Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. Acts 2:44-45
The second chapter of Acts is the model that everyone wants to emulate when it comes to being the church. The idea of helping each other in time of need is one of the core values of Christianity that goes back to the Old Testament.
For the poor will never cease from among the land; therefore I command you, saying, “you shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.” Deuteronomy 15:11
The harmony of Acts 2 is disturbed by the discord of Acts 6. It seems that there was a perception that the food distribution ministry was being mishandled (v.1). There were also some apparent abuses because Paul had to declare, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10b).
The early church selected some church members to manage the benevolence ministry so that the people’s needs could be met with the level of care that they deserved. Thus the deacon ministry was launched.
Two important principles emerge:
1. We need to support church members in a time of need.
2. The ministry needs to be organized so that people’s needs are met in a timely and appropriate manner.
Many churches have benevolence policies that address the disbursement of funds but the real need is spiritual. The easy thing to do is have a policy with a set spending limit and tell the person not to come back for six months or a year. Now, the church can’t be accused of not caring but has this person been helped?
People who fall into financial distress and turn to the church may be lacking a social support network. Acts 2 is all about that social support network. The early Christians were a tight knit community. You probably didn’t need to ask for help because everyone knew your situation.
True help does not come from the church or a well-written policy. True help comes from people. True help will come as a caring person (deacon, Sunday school teacher, etc) who will sit down, listen and ask questions to get to the root of the problem. What are all the needs? What are the available resources? Is this going to happen again? How can we help you help yourself?
Money is rarely the solution. Caring church members who will make some phone calls, do some internet research, and think through the situation can turn a person’s life around. Sunday school classes that offer support and follow up are worth much more than paying a bill.
Every situation is different and needs a personal touch. The issue can be complicated but we need remember that the type of help a church offers must be different than a secular social service agency. Our primary offering is Jesus.