Our Goals for Care Ministry
We have two goals for the care ministry at Southshore: (1) Address all real need among our members; and (2) Equip the church to organically care for one another.
1. Address all real need among our memberS
The Bible calls the church to help those who cannot help themselves. We find this instruction in 1 Timothy 5:3-6:
"3Honor widows who are truly widows. 4But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. 5She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, 6but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives."
At first, this passage seems to be about widow care. And, indeed, it is. However, this passage is not primarily about widows, though widow care was the original occasion addressed. Within this passage are principles that include, but go beyond, widow care.
In the first century Ephesian church, the most obvious group in need of church-wide care was widows. This is unlikely to be the case in twenty first century Canada, though there may occasionally be a widow that is in need of such care. The important point is this: First Timothy 5:3-6 is about caring for those in need more than it is about widows. If we interpret 1 Timothy 5:3-6 to be about widows more than it is about caring for those in need, then we will miss the point of the passage. We will invent ways to care for widows who are not in need all the while we miss the underlying instruction that we are to help those who cannot help themselves.
Paul begins this section with a very clear and simple command: “Honour widows who are truly widows” (1 Timothy 5:3). To honour someone has a twofold meaning: (1) accord proper respect that is befitting a bearer of God’s image; (2) be of material benefit to the one whom you honour. Thus, the church is to respect and provide for “those who are truly widows.”
Who are the true widows? Paul gives us four marks of a true widow
- They are “left all alone” (1 Timothy 5:5a). In verse 4 we see what Paul means. A true widow has no children or grandchildren who can care for her basic needs.
- They have “set their hope on God” (1 Timothy 5:5b). That is, they are believers.
- They “continue in supplications and prayers night and day” (1 Timothy 5:5c). This does not mean that they pray a certain number of hours per day. Rather, it means that true widows trust in God to provide for them.
- They are not “self-indulgent” (1 Timothy 5:6). Self-indulgent people make every gathering of the church all about them. The wheels of discipleship grind to a halt every time self-indulgent people show up. Moreover, they love to take from the church, but rarely, if ever, give back in any way.
Thus, the church is to support those who (1) have no other means of support; (2) are believers; (3) are visibly reliant on God; and (4) who give as much as they take. These guidelines are applicable beyond women who have lost their husbands. The church must help those who cannot help themselves, provided they meet these qualifications.
In 1 Timothy 5:7-8, Paul reiterates the basic point:
"7Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. 8But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."
If the church is going to be without reproach in the eyes of the world, it must care for the neediest among its members. However, let the relatives of those in need be the first to meet the needs of their own family.
Who Qualifies for Church-wide Care? (1 Timothy 5:3, 4–8)
Having already clarified that the church is not to help any and every widow that comes along, Paul makes it all the more difficult to qualify for organized, top down, long term, church-wide support.
First, he adds three additional requirements for a widow to qualify for support:
- She must be “not less than sixty years of age” (1 Timothy 5:9a). This demarcation is not intended in a legalistic sense, but rather indicates the age at which a woman is less likely to remarry and bear children. In our context, it represents the age at which a person is less likely able to provide for himself or herself.
- She must be “the wife of one husband” (1 Timothy 5:9b). This is not a prohibition against lawful remarriage. Rather, this is indicative of a faithful character.
- She must have “a reputation for good works” (1 Timothy 5:10). Paul then proceeds to give five examples of good works. In other words, to qualify for church support a person must display an active engagement in the life of the church.
Just as with Paul’s definition of a true widow, these three requirements reach beyond widows. In order to qualify for long term church support, a person must be unable to provide for himself or herself, must exhibit basic faithfulness, and be active in the church.
Who Qualifies for Church-wide Care? (1 Timothy 5:3, 4–8, 9–10)
These seven marks, therefore, shall assist our Care Ministry in assessing who qualifies for organized, church-wide, support. The longer term the prospective care is, the more essential these marks become.
Paul then proceeds to describe the kind of person who does not qualify for support in 1 Timothy 5:11-15:
"11But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry 12and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. 13Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. 14So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. 15For some have already strayed after Satan."
These are difficult verses to make sense of. These verses make more sense when we can see the principle behind the example of widowhood. Thus, “younger widows” are representative of those who can reasonably provide for themselves. In the original context, younger widows could reasonably provide for themselves by getting remarried. In our context, remarriage remains a valid avenue for support. Additionally, younger women, like younger men, are usually able to provide for themselves by finding employment.
