by: Rich Vaughan
With apologies to William Shakespeare (see above sub-title), one of the more quietly stressful jobs for a Pastor and a church is when and how to help people (non-members) who turn to the church for financial aid when things are hard. It’s a situation that begins early in one’s ministry and does not end until one retires and does not serve a church. Even harder for a pastor and a church is how to respond to those that continue to return time after time to the church for help.
You might think for repeat callers it would be easy to say no. That is not the case. Begin with the simple fact that when one is hurting financially or spiritually/emotionally, almost every one of us would turn to the church for help. So why would the poverty stricken not feel the same? In fact, for those struggling on the edge of poverty, it seems like a no brainer. Jesus’ teachings of love your neighbor would indicate to them that the church is a place where they can find help. Do some of them play “con games” with the pastor and the church? Sure they do. But even those playing con games are not living in nice homes and driving fancy cars. Most, if not all of them, are living day to day on small incomes. Another issue pastors face is that pastors are spending our church members’ money. Money they have graciously given from their hearts to help the less fortunate. A pastor has the responsibility, and carries the burden, to try and make sure that money is spent wisely and well. (Almost like the parable of the Talents; Matthew 25:14-30)
Does my heart get hard at times? I am afraid so. I don’t like it but there are times that I struggle with a “Pharaoh’s Heart” (from the Exodus story in our Bible when Pharaoh’s heart is hardening against Moses and the Israelites). I pray that my heart not harden or that it does not become hard, but there are times when it is not easy to say yes to helping someone. So how do we as Christians answer the sub-title question at the top of this devotional? Even if you are not the lead pastor of a church, all of us encounter those begging for and/or needing money. They may be holding a sign on an exit ramp. They may be “working” a neighborhood. They may be on a street corner. They may even be living out of their car. Some are very legit in their hardship and needs, some are not. How do we respond? I think the hard answer is that “we love our neighbor.” We give and help based on common sense, where we ourselves are financially, and we give with a heart of grace. Because the gospel truth is that as hard as this issue is, as easy as it is to harden our hearts, Jesus expects us to respond as best we can with love and grace. We don’t get to judge. That is the Lord’s area. We simply get to be His disciples and follow His teachings and do what He would have us do in His name. May you and I now practice what I preach. Amen & Amen.