Yvon's note: I wrote this initially soon after the start of the previous recession. As I was reorganizing the website I found it and realized how similar our situation, challenges, and opportunities are with the current pandemic. With a small amount of editing and updating I trust it will be useful now.
We communicate with more than words as followers of Jesus. The little poem below reminds me of this. It's something I memorized years ago and I'm afraid I don't know the author or title, but here it is:
We are writing a gospel, a chapter each day
By the things that we do and the things that we say.
People read what we write,
Distorted or true.
What is the gospel,
According to you?
We have an opportunity to live out the gospel during this recession (and now pandemic); to communicate the love and care of Jesus in tangible ways. Let's look at one situation, job loss, and some suggestions on what to do and what not to do as a church to people who are out of work.
A job loss destroys your world
Many businesses have closed and with that many have lost their job. Losing a job means the loss of much more than income, though that alone is an immense hardship.
A job loss means loss of identity—you don't know who you are anymore, your role, or how you fit into society; you don't know what to say when people ask what you do.
A job loss means of friends—many jobs today demand total loyalty and commitment and for someone who has worked 60-hour weeks for more than a decade has no doubt developed strong relationships with the people with whom they spent so much time. Suddenly those friends, are gone because you are gone.
Even more painful are those who keep their jobs. To people who previously said they couldn't live without you, you suddenly are a pariah to be avoided at all costs. It hurts and it's lonely.
Some people knew when the layoff was coming and were able to prepare; others were blindsided and shown the door without warning. Some people have continuing benefits and unemployment; a vast number of freelancers and independent contractors have nothing.
What the church can do
There is a balance here. On the one hand, we need to communicate clearly that God is sovereign. Nothing happens without his knowledge and overwhelming love. At the same time, we know that being a recipient of God's love and care does not mean things will be easy. Job did not suffer his trials because he was sinning; he suffered because he was a blameless man in God's sight.
We should never lie to people. Our best life is not now but in heaven. We will suffer. Jesus did. Paul did.
The reality for many in the Bible and now is that life never gets easier. When you look at the lives of those greatly used by God in the Bible, few lived to a comfortable old age. Life for many saints was always difficult and many ended their lives in disappointment and seemingly unfair, lonely deaths (see Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Peter, Paul, all the disciples, many of the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11).
What then should we, as a church do? Some suggestions:
- Be encouraging. Remind people that God may be directing them to new avenues of service and trust. People are starting new businesses and careers, but they often need lots of love and encouragement to do that.
- Pray for people—that God will meet practical needs in extraordinary ways and that their faith would be strengthened and their hearts encouraged during this time.
- Spend time with people—in every loss from a death, to job loss as mentioned before, the loss of relationships is primary. People are lonely in times of loss and if you can't help in tangible ways, help with time.
- Be creative. We have to be much more creative in how we share meals and time during the pandemic. Taking an unemployed person to lunch or a couple out to dinner is not the easy thing it may have been able to do in the past, but you can buy food for a picnic or outdoor meal, even if you are eating at separate tables, properly spaced apart.
- Actively help. Network; help the unemployed find work. Hire them if you can; refer them if possible.
- Retrain them if you have the ability. Pay for retraining. Keep them accountable and encouraged.
- Pay for what some now can't afford. Make a house payment; give a grocery gift card. Take their kids to the dentist. Pay for medical care. Buy clothes.
- Support ministry organizations. Don't forget homeless shelters, food banks, any group that serves those in need. Their challenges expand at times like this. Think outside the obvious. Homeless people need clean underwear; consider a "Tidy-Whitey Drive." Don't forget the ladies also.
- Consider purchases carefully. Whenever you spend money on yourself or your family, think about if you could do this if you were unemployed. If not, do it for another family.
- Involve your children in giving and volunteering. Often during stressful times, parents think about what will entertain their children. Consider thinking about how to involve them in service projects and how these difficult times give you an opportunity to teach them truly valuable life lessons and how to live their Christian faith.
- All of the previous suggestions presuppose that you know your brothers and sisters in Jesus well enough to be aware of their needs. If you don't, start there.
If you do these positive things, your world will notice. This recession (and the pandemic) is a challenging time but it is also an incredible opportunity for God's people to communicate to the world around them about the love of Jesus. They will see that the gospel is about much more than mere words.
As the people of God, what not to do
The basis for the suggestions that follow come from Paul's extended discussion of giving in 2 Corinthians 8, 9, a passage often greatly misinterpreted in churches. In this passage, Paul is collecting an offering for the poor believers (not church staff or his staff or for him) in Jerusalem. We don't know all the details of why they were in need (as we often don't know all the reasons why some folks are in need today) and Paul does not seem to think that it is important for us to know. His approach could be summed up in 2 Cor. 8:13,14:
Our desire is not that others might be relieved white you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality.
