Originally from West Valley City, UT, Mike Brady currently resides in Chubbuck, ID, adjacent to where his amazing wife Chelsie grew up. Together they have five children and have heard every “Brady Bunch” joke in the book. Among other callings, Mike served as a full-time missionary (Japan Tokyo South), early morning seminary teacher, elders quorum president, ward mission leader, and multiple bishoprics despite his large, young family. His BA in International Studies doesn’t do much in the IT industry where he works as a software product manager for Salt Lake City-based Samaritan Technologies. His passions include dating his wife, playing with those five aforementioned children, NBA basketball, and writing long emails to his bishop.

Enter Mike…

“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.” –President Ezra Taft Benson, Born of God, October 1985

Problem

What are the purposes and objectives of the welfare program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

How many current and former bishops, Relief Society presidents, and Elders Quorum presidents (extending to former high priest group leaders) have wrestled with the administration of Church welfare? How do you find the balance between helping somebody meet temporal needs without enabling poor decision making? How can we lead others down the path toward self-sufficiency? Or better yet, toward provident living? How about that single mother who never attends church, is a regular visitor in your office, yet refuses to make any meaningful changes or growth, either temporal or spiritual?

Back to the original question: what are the purposes and objectives of Church welfare?

When we know why this program exists and understand the doctrine behind it, we will all be better equipped to use Church welfare as a tool to truly help God’s children come closer to Jesus Christ.

Doctrine

The Church welfare system is a type, shadow, and symbol of the Atonement of Jesus Christ: “behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual.” (Moses 6:63)

As we understand this doctrine and do our best to administer it in the same way Christ allows us to access the blessings of His Atonement, the hard questions about Church welfare will be easier to answer.

Consider how the following truths about the Atonement of Christ are also true regarding Church welfare:

  1. It is there to help us when we are unable to help ourselves, puts us on a solid foundation, enables us to become more than we currently are, and that we all need it.
  2. The key to access its blessings is faith, i.e., desire and action.
  3. Perfection is not a prerequisite.
  4. A trajectory of improvement is acceptable; sustained improvement is preferable.

Purposes

The Church states the purpose of its welfare program in Handbook 2: Administering the Church, 6.1

I have restructured the purpose statement into a numbered list: The purposes of Church welfare are to:

  1. Help members become self-reliant
  2. Care for the poor and needy
  3. Give service

Examining God’s perspective, Heavenly Father works at and glorifies in “bring[ing] to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39)

In order to accomplish that ultimate purpose, “he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

These scriptures connect some dots, because when we examine the different programs and initiatives of the Church holistically, we conclude that each program is designed to bring God’s children unto Christ, who then brings them to the Father, e.g., the youth programs, the relief society, and, yes, the welfare program.

Principles

Regarding Christ’s Atonement, President Dallin H. Oaks has taught,

“The repenting sinner must suffer for his sins, but this suffering has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change” (The Lord’s Way [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991], 223; emphasis in original).

Regarding Church welfare, we read in Handbook 2, 6.2.4.2:

“Many short-term problems are caused by long-term difficulties such as poor health, lack of skills, inadequate education or employment, lifestyle habits, and emotional challenges. Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society leaders have a special responsibility to help members address these concerns. Their goal is to address long-term concerns in ways that lead to lasting change.”

There is that word again: change. The similarities continue to mount. So how can a bishop help somebody change?

Suggestions

Helping somebody change will never work unless they want to change, and that requires humility and perspective. They need to understand that they are 100% reliant on a Savior. They need to understand that He will require work on their part. This level of humility will lead them not only to put forth an effort but also foster a sense of gratitude that will manifest itself in the “give service” objective listed above. Bishops and adult leaders: do not exclude the powerful element of requiring service of those whom you serve in this way. There will be some who will readily and tearfully ask how they can give back, and there will be some who will commit to building cleanup yet fail to follow-through.

As Christ puts before us conditions to obtain forgiveness, so should the Church take a similar approach.

Before you read any further, a thorough and prayerful study of Handbook 2 chapter 6, supplemented by Handbook 1 chapter 2.4 and chapter 5.2 will provide the framework. However, getting from the written policy to real-world execution isn’t always a snap.

Below are two approaches taken by different bishops in different States. You will see that their approaches are similar because they are principle-based. These are merely offered as suggestions to ponder, and localization may be required by a prayerful leader, and I’d strongly suggest seeking input and buy-in from a bishopric and/or ward council. Any adaptations that lead you away from the handbooks ought to be approved by a file leader.

