One of the problems faced by deacons in the modern world is that their function has been taken over by the state. The modern social welfare state gives cradle to grave security for its citizens. As a result, deacons have been left with nothing to do but care for the buildings, and pay the minister.

The state has been quite wrong to take over this responsibility. The Bible says that God has given the civil government responsibility for administering justice (Romans 13:1-7). When the state moves beyond this and becomes a social welfare agency, it is going beyond what God allows. It is taking a responsibility that belongs to the family. God has given the role of provider to the father of the family. And where the family fails to provide, the church is responsible for meeting the need.

A second problem is that governments are very inefficient in providing social welfare. In many nations, the civil government is spending a high proportion of the Gross Domestic Product on social welfare. But even though they often spend more than a quarter of all that is produced, they have not been able to get rid of poverty. In fact, it seems that poverty is getting worse.

The reason is that government funds are administered by a bureaucracy. Most of the money does not get to the poor. It goes to pay the salaries of those who administer the social welfare programmes. And because the programmes are impersonal, it is impossible to distinguish between the bludgers and those with a genuine need. Worse still, government programmes tend to produce a class of people who are dependent on social welfare. They tend to perpetuate the problem, rather than solving it.

Deacons would do the job much more efficiently. They would usually be unpaid volunteers, so all the money would go to those who are in need. They would have personal contact with those that they are helping, so they could quickly weed out those who were bludging. The money would go to those with genuine needs. But most important of all, they would teach those who are poor to manage without help. This would mean that monetary help would always be given on a short-term basis.

A third problem with government social welfare schemes is the effect that they have on family life. God has given fathers the responsibility for providing for their families. When the state becomes the provider, it takes away the responsibility of the father, and he loses his self-respect. This weakens family life, making the whole welfare problem worse.

The worst effect of government social welfare is the effect that it has on the incentive to work and succeed. People no longer have to work to supply their needs, because the government will provide for them. Those who do work are taxed heavily, to pay the cost of social welfare. They soon get the feeling that it does not pay to work hard. The result is that the whole economy is weakened.

This is what has happened in many countries. More and more people are depending on benefits from the welfare state, while fewer and fewer people are working to support it. The whole system is already strained, and will eventually collapse. When this happens, the deacons will have to go back to work. Once the state can no longer provide for the poor, the church must take up its proper responsibility. This will be a tremendous opportunity. There will be many people in need. Deacons should be getting ready, so that they can meet the need, and share the gospel at the same time.

As the churches begin to practise true community living, there will be a tremendous release of resources. Two or three families could share the same television, washing machine, etc. Likewise, five or six families could make do with only two cars. As God's people learn to live simply, and to share what they have, they will be left with surplus resources. This surplus could be used by the deacons to minister to people in need.

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