The Least of These; A Thorn in My Flesh

Written by Founder Raul Rivera on Jun 30, 2009 in Church Management

The Need for Benevolence!

In the late 1990's I was pastor over a small church in South Florida. We were located in a small agricultural town; population 5,000.  Most members of the church were of Mexican descent and many of them came from broken homes and had poor educations. Despite the adversity, our church did well. We had grown from 25 members to nearly 150. The Lord's provision was on our small church and we enjoyed a healthy benevolence program that served our community well. I was careful to make certain that we followed a very sound policy to ensure that benevolence funds were used with integrity. I quickly realized that no matter how hard I monitored it, there were always those who took advantage of this great ministry. How does a church respond to this?

Henry is a good example of this. He was a fellow from our town who was addicted to drugs, who lived on the streets and was HIV positive. Henry seemed to show up at every outreach or special event our church had. I admit that I often felt uncomfortable with him hanging around so often, and I seemingly had good reason to feel this way. To begin, I often felt that he was ungrateful for all of our sacrifices that he took advantage of.  Additionally, I was concerned because he had open sores!  He often came to our church and stopped by children's church and the infant room to ask for handouts.  In brutal honesty, he was a thorn in my flesh.  I was concerned for the children and myself.  Self preservation is something that every pastor will have to deal with, and benevolence is one sure fire way to find out how bad you suffer from it.

Fast forward to today, as I travel cross country giving seminars to church leaders across America.  When the topic of benevolence comes up, tensions rise and pastors voice concern over getting ripped off and being taken advantage of.  I was a voice among them until the Lord got a hold of me and made it clear that Jesus was also taken advantage of in this way in John, chapter 6. 

I soon found out that benevolence is just as much about my heart's attitude as it is helping those who are in need. 

The IRS and Benevolence!

The IRS defines benevolence using a supreme court decision that defines benevolence, under Section 102, as a gift given from "detached and disinterested generosity," and also out of "charity or like impulses." This current interpretation of benevolence allows the recipient to receive the gift tax free, inturn the church does not have to issue a 1099-Misc. form to those that receive the help. However, there are some very important steps that need to be taken in order to properly implement a benevolence program. Income Tax Regulation 1.501(c)(3)-1(d)(2) defines those who qualify for benevolence by stating:

"that persons who are financially unable to care for themselves as a result of sudden and severe or overwhelming financial burdens arising from events beyond their control are proper objects of charity because they are considered to be "distressed.""

Moreover, Income Tax Regulation 1.170A-4A(b)(2)(ii)(D) defines "needy" as describing a person who lacks the necessities of life, involving physical, mental, or emotional well-being, as a result of poverty or temporary distress.

Revenue ruling 56-304 clearly dictates that benevolence sponsored by the church or other tax exempt ministry must maintain certain records and meet certain criteria in order keep tax exempt status. Some of the most basic steps are as follows:

  1. Distributions are made on a true charitable basis in furtherance of the purposes of the church or ministry.
  2. The church or ministry must maintain adequate records and case histories to show the name and address of each recipient of aid.
  3. Record the amount distributed to each recipient and the purpose for which the aid was given.
  4. Record the manner in which the recipient was selected.
  5. State the relationship, if any, between the recipient and the church or ministry and all of its directors, members and givers who make substantial contributions to the benevolence fund.
  6. All distributions made to individuals must be substantiated upon request by the Internal Revenue Service.

Please keep in mind that these are just the bare essentials of properly operating a benevolence program.

The Minister and Discretionary Benevolence Accounts!

Did you know that the church is allowed to set up a special discretionary account that permits a minister to assist with benevolent needs of individuals as he or she sees fit? However, it is of absolute importance that impeccable records be kept. If the minister fails to properly document the use of the discretionary fund, they will have to report is as taxable income on their tax return.

Where is Henry Today?

From that day forward, I learned to love Henry.  It was not easy.  I never turned him down when he made a request for food. I told him that if he ever needed anything, he should come find me first. He took me at my word.  He showed up early and often, and he never left my presence empty handed.  Unfortunately, every time I saw him he looked worse. His body was deteriorating, and about a year later he suddenly stopped coming around. I received word that he was found dead on the side of the road near our church. Henry died all alone, perhaps only ever cared for by a few of us at the church. I hope that upon his death, he knew he was loved by us and by the Lord most of all.

I am sure that every minister will have a Henry in their life at some point.  Please love might be the only person who ever will.

Please feel free to comment. We always appreciate good dialogue. However, we do moderate each comment to ensure that it is on topic and not derogatory to other participants. We ask that you keep your comments brief and pertinent to the topic so that others may benefit.

Raul Rivera

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