The Scriptures are uncompromising. We ARE to help the poor and needy. But what do you do when the need is greater than your church has resources for? The obvious answer is to get money from other resources. However it is not that easy. There has long been a suspion that to recieve dollars from other sources, we have to give up our religious freedom. That does not have to be so.
Now there may be times when the government may put stipulations on donations but usually these do not stop the Church from being the church.
For example, some missions will not give out food unless the patrons listen to a sermon first. Personally, I do not like that approach. I would rather them get the food and if my love speaks loud enough they will listen to what I have to say about our Savior.
The government feels an obligation to supply food and shelter and would love to have churches donate space and labor. We can win the friendship of those we minister to and invite them to other church functions, Bible studies or mentoring. If we offer a job skills class and the government is not paying for it, they cannot stop us from teaching what the Bible teaches on life skills and the importance of the knowing Christ and the hope He gives. Giving food does not give them the right to intervere with other parts of our ministry.
Using Secular Resources
In our society there is much talk about the separation of church and state. With the rise of “faith-based initiatives” we see doors of cooperation beginning to open. There are many good secular resources that the church can access to restore a community. Everyone wins when a city is reborn so a municipal government has a lot to gain if synergy between state and church can produce results. What concerns many Christians, however, is having strings attached to any secular grants or cooperation. For example, the government may have serious reservations about giving a grant to run an evangelistic campaign. However, they may jump at the opportunity to underwrite shelter for homeless men, provided that it is offered to anyone who is in need without discrimination to religious preference. Many Christian organizations use the government to help pay for some of the utilitarian needs of their clients and use private donations to pay for the spiritual. You cannot use government funds and force people to participate in religious programs but this does not mean that you cannot offer Bible study lessons or Christian counseling for those that choose to participate.
I am sure that Nehemiah would have had serious reservations if the King said, “Sure you can have the wood but do not turn Jerusalem into a Holy City for your God, do not worship within the gates made with state supplied wood.” I am sure that Nehemiah would have turned down that offer. But that didn’t happened. The King knew that in the end the greater Jerusalem area would become a separate providence, separating it from the Samaritan overlords, and that he would appoint Nehemiah Governor of this new Jewish province.
Today there is a great opportunity to use government and private dollars to fund social projects. There seems to be a renewed interest in funding programs that work, regardless of whether they are faith-based or not. This could mean government funds for some of the non-evangelistic work that so many Christian ministries do. English as a second language, transitional housing, transportation and job training are just a few of the tasks that Christian organizations do to meet many physical and emotional needs of their constituents. These deeds are done because of the love of Christ. For many organizations it gives them the ability to introduce their clients to Christianity.
Government and Churches Working Together
On Monday, August 20, 2001 The USA Today printed an article called, This Partnership Of Government And Faith Succeeds. The article talks about a Haitian couple and their four children who have been living in an apartment in Roslindale, a neighborhood in the city of Boston. They have been in Roslindale for 15 years, where the father is a high school teacher and the mother is a case manager for a Head Start program. They wanted to buy a house and stay in the neighborhood where they had been living. The problem was the cost of a modest single family home was $250,000! The mortgage payment would be $2,000 a month, which they could not afford on their $60,000 a year joint income. Now here is a couple that anyone should be proud to have as neighbors; but even on $60,000 a year they cannot afford to buy a market-value home.
The solution to this couple came when the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization decided to build homes in the area that would be within the reach of working-class residents. The home would require $700 a month. These would be two-family homes selling for less than $200,000 allowing the new owner to rent one-half for $700 and leaving them to pay the balance of $700. Because of lower interest rates, even a couple making $30,000 could afford one of these homes.
The homes were ironically called Nehemiah Homes. Nehemiah out of Brooklyn, New York began nearly twenty years ago and has built over 4,430 homes in some of the most deplorable areas. Their success rate of turning around distraught neighborhoods is phenomenal.
Nehemiah Homes started when it protested against New York City’s “planned shrinkage”. This was a plan to deliberately let its poorest neighborhoods deteriorate, assuming that it wasn’t worth the investment to keep the community intact. Nehemiah proved them wrong. Where there were once junkies and muggers, now there are homes owned by nurses’ aides, probation officers and other people from a mixed-ethnic working class. Crime has plummeted and a recent study done by Fannie Mae Foundation has shown that the Nehemiah homes raised property values of the entire area.
The USA Today wrote about the Nehemiah Homes program:
From its genesis in Brooklyn to its new frontier in Boston, the Nehemiah program has relied on collaboration between public and religious bodies. Local or state governments donate and clear large blocks of land, permitting economical construction, and provide one-time subsidies of about $15,000 and often tax abatements. Private banks, eager to provide service to inner cities as required by federal law, compete in offering mortgages below market rate. Congregations and denominations raise the money themselves to pay for construction, their capital going into a trust fund that is replenished as homes are bought and paid for.
In the South Bronx, for instance, a $3.2 million trust fund will have paid for $84 million in total construction by early 2002. Banks will have written $66 million in mortgages, while New York City will have invested $14 million in recoverable subsidies, cheap land and tax abatements. And 860 multifamily homes will have risen in what was the very definition of urban disaster.
As Evangelicals, we can go into a community and through the church do the same things as the people in the article did. If we did, what a testimony the church would have. What an outreach! This model would be more than church planting, it would be church and community planting. The two would grow together. This is a powerful New Testament model of community.
Christian organizations need to depend upon God to be the resource of their ministry, especially as it relates to evangelism, Bible teaching and discipleship. However, if it were possible to receive financial help for some of the brick and mortar or to underwrite the more secular type duties, with no strings that would hamper the core ministry, then the funds could be gladly accepted. It is a good use of our tax dollars to give to programs that are working.
For more information on how your church can get involved in reaching the community e-mail Ron Ovitt at email@example.com and we will send you a copy of Close To The Heart of God. Also go to www.empowerministry.org for helpful materials.
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