I started writing this little series about the Cost-of-Living Crisis back in February and I began by observing that this is something that will affect the church so it isn’t something we can just ignore. Since then, we’ve talked about the political and economic challenges of responding to the crisis. We’ve also seen what the Bible has to say about it. I want to close off the series by returning to the question of the local church. How do we practically respond?
I would sum up our response by saying that we should seek to be communities of overflowing generosity that is rooted in grace.
We’ve seen that our confidence in the Gospel and trust in Christ for our lives should enable us to hold lightly to our own possessions and so be able to share with each other. I don’t believe that this is something we can control by enforcing rules. Instead, the church can encourage overflowing generosity by doing two things.
- We should teach from the Bible about wealth, poverty, generosity, giving etc. We want the church family to see the link between the Gospel and how they are to live their daily lives.
- We should facilitate such overflowing generosity by making it as easy as possible for people to be generous with their time and their gifts.
Now, my personal preference is against those schemes that treat those in need as beneficiaries of handouts. For that reason, I’m less and less convinced of churches taking on and running foodbanks. So, I’d encourage a church to look at ways in which it can function more and more as a community/family and less about being seen as the place you go to for a handout. To give some examples.
First of all, encourage people to be those who share what they have with others. This may well include food. However, rather than giving out vouchers for your foodbank, what if you did some of the following?
- Have meals together as a church where people bring and share food. People can bring what they are able to. If they are not able to afford the ingredients for a contribution, they can still be involved in helping prepare food on site, serving, clearing up etc.
- From that big meal together, encourage smaller mealtime opportunities. Encourage families to offer hospitality not to those in a position to invite back but to those who would genuinely benefit from a meal. Again, rather than inviting guests, invite them round to prepare and eat a meal with you. Extend your family.
- Similarly, what if a family was to pair up with another family to do shopping together, to prepare packed lunches etc. The struggling family contributes in what they can.
- Rather than having a foodbank, you might consider a food-pantry arrangement where people can contribute in as they able and take out when they can. Their contributing may be food, money or their time to help. These types of schemes often enable members to choose out their own food rather than receiving a handout of a predetermined bag.
When thinking about money, some of us have operated hardship funds. I think that we can see from Scripture that part of the Sunday offering should be set aside for those in practical need. So, I’m not against hardship funds but again we want to be careful that these don’t have the feel of a handout. The more that there is a sense in which the people receiving are not getting a handout but are sharing in the blessings of the church as they themselves contribute in many ways the better. A church may also want to look at options such as setting up a friendly society which enables people to pay in as they are able and take out when they need to. Of course, when talking about money, we need to be careful to observe charity, employment and taxation laws.
We need also to think about interdependence. So, churches in better off contexts should be looking to partner with and support churches in poorer, more deprived areas. The example of Corinth/Rome/Macedonia and the Jerusalem church shows that our support shouldn’t just be for “Gospel/Word initiatives” but also to help those churches look after the needy and vulnerable in their midst.
Finally, I think we should be encouraging believers to have a concern for justice issues. This will flow out of the teaching. I’m very cautious about churches being drawn into political campaigning and we should definitely be alert to the party-political danger. However, believers should be able to recognise injustice and challenge it. They should also be able to challenge the motives we see in society that encourage greed and selfishness.
Whilst these things seem small in comparison to the problem, our responsibility is to be faithful where we are. Not only that but if lots of Christians and churches are faithful in these matters, consider how far reaching the effect could be?