In Matthew 25, Jesus taught of the eternal consequences of neglecting those in need. “Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life’” (Matt. 25:45-46).
“The least of these…eternal punishment”, this sounds serious, what is our church to do? Is the best way to measure the health of a church budget to examine how much money goes toward ministries that focus purely on helping those in poverty? Should we separate the funds between what goes “to the least of these” from what goes to “the most of these”; ministry that doesn’t go toward those in poverty?
No, it isn’t that simple nor is the distinction helpful. Putting aside for now that this passage seems to be addressing people in the church not out of the church ( note that it says “the least of these my brothers”), let’s take a look at the issue of “the least of these” more carefully.
In our country much poverty is caused by broken marriages and pregnancies outside of marriage. Ministries that teach the word, disciple believers, train parents, strengthen marriages, provide people community and accountability, and give vision for remaining morally pure as singles are the best way to reduce poverty. Churches should make these ministries a priority to have greater impact on “the least of these.”
In addition, the church provides the best solution for poverty: a gospel focused community. People in poverty don’t get out of poverty with handouts. Their poverty is often a poverty of community and relationship more than material possessions, see review of From Prophesy to Charity here. Churches developing healthy communities that practice outreach, help reduce poverty more effectively than those that focus mainly on material possessions. Churches should make these relationship ministries a priority to have greater impact on “the least of these.”
Healthy churches also provide motivation, support, training, and encouragement for reaching the needy in a community. At our church we are currently encouraging people to become foster families for children in crisis. Our investment in developing a healthy church gives us access to promote this ministry to thousands of people each week who come to worship and learn from God’s Word. In foster care ministry the fact that it doesn’t cost the church any money or show up on our church budget doesn’t mean that we aren’t helping the least of these. Churches should make their own health and growth a priority to have greater impact on “the least of these.”
Healthy churches are involved in evangelism, church planting, and missions. In addition to providing motivation and structure for reaching the least of these, churches that proclaim the gospel to all levels of society are serving those who are “poor in spirit.” People are people… in God’s kingdom both the rich and poor need the Gospel. Churches should make evangelism, church planting, and missions a priority to have greater impact on “the least of these.”
What about the “pure” ministries that focus exclusively on reaching the least of these? What about food pantries, fund-raising for other ministries, Christmas gift giveaways, and clothes drives that aren’t so much concerned about the spoken message of the gospel or developing relationships between believers and the needy? Shouldn’t the health of a church be measured by the percentage of their budget that goes to these ministries? Because of the low relational and community impact of these ministries, these should take second place to the higher impact ministries mentioned above.
As believers we should actively be involved in service to those in need, but categorizing a church budget based on ministering to “least of these” and “most of these” is unhelpful. This distinction may actually cause a church to create a budget that is actually less aligned with biblical values than without it.
Comments? So you see this differently?