1. People are calling our church office wanting help. They might be sincerely in need but they may be running a scam. Do we help them or not?
Every church on the planet deals with this. If your church is located near a freeway or close to an inner city neighborhood that has seen better days, the line of people seeking help can be unending. If that’s your church, I suggest you pull together a team of your very best people to work up a church policy on this ministry.
But, as to whether to give or not, we have a longer, more involved answer and a shorter, simpler one for you….
Longer answer: Most churches wanting to honor the Lord and bless the needy will work out a system of verifying the identity and need of individuals asking for help. Our church keeps a record of every person we minister to, so that no matter which minister or secretary deals with the needy one, they have the history in front of them. Another approach–one we recommend–is to join hands with other churches in your area and create a single community ministry staffed by great volunteers in order to treat needy people responsibly and honorably. When done right, this ministry can often create additional ways to bless the needy: job placement services, English as a second language classes, etc.
Shorter answer: “Give to everyone who asks from you” (Luke 6:30). –Jesus.
Now, that word from our Lord does NOT mean we have to give them a) what they ask for or b) as much as they ask for. The Lord does not send us into the world to be brainless or gullible. But neither does He send us to be heartless.
We are to give them “something.” And one more thing. If we must err in the church office, let’s err on the side of generosity, rather than cheapness.
It’s impossible to know about every person asking for help. Even if we get all the information and keep great records, once in a while we will be taken advantage of. The folks in the church office should take that as a fact of life; it will happen. But this does not mean we are failing and it’s no reason to refuse assistance to the next person.
2. What about giving to the homeless? Won’t they just squander it on booze or drugs?
Answer: They might. So, don’t give them money.
Take the homeless guy into McDonald’s and buy him a meal. Contribute to the homeless shelter down the street that is trying to make a permanent difference in their lives. If you live in the snow zone of the USA, find out if someone is collecting sweaters or jackets for the homeless and get your church involved.
But, should you give your spare change to the homeless guy on the street corner, knowing it could be a scam–he might be pulling down hundreds of dollars a day–and knowing he might misuse the money? Sure. Take a chance.
Again, better to err on the side of generosity than miserliness. But love your enemies and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return…for He Himself is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful, just as your Father in Heaven also is merciful (Luke 6:35-36).
3. Aren’t we just enabling them to be a blight on society? Wouldn’t tough love refuse them money? Make them get a job or starve.
This is the kind of question wealthy people love to discuss in their parlors. It is not something front-line activists-for-Jesus worry about.
When Earl asked me that same question about the homeless of New Orleans, the answer I gave was not what he expected.
“Earl, my brother. You and I have known each other forty years.” (I had been his pastor early in my ministry. I knew he tended to be short on mercy and tight with a dollar.)
“Earl, there is a way to determine whether you are sincere or not in that question. If there are homeless people whom you know to be in genuine need and you are helping them, then you are sincere. But if you aren’t helping anyone at all in need, even the ones you know, then your question is simply an attempt to get out of doing anything for the needy.”
He changed the subject.
My answer–the third time we’ve used this expression–is better to err on the side of kindness and generosity than on the side of greed, miserliness, mean-spiritedness. Let the Lord’s people be known as generous, just as the Lord is kind.
4. Isn’t it true that if the churches would just do what Jesus said, we wouldn’t need any government assistance?
No. Not true at all.
Nowhere in the Bible did the Lord command the church to take care of all the needy. If you added up all the offerings of all the churches in a year, it would be a fraction of what the federal government can accomplish in a single vote of congress.
The church is commanded to take care of its own needy. Scripture says, “As much as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, but especially to those of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
But didn’t Jesus tell us that when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc., we do it unto Him?
Misquoting scripture there.
What He said was when we do this unto the least of these my brethren–referring to His disciples, His followers, His people–we do it unto Him (Matthew 25:40).
Is it good to give to everyone, saved or sinner? Absolutely. But the priority should be on a church taking care of its own.
5. What’s the best way for a church to give to help its own needy?
There is no one best way. Depending on the needs in your area and your resources, the number and abilities of volunteers, and the changing situations, your approach will probably have to be fluid.
Many years ago, in a church I was pastoring, we developed a unified system of ministry to the (ahem) financially deprived. For over 30 years, “Love InDeed” has continually done two things: responded to the various needs of the community and redefined itself in order to work more effectively.
That’s the best counsel I can give. Do something. You can’t do everything, you cannot meet all their needs, you cannot take care of every person. But you can do something.
You do not need a vote of the church to go down the street with groceries for that needy family .
It does not require an organization for you and a couple of friends to call on the elderly in your church to find those who are in need.
All it takes is one person like yourself to get up and do something.
Do it for Jesus’ sake.