Bishop Number One

I served with a bishop who was amazing at developing the people around him. He was a master delegator and helped his entire ward council rise to a level of competency that I would love to see in every ward. I have written about that process here.

But he wasn’t focused only on his leaders, as he had a steady stream of members and non-members seeking Church assistance.

A detailed flow chart is included below, but his policies were founded upon this quote from Handbook 2, 6.2.4:

“Welfare is central to the work of the elders quorum and the Relief Society. In elders quorum and Relief Society presidency meetings, leaders plan ways to teach principles of self-reliance and service and to address welfare needs. Under the direction of the bishop, these leaders help members become self-reliant and find solutions to short-term and long-term welfare concerns.”

Bishop One’s policies on providing long-term assistance could be summarized as follows:

  • Only provide financial assistance in the case of a true emergency, like termination of utility services in a household with children.
  • Only provide assistance for members who had done the following:
  1. Met with a member of the Relief Society presidency and/or elders quorum presidency and been recommended by that leader.
  2. Agreed to pay an honest tithe.
  3. Contacted their family for help.
  4. Filled out a Self-Reliance Plan form. This included honestly disclosing all income and expenses so that we could see if there were any expenses that could be cut in order to help them more ably manage themselves.
  5. Provided a written plan for how they would work to improve their lives complete with goal dates, and agreed with signature to work toward taking those steps. Ideally, the member would come up with this plan on their own.
  6. Agreed to cut unnecessary or luxury expenses. E.g., Bishop One was willing to pay an early termination fee to cable television company for a member who was willing to give up that luxury in exchange for long-term or bridge support. He wanted to see them willing to sacrifice.
  • On an ongoing basis, long-term recipients would need to:
  1. Continue to pay an honest tithe.
  2. Be honest and transparent with the Church regarding their situation, including finances when applicable. Real, meaningful, and lasting help can only take place when people are honest with themselves, and extend that honesty to the Church.
  3. Meet regularity for follow-up meetings with their leader who would provide mentoring as needed, but also ensure the member was taking the steps to which they agreed.
  4. Respond as frequently as possible to service opportunities as they arose in the ward, stake, and community.  He felt that this demonstrated gratitude.

It wasn’t long before several undereducated and underemployed families were hard at work improving their own lives, and Bishop One was happy to provide long-term assistance. Other members struggled to move forward but were open to mentoring, meeting with our employment specialist, cleaning the church building each week, and so on. Although they may have missed some dates, if the effort was there, so was the assistance.

He was less tolerant of those who would not make budgetary concessions or would continue to provide excuses week after week, or those who would never participate in service opportunities. He would continue to try to teach and mentor, often stepping in himself before finally withdrawing assistance, but he felt so strongly that if members did not have some skin in the game that he would end up enabling poor behavior and making a mockery of the sacred donated funds that were entrusted to him by generous benefactors.

His approach at times made members upset. But for every upset and unwilling member, he was able to help two or three families improve their station in life. More than that, they fostered genuine gratitude for the Church, and ultimately for Jesus Christ.

Simplified Flow Chart of Bishop One’s Church Welfare Process (or click here for larger image)

 

Bishop Number Two

In an online forum comprised of individuals seeking to help Leading Saints, we often have conversations regarding approaches, best practices, policies, and so on. One day I posed the following question:

  • Do you have one or more people (maybe a sister and a brother) called to serve as financial consultants? Specifically to assist those with financial struggles, who would help them balance income/expenses, and help them make needed changes and sacrifices to improve their habits and station?
  • What successes have you had? What best practices, tips, or nuggets of wisdom might you be able to drop on this group?
  • What are this group’s thoughts on having ward members actively work with such a person as a condition of receiving church assistance, whether that be ongoing or stop-gap/temporary assistance? TIA.

I received this response from another forum member, Bishop Christensen. Here are his words:

We do. We figured the best fit for us was to call 1 person, someone highly-qualified, to be both the Ward Employment Specialist and the Ward Welfare Specialist.

We put in a Brother who LOVES it.

He handles 90% of ongoing welfare concerns, including the doing the complete “needs and resources analysis” form, monthly budgets, making a “cut list” of expenses that could be eliminated, updating resumes, setting up job interviews, working with LDS Employment and LDS Family Services. Also works with people to get them excited, motivated and attending the relevant Self-Reliance courses in the Stake. Comes to Ward Council as needed, generally once every 2 months.

Generally, we have the Bishop meet w/ people the first time assistance is needed, and it’s very light on formability and paperwork… It’s a big step for people to ask for help, and most are mortified.

