Just Released: 2023 Annual Report // Read Now

Just Released: 2023 Annual Report // Read Now

The United Nations observes June 23 as International Widows Day. Geneva’s Relief Fund financially supports widows of PCA pastors in need. Rev. Paul Joiner, Geneva’s Director of Ministerial Wellbeing, provides some reflections on widows in the larger narrative of the gospel.

“There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” (Acts 4:34-35)

We care for widows because Jesus cares for his bride. When the church cares for the physical needs of the vulnerable, we connect the truths of the gospel to the watching world.

The world around us is changing rapidly. This creates new challenges for the gospel. As Christians care for one another, the gospel becomes plausible (Matthew 5:16, 1 Peter 2:12).

“Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

The truth of the gospel needs to be embodied by the community the gospel creates.

As the embodiment of Jesus (Ephesians 1:23), we must care deeply about the more vulnerable. The most vulnerable members of society are to receive the most glory (1 Corinthians 12:22-23). That is remarkably upside down. In the kingdom of the world, the ones with the most power and influence get the most glory. But in Jesus’s kingdom, resources flow downward because the meek, vulnerable, and needy get the most glory. Therefore, widows get attention and priority in the church’s care.

We also share resources with widows who are in need. This was one of the first problems the early church had to solve. Before it had to solve doctrinal problems (Acts 15), it needed to solve a care problem – the care of widows (Acts 6). It was the practice of the early church to give a daily distribution to widows. As the church was caring for the widows, the culturally Greek widows were being neglected in favor of the Hebrew widows. Seven men were chosen from those two groups to administer the resources of the church in the care of widows. The funds for this daily distribution came because God’s power in the gospel was creating and shaping the church.

“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:32-35)

There are widows throughout our churches who the Church supports through the Relief Fund. They are wives who served alongside their husbands as they pastored in the local church. Their local church sometimes could not provide an adequate retirement, but now, in the later stages of life, the denomination has the privilege of financially supporting them. Our goal is to help them maintain a level of dignity so that they don’t fall into poverty.

These stories are often hidden because we don’t like to be needy. But they are very real. A husband and wife whose retirement savings have run out and who are suffering from a debilitating disease don’t have the financial or emotional margin to repair their leaking roof. A pastor who has abandoned Jesus and, as a result, has also abandoned his family. A wife who is reeling from the tragic death of her young husband and is trying to get back on her feet to provide for her young children, while also navigating debilitating grief. For these situations and more, hope can come from the church.

As the Director of the Relief Fund, I have the privilege of hearing many widows’ stories, longings, and pain. These are sacred moments when the vulnerability of loss paves the way for the real heartache to come to the surface. These are thin places, and often the Lord stretches us so thin that we run out of our own resources. The thin places are where the Lord loves to work because he loves to show strength in our weakness. And where our resources often are thin, his resources are full and abundant in Christ. He loves to give good gifts to his people.

The Relief Fund was created at our denomination’s founding to support pastors who had left their retirement behind to be faithful to Jesus and his word. For every founding pastor and founding church, fidelity to Jesus meant great loss. Many churches lost their property and many pastors lost all of their retirement. But as is always the case, God provided through the church. Through the years, we recognized that the need was greater than just the original founders of the denomination. The need extended to their widows and to the widows of the second and third generation of pastors.

Sadly, as a teaching elder in the PCA for 25 years, I had no idea all that the PCA Relief Fund did to support and care for widows. We did not support the Relief Fund for 15 years as I served as our church’s Senior Pastor. Our church had supported the Relief Fund for years prior to me becoming the Senior Pastor. But somewhere in the transition, I dropped the ball. I’m not sure why. I imagine it was partly because so many people asked for the church’s support that the Relief Fund got lost in the mix. Now, after seeing all that the Relief Fund can do for so many in crisis, I wish we had done more.

One of the benefits of being in a denomination is that we recognize the universal church exists outside of our local church. And we recognize that we are connected to each other in very meaningful ways. So we can pool our resources, create strategies for care, and then extend our reach to different parts of our national churches.

Last year, the denomination was able to give away over $750,000 to the care of pastors, their widows, and their families who are in need. We are a wealthy denomination. We should expect the Lord to trust many of his neediest to us because this is where he has also entrusted his wealth. That also means that we need to see our wealth as something more than just for our own comfort and pleasure. It is also entrusted to us for the care of others. To learn more about widows served through the Relief Fund, visit genevabenefits.org/widowsday/.

Geneva Benefits Group serves those who serve others, providing practical support for the financial, physical, and mental wellbeing of people who work in full-time ministry.

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