I recently received a question from a pastor concerning a common dilemma for churches in our day. The church was trying to determine how best to help a family drowning under a growing mountain of debt.
Being unfamiliar with many of the specific circumstances, I offered some general questions that might be helpful for any church seeking to walk with a family under financial strain. I share these questions here knowing that most of our churches have similar ministry opportunities:
When considering assisting an individual or family straining under debt, a very important question to consider initially is has this dilemma resulted from irresponsible and/or sinful behavior (Hebrews 12:5-6)? If so, will coming to the rescue inadvertently spare them of behavior-altering consequences? These kinds of questions will help you avoid enabling the person in his/her irresponsible or sinful patterns.
Another important question is what does Scripture teach about the church’s obligation (Galatians 2:10) but not only the church’s obligation? What does Scripture teach about the obligation of the person’s own family (1 Timothy 5:4-8) and their brothers and sisters in Christ (1 John 3:17) verses the church body as a whole?
If the church is still considering stepping in, another question must be asked: what is the church attempting to rescue? A family’s standard of living? A family’s ability to “make it on their own” in the future? Their very lives? Something else? Whatever it is, does it fall in line with what God has revealed in his word regarding what his church should seek to provide her members?
If the church decides God‘s calling is to step in, what is the wisest course of action? Will an injection of cash simply be “throwing good money after bad?” For example, there is no need to pay a monthly mortgage on a house that is in foreclosure. A better investment would be to help on a deposit for an apartment to avoid homelessness. Be smart with the Lord’s money (Luke 16:11).
Before rushing forward, at least one more question should be considered: would action taken by the church be reproducible? That is to say, if another member came tomorrow with the same need, could that need also be met? If not, that doesn’t automatically mean you refuse to help, but it should at least result in some strategic thinking about how the church will minister to all of her members in light of the needs of a specific person or family. The question of “setting a precedent” is a serious question to consider but should never be a standing veto on the church taking any action whatsoever.
For other helpful direction, check out Rod O’Neil’s book, Guide to Benevolence Giving for Church and Family.