This website section is intended to help you as you begin to care for the poor and needy as a recently called bishop, Melchizedek Priesthood leader, or Relief Society leader. Links to key sections of Handbook 2: Administering the Church are included. You are encouraged to prayerfully study the entire handbook chapter pertaining to welfare principles and leadership.
Purposes of Church Welfare
The purposes of Church welfare are to help members become self-reliant, to care for the poor and needy, and to give service.
In 1936 the First Presidency outlined a welfare plan for the Church. They said:
“Our primary purpose was to set up . . . a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift and self respect be once more established amongst our people. The aim of the Church is to help the people to help themselves. Work is to be re-enthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of our Church membership” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1936, 3).
Of the spiritual purpose of welfare work, President David O. McKay (1873-1970), then a counselor in the First Presidency, taught:
“It is something to supply clothing to the scantily clad, to furnish ample food to those whose table is thinly spread, to give activity to those who are fighting desperately the despair that comes from enforced idleness, but after all is said and done, the greatest blessings that will accrue from the Church [Welfare Plan] are spiritual. Outwardly, every act seems to be directed toward the physical…but permeating all these acts, inspiring and sanctifying them, is the element of spirituality….
“The development of our spiritual nature should concern us most. Spirituality is the highest acquisition of the soul, the divine in man….There is more spirituality expressed in giving than in receiving. The greatest spiritual blessing comes from helping another” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1936, 103,105).
President Harold B. Lee (1899-1973) also taught that the purposes of the Church’s welfare efforts go beyond just providing temporal assistance. He said:
“The welfare program has a great significance in the Lord’s work. We must take care of [people’s] material needs … before we can lift their thinking to a higher plane. Therein is the purpose of the Lord’s welfare program that He has had in His Church in every dispensation from the very beginning….
“When a home is shattered because of the needs of food and shelter and clothing and fuel, … the first thing we have to do is to build a sense of security, a sense of material well-being, before we can begin to lift the family to the plane where we can instill in them faith. That is the beginning, but unless we have the objective of what we do as to the building of faith, the mere giving of material aid fails. Now, we must understand that, if we just try to build faith without first filling their stomachs and seeing that they are properly clothed and properly housed and properly warmed, perhaps we will fail in the building of faith.” 4 (“Chapter 18: Providing in the Lord’s Way," Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, , 168)
Basic Welfare Principles
You should be guided by basic welfare principles as you care for the poor and needy such as work, self-reliance, love, and service.
- Love: The first measure of our love for our fellowman and for the Lord is what we do for others, especially the poor and the distressed.
- Service: Imparting of one’s substance to the poor and the needy is an important part of service.
- Work: Work brings happiness, self-esteem, and prosperity. It is the means of all accomplishment.
- Self-Reliance: Self-respect and increased spirituality are the benefits of self-reliance.
- Consecration: Giving of our time, talents, and means to help others spiritually and temporally are ways to live the principle of consecration.
In your calling as bishop, you have a divine mandate to seek out and care for the poor (see D&C 84:112). It is your responsibility to direct the welfare work in your ward. Your goal is to help members help themselves and become self-reliant. (In branches, the branch president has these same welfare responsibilities.) To fulfill these responsibilities you should:
- Know in your heart that you are the one the Lord has called to take care of the poor and needy in your ward.
- Pray for and serve all of the people in your ward, especially those who might be in need. Truly love each member and learn of their needs.
- Seek the impressions and feelings of the Holy Ghost to help seek out any problems of ward members that may be hidden. Many times, the conditions you see will reveal problems that otherwise are hidden when members are in the chapel or your office.
- Respond to individual and family needs immediately.
Your counselors, the Relief Society president, the high priests group leader, the elder’s quorum president, and other members of the ward council assist you in fulfilling these responsibilities. You should teach and train them so they share the responsibility to take care of the poor and the needy under your leadership.
As bishop, you are blessed with the gift of discernment to understand how best to help those in need. Each individual circumstance is different and requires inspiration. Guided by the Spirit and the following principles for providing welfare assistance, you determine whom to assist, how much to give, and how long to assist.
- Seek out the poor
- Promote personal responsibility
- Sustain Life, not lifestyle
- Provide commodities before cash
- Give work opportunities
More information about your welfare responsibilities is in Handbook 1, 5.2.
High Priests Group, Elders Quorum, and Relief Society
Welfare is central to the work of the high priests group, the elders quorum, and the Relief Society. As a Melchizedek Priesthood or Relief Society leader you have the responsibility to help members become self-reliant and find solutions to short-term and long-term welfare concerns. You do this under the direction of the bishop.
You have a special responsibility to help members address long-term welfare concerns. Your goal is to address long-term concerns in ways that lead to lasting change. As you become aware of long-term needs, you should:
- Respond compassionately to help individuals and families.
- Pray for guidance to know how to provide assistance.
- Visit members who have welfare needs to gain a better understanding of how to help.
- Use resources available in your organizations and in the ward.
- Report to the bishop and seek his continued guidance.
- Learn more about your welfare responsibilities in Handbook 2, Chapter 6.
- Learn more about welfare and compassionate service responsibilities of the Relief Society in Handbook 2, 9.6.
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