Who Does Not Qualify for Church-wide Care? (1 Timothy 5:11, 14)
Paul gives three reasons that the church ought not commit long term support to those who can reasonably provide for themselves
- Eventually, “their passions draw them away from Christ. . .” (1 Timothy 5:11). In the original context, the idea is that eventually a younger widow will be enticed to remarry. Obviously, remarriage is not a problem. Paul encourages it two verses later. However, the problem is the posture of the young widow’s heart. There will always be people who are willing to take from the church until a better offer comes along. Thus, the commitment is entirely one-sided: the church is expected to be there for the widow but the widow can come and go as she pleases. The exact situation in view is not entirely clear. Either these younger widows are marrying non-believing husbands or they are breaking a vow given to the church. Either way, the point is this: The church ought not help those who are using the church while it suits them, but who are ready to discard the church at the first opportunity.
- Additionally, younger widows “learn to be idlers” (1 Timothy 5:13). Early retirement is not God’s plan: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Having all of their needs met without needing to work, younger widows are prone to go from “house to house” disturbing otherwise busy members of the church.
- With this extra time, and with this “house to house” routine, these younger widows are well positioned to receive all kinds of information about the lives and struggles of people in the church. Thus, they are prone to become “gossips and busybodies” (1 Timothy 5:13), who disturb the unity of the church. It is better for younger widows to busy themselves than to stir up dissentions with their extra time (1 Timothy 5:14).
As before, these reasons apply more broadly than “younger widows.” Anyone who intends to take advantage of the church’s generosity until a better offer comes along, ought not be supported. Additionally, the church ought not to put anyone in the position of idleness, for with extra time comes the temptation to gossip and entangle ourselves in the business of other people. Therefore, anyone who can seek self-provision ought to do so.
Finally, Paul summarizes the entire passage in 1 Timothy 5:16:
"16If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows."
In other words, if a person has any other means of support, especially from family, let them be cared for accordingly. Let the church not be unnecessarily burdened. However, anyone who is in legitimate need ought to be cared for by the church.
2. Equip the church to organically care for one another
The above policy does not intend to quench organic care within the church. That is to say, in addition to organized, top down, long (or short) term, church-wide support, there is an expectation that members in the church will attend to all kinds of needs in an unplanned or overseen way.
In Romans 12:10–21, Paul outlines the expectation of Christian living
"10Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
Much could be said about this passage. Sufficient for our purposes here is to highlight the aspects of Christian living that pertain to congregational care
- “Love one another with brotherly affection” (Romans 12:10). Love is practical (James 2:14–17). Therefore, with brotherly affection comes organic care for one another.
- “Outdo one another in showing honour” (Romans 12:10). Honour has a twofold meaning; (1) to respect; and (2) to be of material benefit to. Therefore, we ought to outdo one another in being of material benefit to one another.
- “Contribute to the needs of the saints” (Romans 12:13). This command focuses on the needs of the saints, not the needs of the world. We are, in a special way, called to meet the needs of fellow members in the church.
- “Seek to show hospitality” (Romans 12:13). Hospitality is literally, “stranger-love.” Thus, this is a call to meet the needs of travelling Christians so that they do not incur costs.
- “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). A big part of care is not material at all. We must be prepared to share life together emotionally, as well as practically.
- “Live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16). This is a call to church unity. It relates to our care ministry in this way: harmony is impossible where a vast material imbalance exists. In the name of church unity, therefore, we must be ready to share.
- “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly” (Romans 12:16). Not everyone will be equal in material wealth. However, the differences in material possessions is not to create factions in the church. Thus, the wealthy are to help the lowly by being of material benefit to them.
Even while these seven exhortations are not exhaustive, they establish a clear principle of care within the church. Day by day, members of the church ought to look for ways to care for one another. This kind of care is not programmed, but overflows from the heartbeat of a church that is knit together in love through the Holy Spirit.
For Southshore to have an effective organic care ministry, we will have to very intentionally educate and train our members. This will be done through the regular preaching of God’s word, regular Care Ministry workshops (perhaps annually), as well as other handouts and awareness campaigns.
In order to assist the church in this kind of organic care, the Care Steward and the Care Team will establish a “Life Together” Ministry, with a point person. This “Life Together” Ministry is a channel by which members at Southshore can share and be made aware of non-critical needs in the congregation. Such things as a weekly email, a page in the weekly bulletin, a “Life Together” board in the church, and a prayer board in the church might be ways to encourage organic care while ensuring no one needlessly falls between the cracks.
Our Structure for Care
To accomplish our two goals, we have established an intentional care structure. In this structure, the elders will oversee the Care Steward, who equips a team of people to facilitate care in the congregation.
Our Care Stewards are Wayne & Lori Brown