It’s a harsh fact of life that when the economy tanks, many people get pitched out of work through no fault of their own. The consequences for them and their families can be devastating: economic hardship, loss of self-respect, emotional upheaval, overstressed and overstretched relationships, hopelessness, and despair.
As a fellowship of believers, we can’t just leave such disasters up to the marketplace or the government to “fix.” Collecting unemployment may tide a jobless person over for a time, but it doesn’t begin to fill the gap. Our congregations need to rise to the challenge of coming alongside our sisters and brothers who fall victim to the economic slump.
I called some churches to find out what they did in previous downturns. Here’s what I learned. I pray these may be thought-starters for deacons and others as they brainstorm how to lead the congregation in reaching out meaningfully to those who are unemployed, both within and outside of the fellowship of believers:
Set up an action group to coordinate the congregation’s efforts. This group should include a few experienced deacons.
Remember in congregational prayer the suffering of those who are unemployed.
Organize weekly meetings in church for unemployed folks and their spouses—meetings that provide seasons of sharing, prayer, mutual support, and education.
Assist jobless people with writing, distributing, and submitting resumes.
Develop an information pool/database of employment leads, populate it by gleaning information from the congregation as a whole, and lend assistance in doing job searches.
Regularly assess financial needs, providing funding where required—possibly in the form of low-interest loans to those who refuse to accept “charity.”
Lend pastoral support by recognizing the battering a job search and a large number of rejections inflicts on emotional health.
Provide access to professional counseling services when relationships are thrown into crisis.
In tandem with government and vocational schools, give support in locating and providing for “retooling” and further education required to find a new job.
In providing pastoral care of this kind, the church should also constantly remind those who are unemployed of their spiritual calling. While they do not have daily work, they are still challenged to make use of their gifts where and when they can.
No doubt, a key priority will be to find further employment by job hunting and retooling. But beyond that, jobless people also need to continue responding to God’s calling in their family, friendships, and wider community. They have a calling to continue to enrich our church fellowship by reaching out to those who are in the same pickle they’re in and lending mutual support. And, whenever possible, they’re called to volunteer their time and energies in church and other kingdom pursuits.
We must not allow the pain of unemployment to devolve into a sense of hopelessness and uselessness. Here the church must do what the modern “welfare state” cannot accomplish on its own.
Will we communally rise to this challenge? The world is watching, just as it was in the first century, when people said of Christians, “See how they love one another!” Those people clearly and unmistakably saw something unique. They saw Jesus.