As many grieving believers have learned, other people cannot soothe the pain of losing a loved one; only the Lord can give comfort. But this fact does not negate Christians’ responsibility toward the grieving, in particular to widows. From the Pentateuch onward, God’s Word calls for the care of widows. In fact, James 1:27 defines “pure and undefiled religion before God,” in part, as “visit . . . widows in their trouble.”
Today we often take for granted that widows are cared for financially. We assume their husbands made provision for them and that, at the very least, they have Social Security to fall back on. But there’s a lot more to caring for widows than just making sure they can pay their bills and buy their food.
God expects Christians to care for widows
God expects Christians, and the church in particular, to care for widows. However, it seems that in the busyness of church life and ministry, many churches have defaulted on their duty toward widows, letting the government, the world, or the widows themselves look out for their needs.
First Timothy 5:4 and 8 put the care of widows squarely on the shoulders of their families: “But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God. . . . But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” John MacArthur explained these verses:
Family members are not only to show godliness at home but also “to requite” . . . their parents. Children are to give back a return to their parents, which includes a financial obligation. Besides providing material items such as food, clothing, and housing, parents also give intangible assets such as love and encouragement. It should be a great and happy privilege for children to return a small measure of the tremendous support they have received from their parents.1
Today when families no longer live in the same house, on the same street, in the same town or city, in the same state, in the same region, or even in the same country, it is harder for Christian families to offer more than financial aid or long-distance encouragement.
Divorce and remarriage also affect family care.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins have found that elderly people with divorce in their lives will get less care from their children than people who do not. They are even less likely to get help from their stepchildren. . . .
This year , 35 million Americans are aged 65 or older, 1 in 8. By 2010, it will be 1 in 5 with the arrival of the first wave of boomers. . . . Because their divorce rate was so high, the burden of taking care of them will fall even more heavily on the public sector. . . .
. . . People who had been divorced were much less likely to reside with a child and were less likely to receive care from their children even if they were disabled. When they were getting care, their children were paying someone else to do it.
Remarriage did not add stepchildren to the support system. . . . [Stepchildren] are less likely to have their stepparent live with them, much less likely to provide care and if they do provide care, it was for fewer hours than biological children.2
So if families cannot or will not help care for their widowed family members, will the church abandon them to the “public sector”?
Today we often lose sight of the background that led to the church’s having deacons. It wasn’t the need to administrate business or tend to the church facilities. It was the need to care for widows! Acts 6:1–3 states, “Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.’ ”
Churches that have a burden for widows might establish a deacons’ widows ministry, in addition to whatever financial aid the church provides to widows.3 Nottingham Baptist Church, Willoughby Hills, Ohio, has a “Helping Hands” ministry. Sallie Lemponen, a deacon’s wife, explains, “The widows are given forms to complete as they have home repair or other needs. Also within our Deacon Care Groups, we look out for them, providing rides to church, checking on their welfare, etc. The Care Groups are designed to interweave the widows with the families with smaller children so there is no isolation in the fellowship. There is also a team of ladies who have all the shut-in widows covered with regular visits from church family and cards and notes sent regularly.”
The deacons at Nottingham Baptist also provide an annual dinner for widows and singles. The most recent luncheon was promoted in the bulletin, but each deacon also personally called the widows on their caring lists and to invite them to offer transportation. Sallie described the luncheon: It “was catered so we could all relax and fellowship with the ladies. Each deacon and wife hosted a table, so we had six ladies eating with us. We simply asked them questions about how things were going and tried to determine who might be needing extra help or encouragement. . . . After the luncheon, our pastor took a microphone around and asked each lady to share something about her husband, and that was so very interesting.”
So deacon care can cover a wide range of concerns.
If the church leadership has other priorities, the Lord may lay the burden upon an individual’s heart. That person may then organize and help run a ministry to widows. That’s what happened at Heritage Baptist Church in Lakeland, Florida.
In 2006, Jean Weaver found herself at home alone—the company she’d had for a month had left. And that’s when the grief really set in. She cried and then contacted the church to learn if there was any organized help for widows.
The answer came back: No, there wasn’t.
After learning from another widow that she, too, experienced such grief five years after her husband’s passing, Jean went home, knelt, and prayed, “Dear Lord, five years from now I don’t want to be grieving over Bob Weaver this way. I don’t want to be hurting this way. Please help me know what to do.”