Let's be honest, as a whole, we are woefully disobedient to this verse and the very idea of economic equality among believers. I have no desire to get into any current political squabbles about socialism or any such thing. However, I pray we will all take time to struggle with what appears to be a fairly straight-forward teaching by the Apostle Paul. While we are doing that, here are some suggestions for practical applications of this passage. Warning—these suggestions might be offensive to some—plus a challenge that if you find a suggestion offensive, ask yourself why?
- Don't hoard. Some people are in severe need right now. If you have the means to help; you should help. We tend to think of this in regards to things like lots of groceries at home while some are struggling to supply food and that certainly applies and if you are able you should be contributing regularly to local and international hunger concerns. But there are other ares, for example: if a child has a severe dental problem, it won't get better in time and if the parents do not have the money to fix it, they need help. "Oh, but to help I would have to dip into my savings," someone might reply. Yes, if you have savings and you are aware of a need in a fellow believer and are able to meet it, you need to do that. Now.
- As a church staff, be very careful about how you handle finances. If your budget cuts consist of laying off staff without significant salary reductions of those on staff making the largest salaries, you are no different from the big banks who continue to pay outrageous bonuses to top executives, while laying off lowly tellers. It is a matter of scale only. People see what you are doing and selfishness mocks the gospel.
- Don't flaunt your wealth, freedom, and leisure. Many senior pastors (and heads of other businesses) make significant salaries and are the last to be touched by a recession or the job loses of a pandemic. This is not the time to go on a cruise or to take extended vacations. Or to brag about your golf game in the morning service. Golf is an obscene indulgence to a person wondering if their kids will have decent shoes for school.
- Don't complain about cutting back on luxuries. If for example, you have always taken three weeks a year to a special getaway with your family, don't consider it a hardship and loudly complain about it, if you have to limit yourself to one week this year or not at all. Flaunting a vacation or any other luxury (of course you don't mean to do it, but that is how it can come across) to someone financially struggling is incredibly insensitive.
- Don't "poor talk." This is where a person who has extensive resources (big savings, secure job, retired with a generous pension, etc.,) talks about how they can't afford this or that or in some way talks about how they are struggling financially. In the Body of Christ, this is particularly difficult. For a person who literally has no idea how they are going to feed their children in the coming week, to be, for example in a Bible Study and has to listen to poor talk about how someone has to cut back on hair appointment, how do you imagine they feel? Not only do they have to struggle with their sometimes desperate situation, but they have to fight the feelings of anger and resentment towards their fellow believer. Ask the Lord to make you not only generous with your resources, but in control of your words.
- Consider big purchases carefully. If men in your Bible study are without work, don't brag about buying a new truck, which you typically buy every year. Think about putting off the purchase and helping a brother. There are many purchases we can put off for the sake of others—no new clothes and give to children whose parents have lost jobs, planning meals carefully, so excess grocery money can go to a food share or food bank, spending less on hobbies and finding out what some in the church need in the way of dental work (this is a particularly difficult area for people with little income and can be incredibly and literally painful to go without it) or eyeglasses or any other thing you consider a necessity that maybe be a luxury out of reach for a family that has no secure income.
- If you have an excess of anything, share. Many families today have more cars than they do people in the family. If a car breaks beyond repair for a person out of work, it is a tragic loss. Consider giving away a vehicle. To keep five vehicles for two people, does not exactly shout the love of God.
The examples could continue, but we've all been in situations where we know we could have, should have done something we didn't do. It isn't only our souls that are damaged when we are selfish. The world sees and takes note, not only of the kind and generous things done by people who name the name of Jesus but also of the selfish things done.
As I was redoing this, I was also working on material on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and in summary, to be a disciple means to be like the one you are following. Part of following Jesus considering how he gave up incredible wealth for the sake of others as it tells us in Phil. 2:5-8:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Jesus gave up the glories, riches, power, everything that was rightfully His to come to earth, serve fallen humanity, and ultimately die for us. If we are going to be like him, sacrifice is part of it—please spend time with Jesus to find out what He wants you to do.
We are always communicating something. Churches have the opportunity to communicate Jesus in ways far more powerful than loud slogans, catchy social media, and flamboyant websites. As individuals, far more than any words or arguments for the Chrisitan faith our actions in either selfishness or sacrifice will shout loudly.
In this recession (and pandemic) for churches or individuals, like the little poem says, "what is the gospel, according to you?"