(2 Thess. 3:6-12 ESV) 6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. 9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
As we’ve covered in several earlier posts, the church — a congregation — as a duty to care for its own members that is higher than the duty to care for the surrounding world. For example,
(Gal. 6:10 ESV) 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
There is a priority or preference in favor of church members. We take care of our own. But it’s a preference that doesn’t stand in the way of helping non-members. We do both.
It’s analogous to —
(1 Tim. 5:8 ESV) 8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
I have duty to care for my own family which is higher than the duty to fellow church members, which is higher than the duty to non-members. I can’t let my family starve while I feed strangers. But neither can I provide luxuries to my family while ignoring the needs of my neighbors.
The principles are plenty clear, although there are no exact formulas or objective rules.
Now, the duty to support others who are in need is limited to those who are genuinely in need. We are not asked to enable laziness. Paul is very clear. The same principle shows up in —
(1 Tim. 5:14-16 ESV) 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. 15 For some have already strayed after Satan. 16 If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.
The teachings re support for widows in 1 Tim 5 are difficult to translate and understand, but it’s very clear that Paul does not want the church burdened by widows who can support themselves, even by remarriage, or be supported by their families. The church is not the first resort. The first resort is the family.
It’s often argued that we shouldn’t “run the church like a business,” and so we should not check to see whether the people we support meet the NT’s standards to receive support. That’s not avoiding business practices; it’s avoiding conflict — which is not biblical, just lazy and cowardly.
I’ve been told countless times that it’s better to defrauded 19 times in order to be sure that the 20th person receives truly needed support. Again: not biblical. It sounds noble but it’s really lazy. After all, if you support 19 people who don’t really qualify, (1) you allowed them to sin contrary to the above scriptures, and (2) you’ve deprived 19 people with legitimate needs of needed support. I mean, we only have so much money to give away. We are charged as stewards to make sure God gets the best possible return on the money.
That’s not to say that we need to be tight-fisted and reluctant to help. We should be thrilled to help, generous, and quick to help. We just shouldn’t be enablers.
We are commanded to help those in need, especially fellow church members. But, as Paul says quite clearly, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
2 Thess 3:13
(2 Thess. 3:13 ESV) 13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.
Caring for others, determining priorities for the use of limited resources, turning down people because they ought to support themselves or be supported by their families is very hard work — especially when it means saying no to a beloved brother or sister in Christ. Burn out is a real risk.
Churches handle this various ways.
- Some refuse to support their own members at all — to avoid conflict. But this violates plain scriptures.
- Some have a deacon or a committee handle, so that the elders aren’t put in the position of saying no to a member.
- Some give to anyone who asks until the money runs out, to avoid conflict.
- Some let the elders handle these decisions.
Personally, my preference is for a committee or single member to handle. He or they may seek the counsel of the elders as they find necessary, but all discussions are had between this person and the member in need.
This way the member in need is assured of confidentiality and the decision to say no doesn’t harm the relationship of the member asking and the elders. More importantly, having a single person be the point of contact allows for consistent application of the principles the Scriptures insist on and lets the elders find someone gifted to handle such matters. I’m am not such a person, but I have a number of friends who are gifted to deal with people in need with great compassion, and the rare gift of saying no while communicating love.
In short, the solution to burn out is to assign the work to someone gifted in that work and to make the principles that guide the ministry explicit. And then don’t overrule the decisions of this person. There is no quicker way to run someone off than to take away their decision-making authority.
Delegate. Agree on principles. Get out of the way.