After praying these words, Jean recalls: “A few days later I got an invitation in the mail from the funeral home that directed Bob’s funeral to attend a hospice support group. I was hurting and needed help, so of course I went. I did get help there. I found it’s okay to cry. . . . I found I had delayed grieving. . . . I learned so many things there. . . .
“At the same time that I was deciding to go, the Lord was saying to me, ‘Go see what you can learn.’ . . . I was already thinking, We’ve got to have something at our church.”
The Lord led Jean to another widow in the church, Dee Runge, and from her to three other widows—Wilma Dennis, Bonnie Welch, and Bettie Carr. These ladies formed the committee that began a ministry they named Widows Walk. They chose Jeremiah 33:3 as their group’s verse: “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” The ministry’s vision statement says,
Our vision is to help widows in need: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually by encouraging, supporting, and helping them to walk through the seasons of widowhood.
We seek God’s provisions with prayer, counsel, sharing and caring, using whatever means available to make known God’s glory as well as present the gospel for those needing salvation.
The group introduced the ministry at a Valentine’s Day tea. At the tea were unsaved ladies from the widows’ neighborhoods as well as every widow in the church. Jean reports, “Out of twenty-nine who got the invitations, twenty-nine attended.” And the committee received good feedback from the ladies, including answers to a questionnaire that the group is using to direct its future activities.
Widows Walk is not a social group, although social activities are included. The group reaches out to help widows with some of the following services:
Physically—Drive ladies where they need to go. Visit the shut-ins. Help with business matters, finances, insurance, etc.
Mentally—Encourage them to eat right, to get the proper sleep, to take time to grieve, to know that it’s okay to grieve.
Emotionally—Phone the widows and send cards. Take out a widow on the anniversary of her husband’s death. Visit the cemetery. (The help will differ for newly widowed women and longer-widowed women.)
Spiritually—Host a Bible study. Organize a prayer chain.
As an official ministry of the church, Widows Walk is included in the church budget to help defray the costs of ministering to widows.
Widows can benefit from church ministries that are not directed specifically to them, such as the “parking lot” ministry at First Baptist Church, Ferndale, Washington. Under the direction of Jeff Hodgin, young men accompany seniors from their cars to the church and vice versa. Jeff has observed that it’s hard to know who enjoys the ministry more—the widows or the boys. “The boys open car doors, hold an umbrella, offer a steadying arm, call for the elevator, even walk the unsteady ones all the way from the car to their seat. They greet, visit with, and ask questions . . . of our ladies. Additionally they may carry a Bible or get a walker from the trunk. After church the boys hurry to be of help to our widows.”
Kay Boykin says, “It’s just wonderful when those young men run to the car to open the door, help carry things in, and give a steadying arm. Living alone, I look so forward to seeing those boys. They really help set the tone for church on Sunday.”
Lillian King agrees wholeheartedly: “They are courteous and there on time. I really enjoy visiting with them about their week. It makes me feel connected.”
But the blessing isn’t all on one side. The young men enjoy speaking to the widows: “I’ve gained so many friends,” says fourteen-year-old Brad Hodgin. “Those ladies are so appreciative of every little thing. I look forward to seeing them every week.”
Jason Anderson, also fourteen, concurs: “Serving them gives me a chance to get to know them, and the times they lived in are so interesting.”
What about you?
You don’t have to be a family member, deacon, or widow to have a ministry to widows in your church. You can adopt a widow or two; make them honorary grandmothers or aunts. Care for them the way you would care for your own family members. Help them with their taxes, trips to doctors or shopping, and home maintenance and repairs. Invite them into your home for meals, on family outings, and to special events. Pray for them, and they’ll pray for you. Don’t leave the responsibility to others: “Visit . . . widows”!
1. John MacArthur, “Widows in the Church—Part 1,” www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/sg54-36.htm.
2. “Baby Boomers May Lack Support From Children in Golden Years,” Medscape Medical News, www.medscape.com/viewarticle/411559.
3. Financial aid is not to be given indiscriminately. First Timothy 5 lays out requirements for those who may receive aid.
Jonita Barram is an assistant editor at Regular Baptist Press.