The church has a responsibility to its attendees and members when they are faced with financial hardship. However, there are three clear biblical guidelines for how individual Christians and churches should help those in need within the church.
First, each Christian should provide his or her own financial support.
2 Thessalonians 3:7-10 states,
For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘Anyone who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’
No Christian should ever seek to receive financial assistance from anyone until he or she has attempted to work “night and day, laboring and toiling…” Many times a Christian will seek financial assistance when he or she is not willing to secure work perceived to be “beneath them” or by selling their personal assets. No assistance should be given to anyone who is not willing to humble himself or herself and work at any job – flipping burgers, getting a second job, delivering pizzas at night, or getting a paper route. A Christian in need should do whatever is necessary to put food on the table. Only until all possible employment routes have been exhausted, should a Christian seek financial help from anyone.
More importantly, in many situations, financial hardship is the result of poor financial management. Many get into trouble when they overextend themselves with excessive consumer debt. Proverbs 22:7 states, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” Oftentimes the person in need ignored this instruction and is reaping the consequences. Proverbs 13:11 says, “Whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.” In many situations, those in need did not do the hard work of saving money, little by little, so that when a true emergency hit they were found to be unprepared.
It is important to acknowledge poor financial habits. If these habits are not addressed, the person seeking help will return for more help down the road. Christians must take responsibility for their actions and not expect others to “bail them out” because of their own poor financial management.
Sometimes the most loving thing a Christian can do for another Christian in financial need is to provide prayer as well as vocational and emotional support, while not offering financial assistance. Sometimes to step in and assist someone in financial need is to keep them from taking responsibility for their decisions and developing the character and discipline they will need for future financial success.
On the other hand, it is just as important to acknowledge that there are times of extreme crisis, such as a medical emergency or a family death. These situations can impact a person’s financial situation but are not a result of financial mismanagement.
Second, each Christian in financial need should first go to their believing family members for financial support.
1 Timothy 5:16 says,
If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.
The apostle Paul told Timothy that widows in the church should be given special honor and that church members ought to embrace them and give them emotional, spiritual, and financial support. However, if a woman has family members who are Christians, it is those Christian family members who have a responsibility to care for that person in need, not church members.
There is a spiritual principle at work in 1 Timothy 5:16 that governs all financial hardship in the church: Christians should not seek financial assistance within the church until they have first reached out to their own Christian family members. In almost every situation all the financial resources provided by God for a family member in need have been entrusted to the Christian’s believing family members – his or her mom and dad, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles. The apostle Paul was so serious about family members caring for one another that he wrote, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8).”
To seek financial assistance from people within the church before going to one’s own Christian family members is in the Apostle Paul’s words, “to burden the church.”
Third, only after a Christian has “worked night and day, laboring and toiling” and sought help from Christian family members, is that Christian scripturally allowed to seek financial help from fellow Christians.
Once a Christian has reached the point where he or she is working two jobs, and their Christian family members have exhausted all their financial resources, that Christian should rightly make the Christians he or she knows in the church aware of their need.
However, this does not mean a Christian should go to the church leadership and ask for a financial gift from the general offerings of the church. What this means is a Christian in need should go to the people within the church with whom he or she is living in community and make them aware of the situation – a home team, an accountability partner, and the people with whom the person serves.
Sometimes church staff is asked, “What program does YOUR CHURCH have in place to help its members when they have a financial need?”
The answer is simple: the church. What YOUR CHURCH has in place to help its members in times of need is the church itself. There is no “program” per se. The body of Christ, when it is working properly, is the program. From the beginning at YOUR CHURCH, when someone connected to the church faced financial hardship and was living in community with others, the people with whom that person had a relationship stepped in to help. This has happened hundreds of times; just the way the Bible says it should happen.
When a person lives in community with others, those with whom that person is connected have a spiritual responsibility to prayerfully consider helping a fellow Christian in need from the overflow of their personal resources. This is what the Bible calls a “free-will offering.” For a Christian, the first 10% of everything God gives us is to be returned to the church. This is called a “tithe.” Anything given beyond a tithe is called a “free-will offering” because Christians are “free” to determine where that money is spent. Many times such gifts are given to building programs or mission work overseas. Sometimes this money is given to people in need within the church. If a Christian knows of another Christian in need and feels compelled to give such a gift, then he or she should do so. However, this help should only be given after it has become clear that the person in need has “worked night and day, laboring and toiling” and sought help from Christian family members.
When this happens it is an awe-inspiring thing. No impersonal “committee” hands out money from a limited budget; instead the person in need receives help from the people with whom he or she has a relationship. Financial assistance rightly remains a part of authentic Christian community. The person helping gets as much out of the experience as the person being helped. Money is not the only thing given, but much more – encouragement, guidance, and accountability.