We tell them that we can help the first time, almost with no questions asked, pay a utility, past-due medical bill, etc. After that, they’ll need to meet w/ the Brother we’ve called, provide him with 3 months of bank statements, showing all money coming into and out of their lives, and build a plan for going forward… If they agree to the plan and stick to it, we’ll do what we agree on our side. If they don’t stick to it, we don’t continue to help but are willing to step in again in the future if they do.

The plans are very, very simple, focused on short term goals like getting a 40 hour a week job, turning off the cable, turning off lawn fertilizing, asking for a raise on an existing job, not going out to eat, etc.

Our contribution is food orders, first and foremost, and then utilities, etc. and on up the “food chain” of expenses… It’s best if they are written down, 1 page or less, and are very clear with deadlines, simple non-subjective tasks… (Not, “look for a job”, but “apply for 10 jobs per week, preferably in person, and meet w/ LDS Employment 1 time per week”.

The #1 takeaway is that if you ask for 3 months of bank statements (or check register, or handwritten ledger, doesn’t matter), you can quickly get to the real root of the problem.

If they won’t provide that, we have no problem saying, “These funds come from little old ladies sitting in our congregation that know to the penny how much money is in their checking account, and they’ve given it to the Church to be used for good in the Fast Offering Program. We can’t, as ward leaders, in good conscience, use it to help you if you can’t be honest and transparent with where your funds are going.”

We also have as part of their “personal finance plan” ways that they can “pay it forward” for the help they’ve received. We get creative and make it a no brainer… They attend the “personal finance” self-reliance class, they help clean the building 10 times, they spearhead a ward service project to paint a widow’s house, they volunteer 40 hours at the local Bishop’s Storehouse, they shovel a specific set of widow’s driveways all winter, etc… These of course are kept confidential and have the huge “double benefit” of giving them very meaningful service opportunities that they might not find the time for, otherwise.

Experience

One weekend, our bishop was out of town. It was the beginning of the month and he had several appointments that he knew were welfare-related that needed to happen. As his counselor, he told me their names and authorized me to provide rent assistance. He likewise informed the Relief Society president of his absence and told her to work with me as needed. There was one family on the schedule that he didn’t know their purpose for meeting with him, but he assumed it was probably for financial assistance.

At their appointed time the family came in and explained that they were indeed there to discuss the possibility of receiving assistance, but had also recently experienced a very emotionally pressing issue and wondered if I could counsel with them on that as well. We discussed the other issue and as we wrapped that up I noted that we had no time to go over the financial help they were seeking, as I had a few more appointments back-to-back-to-back right then and was already running late.

They were amenable to my suggestion that I visit their home after my scheduled appointments had concluded. I printed a Self-Reliance Plan form and briefly explained its purpose, and they agreed to have it filled out by the time I visited them that evening.

An hour or so later I was in their front room discussing a short-term need that they had an illness, clerical issues, and other factors had all coincided in the previous two weeks to leave them unable to pay all of their bills. They produced the Self-Reliance Plan form, all filled out, and had even provided printouts of several of their bills. I went to work tallying figures and found that there was indeed a shortfall of funds. But there was enough income for them to cover a good portion of their expenses. After a little more figuring, I told them that they had enough to cover bills A, B, and C. I thanked them for their openness. Their attitude was meek and humble; they had already done much to defray their expenses and patch things together on their own, but when they ran their number, there simply wasn’t enough oil in the cruse.

It was for these reasons that I continued: “You pay A, B, and C, and the Church is pleased to cover D and E for you.” Tears and words of gratitude gushed as the husband and I drove back to the meetinghouse to print the checks. I was happy to see them participate in improving their own circumstances, and happier still to be able to bless them by taking away their worry–at least for that weekend while the bishop was absent.

As I dropped him off in his home, I mentioned to him the thought that is the thesis of this article: that where the Atonement of Christ enables us to do what we cannot do on our own, so does Church welfare, and in that sense, the welfare program can teach us about Jesus Christ and bring us closer to Him. His eyes telegraphed the ignition of a deepening understanding as he nodded his head. “I have one final condition that I’d like to place on you–would you please have a conversation with your wife about the same things we’ve been discussing these last couple of minutes?” He agreed and disappeared into his home.

It was not too long afterward that he accepted an assignment to speak in sacrament meeting. The topic? You already know what I asked him to speak on, don’t you? He made me nervous when I stood to begin the meeting and he was nowhere to be seen, but he came panting up to the stand after not too long and proceeded to knock it out of the park, coming from a genuine place based on personal experience, and teaching us all about Christ’s wonderful enabling and empowering gift.

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