How do you handle a family in constant financial need?


We have a family who are members here and who have several young children. They have been with us for about six months. He has attended services about five or six times. When he does he participates in class, he seems to know the Scriptures well and could be a real asset to the church with teaching and the like. However, we have not used him a single time because he's never present! When asked "why?", he claims to have migraine headaches a lot, as well as seizures. He even seemed to have a couple of seizures when attending services a few times. The problem is, for a good number of years the doctors (including specialists), have run many tests but have been unable to find anything wrong with him. He works only as a salesman and has lost a few jobs because of the health problems he claims to have.

Although his wife misses a lot of services, she has attended more than he has. They only have cell phones and when you try calling, the service has either been disconnected or you have to leave a message. But they do not return any calls. When asked "why?" they always come up with some off the wall excuse. Their financial situation seems to be an on-going process, always in need. In the six months they have been with us, she has asked for help at least twice. Of the 5 or 6 times he has attended, he himself has asked for help at least a couple of times. For the past couple of weeks, neither of them called or showed up. Last evening she attended with the kids after no one seeing or hearing from her for the past three weeks. She said she had been sick with a virus. Then before services started she handed me a note that they had written asking for financial help because their home was going into foreclosure December 1st. They planned to move back to where her mother lives. But they need money to rent a truck. I gave the note to the one making the announcements and suggested he announce that this family needed some financial assistance and to talk to her after services for details.

Since they have been with us, they've asked for help either to pay their utility bill which is about to be disconnected in a couple of days, or the mortgage payment on their home is overdue because he is in-between jobs, etc. etc. The church has helped them at least three different times.

Several of our members have known them for the past five years or more when they worshipped at another congregation a few miles from us and said their history has been that they are always in need.

Not one single member helped this last time! I think we all feel that we've been taken advantage of by this family, and it's time that they stood on their own two feet!

I have read what you have posted concerning the subject of benevolence, both individual and collective responsibility, but I need your thoughts concerning the following: Shouldn't benevolence be extended only to "faithful" brethren in need and withheld from those meeting the following description? Or am I mistaken about that?

For example:

  1. Neglecting to assume his own responsibility. (I Thessalonians 3:6-10)
  2. Widows (I Timothy 5:2-7)
  3. Faithful Christian who is a good example to others (i.e. one who can help teach other women how to be good Christians)
  4. Caused by their own foolishness or failure to budget properly? (Romans 13:8)


While no one wants to see fellow Christians suffering hardship, we cannot in our generosity encourage people to live a disorderly life. "Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ. But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone's bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us. For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread. But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all" (II Thessalonians 3:5-16),

The word "disorderly" used through this passage comes from several Greek words, atakteo (verb) and ataktos (adjective and adverb). The words are compounds words mean "not orderly." In classical Greek literature, it was used to describe military troops who acted disorderly, such as the losing side fleeing in panic during a battle.

While the focus in this passage and in I Thessalonians 5:12-14 is on people who were being lazy and not working, the subject is broader. It refers to people who by their behavior are causing disorder in the lives of the church and the community at large.

The reason you are continuing to have problems with this family is that the church hasn't addressed the real issue: they are walking disorderly. They are not faithful in their service to God, they are not providing for their own (I Timothy 5:8). It is possible that he has a disorder that the doctors can't detect, but it doesn't mean he and his wife can't do their best despite his apparent problems. There are government programs to help people with longer-term problems, they should be (and probably are) making use of these. This is not a case of an uncontrolled event causing a disaster in their lives; this is a family that doesn't live within their means and expects others to bail them out.

The congregation needs to face the reality of the situation and do as Paul directed them to do -- withdraw from the disorderly. It will be hard because many will feel that the church is piling more problems onto this family. But the truth is that problems are of their own making and unless the congregation can face that truth they are never going to be able to help this family (assuming they will want such help). Christians need to be taught to live as Christians and not as bums. If they don't want to improve their lives, throwing money at the problem won't solve their problems. Offer to teach them better financial management, offer to teach them to be faithful to God, but don't offer more money and don't continue to treat them as members of the congregation. If they ever straighten up and live as the Lord commands, welcome them back with open arms.

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