prov. 12:11). He is also thrifty, living below his means and seeing the foolishness in consuming all he has (Prov. 21:20). This is because he plans to leave an inheritance to his children (13:22), which he cannot do if he consumes all he has.
Christians are morally obligated to exhibit the righteous traits detailed here. They are in rebellion against God when they act the sluggard and eschew the financial qualities of the righteous as revealed in the Bible.
This is because a Christian’s duty as a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) is to transform his entire worldview (1 Cor. 10:31). All of his thinking and his way of life must now be approached as a representative of Christ. His actions in all areas, especially finances, must be governed by God’s laws and commandments as revealed in the Bible.
The second practical consideration comes down to the fact that church money is limited.
The church’s resources are not infinite. Your church’s resources surely aren’t unlimited. Church budgets are constrained by the amount their congregation members give. If every member tithed, church budgets would be much larger. The data varies, but only about 5% of church members tithe. This ought to be 100%.
We live in a world of cursed scarcity. There was scarcity before the Fall, but since then the scarcity has become cursed. “Scarcity was built into the creation. In the garden, Adam faced finitude. He could not wave a magic wand to get what he wanted. He had to labor, just as God had labored for six days…God cursed the ground, meaning nature, along with mankind. This has made man’s work more difficult. Put in terms of economic analysis, this has imposed costs on production and distribution that did not exist prior to the fall. Because of this curse, there are new costs, new restraints on men.”
The reality is that the majority of a church’s income is spent on expenses that can be challenging to drastically reduce during a time of crisis. In an article detailing how churches spend their money, which was based on a survey performed by Christianity Today, the percentages are laid out. We are told that
- 45% of a church’s budget goes toward paying pastors and staff,
- 22% goes toward property expenses like rent, mortgage payments, utilities, and groundskeeping,
- 10% is spent on programs like children’s and youth ministries and other adult ministries, and
- 5% is spent on international and domestic missions.
For congregations under 200 members, the median budget is about $175,000. If cost-cutting is enacted, the money usually comes from freezing salaries and cutting programs.
In a time of serious economic crisis such as a recession (and especially a depression), the diaconate could be overwhelmed by requests from church members for emergency aid, and the funds, as plenteous as the Lord shall provide, will nevertheless be limited. Resources are scarce. Therefore, there must be some method employed for screening access to the money.
Church budgets will be beaten from both sides: revenues decline when people lose their jobs; and the volume of requests for aid increases and exceeds what is usually budgeted for member emergency relief during good times.
Income falls. Expenses rise.
Since church resources are limited, the deacons, or whoever is in charge of administering emergency relief to members, will have to decide how to distribute the limited amount of money.
This means helping some at the expense of others.
So how should the deacons determine who gets access to the limited supply of relief money? If there is just enough money to help one family, and two families show up, what will the deacons do?
If they realize that one family has acted righteously with their finances, tithing to God, saving, budgeting, putting term life insurance policies in place, has no debt, but then the other has no savings, never tithed, lives beyond their means, has consumer debt, and has no term life insurance coverage…
…then according to the Bible, who is more deserving of the limited emergency relief funds?
In all likelihood, deacons won’t face a situation so cut and dry. They will hopefully have enough money stored in the emergency relief fund to help multiple families by strategically paying certain bills while the head of the household finds a new job.
But churches must prepare for the day when welfare-state money stops flowing. They must start practicing now, or else they will be overwhelmed.
Churches are also morally obligated by the head of the church, Jesus Christ, to wisely administer charitable aid. Christians are held to a higher standard than unbelievers. Churches should enforce this by establishing ethical criteria for gaining access to the emergency relief fund.
For families who need relief but do not qualify for the fund, they must agree to submit their finances to the diaconate to begin a program of immediate financial reconstruction. If they are not willing to do this, then they should not be given emergency aid.