I’m not receiving CERB, but I’ve lived on the equivalent, or less, for most of my adult life. I’m used to bringing this sometimes-difficult part of my life to church. Some Christians are still adjusting to this. Here’s some ways you can help them.
Dear local church,
If I could live anywhere on approximately $2,000 a month, it’d be here, with you.
As many Canadians continue to receive the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), and we continue to grapple with the economic impacts of COVID-19, it looks like many of us are going to have similar, shrinking budgets.
I’m not receiving CERB, but I’ve lived on the equivalent, or less, for most of my adult life. I’ve spent the whole time with you, at times in smaller cities and now in Canada’s largest. I’m used to bringing this sometimes-difficult part of my life to church. Some Christians are still adjusting to this. Here’s some ways you can help them.
Consider how you talk about money
People often balk when I say one of the most loving things a pastor ever did for me was ask about money. Partway through our first personal conversation, a few months after I began attending his church, he asked if my monthly disability government cheque was enough to cover expenses. That felt profoundly loving.
Canadians value politeness, and few things seem ruder than asking about income. But announcements about subsidy programs have become common, public, recorded events. We should take the hint: it’s okay to talk about money.
We then must ask how to do this. Scripture holds us to a higher standard than politeness. We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:25). When the Apostle John told believers to love in deed and in truth, he was referring to caring for each other’s physical needs (1 John 3:16-18).
God may know exactly what we need, but humans aren’t omniscient. We love each other best when we take the time to know each other. Learn to ask gentle questions about difficult subjects.
My pastor wasn’t trying to put me on the spot with his question – we were at a coffeeshop with no other church members. He wasn’t forcing an agenda, or trying to sniff out hidden sins – there were no follow-up questions about my thoughts on God’s sovereignty or glib suggestions to read Bible passages about suffering.
While government assistance is often impersonal, the church can offer personal, loving care.
Encourage – and enable - generosity
All we have comes from God, and He clearly calls us throughout the Scriptures to be generous. Commands don’t change because circumstances do, but we may need to adjust how we obey them. Dear church, don’t assume people with smaller incomes don’t want to give. Regular giving is one of the main defenses I have against bitterness. It constantly reminds me that God accepts me, too. I don’t want to give – I need to for the sake of my soul.
Giving can look different for every person, and it includes more than just money.
When Sunday morning conversations about work made me feel inadequate or burdensome, the knowledge that I needed to bring a snack or welcome a newcomer kept me showing up to church. I doubted my abilities. I needed someone to provide clear, simple ways for me to be helpful.
For years, I regularly received monthly social assistance statements and rejection emails after job interviews – or total silence after I submitted applications. The cheques taunted me by implying my human value and capability was minimal at best; the emails said I would never be good enough. Sometimes, I believed those voices. When I did, it became hard to hear God’s words reminding me that His creation of me was good and He had made good things for me to do.
After instructing the Ephesian Christians to speak truthfully to each other, Paul says thieves should switch to honest work so they can give to those in need (4:28). Perhaps one of the ways this can happen is when their fellow church members help them find such work or create jobs for them.
To be clear: it is not necessarily stealing to receive financial assistance when in need. But, dear church, could you please also consider how you can provide financially struggling people with meaningful tasks to serve others using the gifts God has given us? And when it comes to conversation topics before and after the service, perhaps we could also consider not always talking about work?
It’s possible lots of church people would rather shrink away from discussing finances – whether during corporate teaching or individual encouragement. We might struggle to find ways to help our fellow members use their gifts. We all need to fight the temptation to reduce each other’s value to the sum of their paycheque. In these moments, let’s remember Jesus who faithfully and justly forgives our sins when we confess – and advocates for us before God.
For years, I often asked God why the race He wanted me to run included so many financial hurdles. I know how those burdens can weigh us down and make it hard to look up and see Jesus, let alone look to Him continually. I take comfort in this: part of the sufferings Jesus endured included trading in His heavenly wealth for earthly poverty. He knows the great joy He has waiting for us, and the frustration we must endure until we get there.
I want to spend my life with the church – but not because the church has always been a welcoming, equipping place. Sometimes, it’s been isolating and demeaning. But regardless of whether the church’s love has been plentiful or lacking, I have experienced the steadfast love of Jesus, who strengthens us in all circumstances. Dear church, let us remember we are to dear to God, and love each other well from the love He has for us.
Meagan Gillmore is a freelance writer in Toronto. Photo of money by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash.