When Helping Hurts | Notes & Review

Posted on August 25, 2013


Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself. Moody Publishers, 2012. (274 pages)



We believe that the coexistence of agonizing poverty and unprecedented wealth — even just within the household of faith — is an affront to the gospel. You see, what is at stake is not just the well-being of poor people — as important as that is — but rather the very authenticity of the church’s witness to the transforming power of the kingdom of God. (16)


Consider the following scenario:

The tsunami that hit Indonesia in December 2004 wiped out many of the small businesses. These small businesses are owned by poor people and serve as their primary source of income. Most of the shops, equipment, materials, and inventory were destroyed. Four months after the tsunami, your church has decided to send a team to assist with the restarting of these small businesses.

  1. What will you do to plan and prepare for your trip?
  2. What resources will you bring with you?
  3. Whom will you choose from your church to go on this trip?
  4. What will your team do once it gets there?
  5. What will be the specific components of your ministry?
  6. How will you implement each component?



While materialism, self-centeredness, and complacency continue to plague all of us, nobody can deny the upswing in social concern among North American evangelicals in the past two decades. There is perhaps no better illustration of this trend than the exploding short-term mission movement, much of which has focused on ministering to the poor at home and abroad.

| But our excitement about these developments is seriously tempered by two convictions. First, North American Christians are simply not doing enough. We are the richest people ever to walk the face of the earth. Period. Yet, most of us live as though there is nothing terribly wrong in the world. … We do not necessarily need to feel guilty about our wealth. but we do need to get up every morning with a deep sense that something is terribly wrong with the world and yearn and strive to do something about it.

| …Second, many observers, including Steve and I, believe that when North American Christians do attempt to alleviate poverty, the methods used often do considerable harm to both the materially poor and the materially non-poor. Our concern is not just that these methods are wasting human, spiritual, financial, and organizational resources but that these methods are actually exacerbating the very problems they are trying to solve. (27)

Part 1: Foundational Concepts for Helping Without Hurting

1. Why Did Jesus Come to Earth?

The mission of Jesus was and is to preach the good news of the kingdom of God, to say to one and all, “I am the King of kings and Lord of lords, and I am using My power to fix everything that sin has ruined.” (32)

What Is the Task of the Church? Simply stated, Jesus preached the good news of the kingdom in word and in deed, so the church must do the same. (37)

What is the task of the church? We are to embody Jesus Christ by doing what he did and what He continues to do through us: declare — using both words and deeds — that Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords who is bringing in a kingdom of righteousness, justice, and peace. And the church needs to do this where Jesus did it, among the blind, the lame, the sick and the outcast, and the poor. (41)

There is no place in the Bible that indicates that poverty is a desirable state or that material things are evil. In fact, wealth is viewed as a gift from God. The point is simply that, for His own glory, God has chosen to reveal His kingdom in the place where the world, in all of its pride, would least expect it, among the foolish, the weak, the lowly, and the despised. (42)

Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent urban problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. to cities torn by violence and ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services. – Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity

…by 2025, in terms of number and adherents, Africa will have replaced Europe and the United States as the center of Christianity. By 2050, Uganda alone is expected to have more Christians than the largest four or five European nations combined. And like the early church, the growth in the church in the Majority World is taking place primarily with the poor on center stage. Jenkins observes: “The most successful new denominations target their message very directly at the have-nots, or rather, the have nothings.”

The Great Reversal. …church historians refer to the 1900-1930 era as the “Great Reversal” in the evangelical church’s approach to social problems. … | In short, the evangelical church’s retreat from poverty alleviation was fundamentally due to shifts in theology and not — as many have asserted — to government programs that drove the church away from ministry to the poor. While the rise of government programs may have exacerbated the church’s retreat, they were not the primary cause. Theology matters, and the church needs to rediscover a Christ-centered, fully orbed perspective of the kingdom. (44)

The Great Reversal has shaped the North American church’s mission strategies since the late nineteenth century. Often lacking an appreciation of the comprehensive implications of the kingdom of God, many missionaries have focused on evangelism to save people’s souls but have sometimes neglected to “make disciples of all nations.” Converts need to be trained in a biblical worldview that understands the implications of Christ’s lordship for all of life and that seeks to answer the question: If Christ is Lord of all, how do we do farming, business, government, family, art, etc., to the glory of God? (45)

2. What’s the Problem?

While poor people mention having a lack of material things, they tend to describe their condition in far more psychological and social terms than our North American audiences. Poor people typically talk in terms of shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation, and voicelessness. North American audiences tend to emphasize a lack of material things such as food, money, clean water, medicine, housing, etc. As we will be discussed further below, this mismatch between many outsiders’ perceptions of poverty and the perceptions of poor people themselves can have devastating consequences for poverty-alleviation efforts. (51)

The problem goes well beyond the material dimension, so the solutions must go beyond the material as well. (52)

…as humans engage in cultural activity, they are unpacking a creation that Christ created, sustains, and as we shall see later, redeems. (56)

People affect systems, and systems affect people. (56)

What’s This Stuff Good for Anyway? The importance of the doctrine of creation will become more evident as the book proceeds, but let’s look at a few implications right away:

  • The four key relationships highlight the fact that human beings are multifaceted, implying that poverty-alleviation efforts should be multifaceted as well. If we reduce human beings to being simply physical — as Western thought is prone to do — our poverty -alleviation efforts will tend to focus on material solutions. But if we remember that humans are spiritual, social, psychological, and physical beings, our poverty-alleviation efforts will be more holistic in their design and execution.
  • Dirt matters, as do giraffes, wells, families, schools, music, crops, governments, and businesses. We must engage with the entire creation, including culture, for our Creator is deeply engaged with it.
  • Our basic predisposition toward poor communities — including their people, organizations, institutions, and culture — should include the notion that they are part of the good world that Christ created and is sustaining. They are not just filth and rubble.
  • We are not bringing Christ to poor communities. He has been active in these communities since the creation of the world, sustaining them, “by his powerful word” (Heb. 1:3). Hence, a significant part of working in poor communities involves discovering and appreciating what God has been doing there for a long time! (57)

Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings.


WHO ARE THE POOR? …every human being is suffering from a poverty of spiritual intimacy, a poverty of being, a poverty of community, and a poverty of stewardship. We are all simply incapable of being what God created us to be and are unable to experience the fullness of joy that God designed for these relationships. (59)

WHEN HELPING HURTS. One of the major premises of this book is that until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good. (61)

…the economically rich — including most of the readers of this book — also suffer from a poverty of being. …”god-complexes,” a subtle and unconscious sense of superiority in which they believe that they have achieved their wealth through their own efforts and that they have been anointed to decide what is best for low-income people, whom they view as inferior to themselves. (61)

…why do you want to help the poor? Really think about it. What truly motivates you? Do you really love poor people and want to serve them? Or do you have other motives? I confess to you that part of what motivates me to help the poor is my felt need to accomplish something worthwhile with my life, to be a person of significance, to feel like I have pursued a noble cause…to be a bit like God. It makes me feel good to use my training in economics to “save” poor people. And int he process, I sometimes unintentionally reduce poor people to objects that I use to fulfill my own need to accomplish something. It is a very ugly truth, and it pains me to admit it, but “when I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (Rom. 7:21). (61-62)

And now we have come to a very central point: one of the biggest problems in many poverty-alleviation efforts is that their design and implementation exacerbates the poverty of being of the economically rich — their god-complexes — and the poverty of being of the economically poor — their feelings of inferiority and shame. The way that we act toward the economically poor often communicates — albeit unintentionally — that we are superior and they are inferior. In the process we hurt the poor and ourselves. And here is the clincher: this dynamic is likely to be particularly strong whenever middle-to-upper-class, North American Christians try to help the poor, given these Christians’ tendency toward a Western, materialistic perspective of the nature of poverty. (62)

…very often the North American church finds itself locked into the following equation:

Material Definition of Poverty


God-complexes of Materially Non-Poor


Feelings of Inferiority of Materially Poor


Harm to Both Materially Poor and Non-Poor

Changing the first term in this equation requires a revised understanding of the nature of poverty. North American Christians need to overcome the materialism of Western culture and see poverty in more relational terms. Changing the second term in this equation requires ongoing repentance. It requires North American Christians to understand our brokenness and to embrace the message of the cross in deep and profound ways, saying to ourselves every day: “I am not okay; and you are not okay; but Jesus can fix us both.” (64)

3. Are We There Yet?

We need to have a clear concept of “success’ if we want to have any hope of getting there. (71)

THE KINGDOM THAT IS BOTH HERE AND STILL COMING. Jesus is bringing reconciliation to every last speck of the universe, including both our foundational relationships and the systems that emanate from them. Poverty is rooted in broken relationships, so the solution to poverty is rooted in the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection to put all things into right relationship again. (73)


Poverty alleviation is the ministry of reconciliation: moving people closer to glorifying God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation.

The goal is not to make the materially poor all over the world into middle-to-upper-class North Americans, … Nor is the goal to make sure that the materially poor have enough money. … Rather, the goal is to restore people to a full expression of humanness, to being what God created us all to be, people who glorify God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation. (74)


Material poverty alleviation is working to reconcile the four foundational relationships so that people can fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of that work.

 There are two key things to note in this definition. First, material poverty alleviation involves more than ensuring that people have sufficient material things; rather, it involves the much harder task of empowering people to earn sufficient material things through their own labor… Second, work is an act of worship. (74)

If poverty alleviation is about reconciling relationships, then we do not have the power to alleviate poverty in either the materially poor or in ourselves. It is not something that we can manufacture through better techniques, improved methods, or better planning, for reconciliation is ultimately an act of God. Poverty alleviation occurs when the power of Christ’s resurrection reconciles our key relationships through the transformation of both individual lives and local, national, and international systems. (75)

EVERYTHING I REALLY NEEDED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN SUNDAY SCHOOL [WELL, ALMOST!] A long-standing debate in the political arena concerns the extent to which people are materially poor due to their personal failures or to the effects of broken systems on their lives. Political conservatives tend to stress the former, while political liberals tend to emphasize the latter. Which view is correct? | …Adam and Eve’s sin messed up absolutely everything, implying that both individuals and systems are broken. Hence, Christians should be open to the idea that individuals and/or systems could be the problem as we try to diagnose the causes of poverty in any particular context. (79)

Our worldview is the spectacles through which we see and interpret reality, shaping the way we relate to God, self, others, and creation on both the personal and systemic levels. (80)

Distorted Worldview Concerning the Rest of Creation. …in some cases people’s worldviews are so distorted that it is difficult to bring about any progress at all until the people undergo a major paradigm shift. This has huge implications for the design of our programs and ministries and for the funding sources that we choose. Governments are not usually good donors for biblical worldview transformation! (82)

Which Came First, the Broken Individual or the Broken System? Worldviews affect the systems, and the systems affect the worldviews. (86)

We Are Not Neutral. As we work with materially poor people, it is crucial that we realize that we are not coming to them as blank slates. Rather, the way that we act toward the materially poor expresses our own worldview, painting a picture for them of our understanding about the nature of God, self, others, and the rest of creation. unfortunately, our own worldviews are broken, causing us to communicate a perspective, a way of understanding reality, that is often deeply at odds with a biblical perspective. (88)

“evangelical gnosticism,” a sacred-secular divide in which God is lord of the spiritual realm — Sunday worship, devotions, evangelism, discipleship, etc. — but is largely irrelevant to the “physical” or “secular” realms — business, the arts, politics, science, and poverty alleviation. This sacred-secular divide severely cripples Christianity in North America, making it irrelevant to the day-to-day functioning of our individual lives and culture. (90)

Part 2: General Principles for Helping Without Hurting

4. Not All Poverty Is Created Equal

PICK A NUMBER BETWEEN 1 AND 3. A helpful first step in thinking about working with the poor in any context is to discern whether the situation calls for relief, rehabilitation, or development. (99)

“Relief” can be defined as the urgent and temporary provision of emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering from a natural or man-made crisis. (99-100)

“Rehabilitation” begins as soon as the bleeding stops; it seeks to restore people and their communities to the positive elements of their precrisis conditions. (100)

“Development” is a process of ongoing change that moves all the people involved — both the “helpers” and the “helped” — closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of creation. … Development is not done to people or for people but with people. (100)

How do you spell “effective relief”? S-e-l-d-o-m, I-m-m-e-d-i-a-t-e, and T-e-m-p-o-r-a-r-y. (105)

Doing rehabilitation and even relief using a more developmental approach is now considered the “best practice” in the field. (106)

  • Ensure participation of the affected population int he assessment, design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of the assistance program.
  • Conduct an initial assessment to provide an understanding of the disaster situation and to determine the nature of the response.
  • Respond when needs of an affected population are unmet by local people or organizations due to their inability or unwillingness to help.
  • Target assistance based on vulnerability and need, and provide it equitably and impartially.
  • Aid workers must possess appropriate qualifications, attitudes, and experience to plan and effectively implement appropriate assistance programs.

Avoid Paternalism.

Do not do things for people that they can do for themselves.

Resource Paternalism. …legitimate local businesses can be undermined when outsiders bring in such things as free clothes or building supplies, undercutting the price that these local businesses need to survive. (110)

Spiritual Paternalism. …oftentimes the materially poor have an even deeper walk with God and have insights and experiences that they can share with us, if we would just stop talking and listen. (110)

Knowledge Paternalism. All of us need to remember that the materially poor really are created in the image of God and have the ability to think and to understand the world around them. (111)

…the fact that a person successfully operates a software company in Boston does not ensure that this person has the best business advice for a highly vulnerable cassava farmer living on one dollar per day in the semi-feudal institutional setting of rural Guatemala. Humility, caution, and an open ear are in order. (111)

Wherever the bible speaks specifically about church life, it must be heeded. But where the Bible is silent, North American pastors mus be careful not to impose their own culturally determined ministry styles into settings in which the local pastors might know more about the most effective way to minister. (112)

Labor Paternalism. …when we do work for people that they can do for themselves.

Managerial Paternalism. …the goal is not to produce houses or other material goods but to pursue a process of walking with the materially poor so that they are better stewards of their lives and communities, including their own material needs. (113)

FINDING YOUR NICHE. If a church tries to do all of them, [relief, rehabilitation, and development] it runs the risk of being spread too thin. Hence, it might be better for your church to focus on relief, rehabilitation, or development. (114)

…you will also typically find that most existing organizations in your community are focusing on providing relief. Why? …First, many service organizations have a material definition of poverty; … Second, relief is easier to do than development. … Third, it is easier to get donor money for relief than for development. (114)

Not all poverty is created equal; hence, there is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Take the time to find the niche that is right for your church and your community. (114-115)

5. Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, and Their Assets

…starting with a focus on needs amounts to starting a relationship with low-income people by asking them, “What is wrong with you? How can I fix you?” Given the nature of most poverty, it is difficult to imagine more harmful questions to both low-income people and to ourselves! Starting with such questions initiates the very dynamic that we need to avoid, a dynamic that confirms the feelings that we are superior, that they are inferior, and that they need us to fix them. (119)

BEGINNING WITH ASSETS, NOT NEEDS. For these reasons, many Christian community-development experts have discovered the benefits of using “asset-based community development” (ABCD) as they seek to foster reconciliation of people’s relationships with God, self, others, and creation. ABCD is consistent with the perspective that God has blessed every individual and community with a host of gifts, including such diverse things as land, social networks, knowledge, animals, savings, intelligence, schools, creativity, production equipment, etc. ABCD puts the emphasis on what materially poor people already have and asks them to consider from the outset, “What is right with you? What gifts has God given you that you can use to improve your life and that of your neighbors? How can the individuals and organizations in your community work together to improve your community?” Instead of looking outside the low-income individual or community for resources and solutions, ABCD starts by asking the materially poor how they can be stewards of their own gifts and resources, seeking to restore individuals and communities to being what God has create them to be from the very start of the relationship. Indeed, the very nature of the question — What gifts do you have? — affirms people’s dignity and contributes to the process of overcoming their poverty of being. And as they tell us of their gifts and abilities, we can start to see them as God does, helping us to overcome our sense of superiority; that is, our own poverty of being. (119-120)

What is wrong will come out soon enough; but by starting with what is right, we can change the dynamics that have marred the self-image of low-income people and that have created a sense of superiority in ourselves. (121)

Once the assets have been identified, it is appropriate to then ask the poor individual or community the questions: “What needs can you identify that must be addressed? What problems do you see that must be solved? How can you use your assets to address those needs and to solve those problems?” (121)

ABCD has four key elements:

  • Identify and mobilize the capabilities, skills, and resources of the individual or community. See poor people and communities as full of possibilities, given to them by God.
  • As much as possible, look for resources and solutions to come from within the individual or community, not from the outside.
  • Seek to build and rebuild the relationships among local individuals, associations, churches, businesses, schools, government, etc. God intended for the various individuals and institutions in communities to be interconnected and complementary.
  • Only bring in outside resources when local resources are insufficient to solve pressing needs. Be careful about bringing in resources that are too much or too early. Do this in a manner that does not undermine local capacity or initiative.

…the North American need for speed undermines the slow process needed for lasting and effective long-run development. (124)

COMMON APPROACHES TO ABCD. Asset Mapping (126) Participatory Learning and Action (128) Appreciative Inquiry (129)

6. McDevelopment: Over 2.5 Billion People Not Served

LEARNING PROCESS VERSUS BLUEPRINT APPROACHES. This book has already explained a number of reasons for slow progress in poverty alleviation, but another reason needs to be highlighted: inadequate participation of poor people in the process. (134)

Unfortunately…approaches to poverty alleviation have been highly nonparticipatory, using a “blueprint approach” in which the economically non-poor make all the decisions about the project and then do the project to the economically poor. (134)

The role of the outsider in this approach is not to do something to or for the economically poor individual or community but to seek solutions together with them. (135)

Participation is not just the means to an end but rather a legitimate end in its own right.

Furthermore, the blueprint approach implicitly communicates, “I, the outsider, am superior; you are inferior; I am here to fix you.” A participatory approach, in contrast, asks the poor at each step in the process, “What do you think?” and then really values the answers that are given. The very fact that the question is being asked is a powerful statement that says, “I believe you have value, knowledge, and insights. You know things about yoru situation that I do not know. Please share some of your insights with me. Let us learn together.” (137)

Part 3: Practical Strategies for Helping Without Hurting

7. Doing Short-Term Missions Without Doing Long-Term Harm

CROSS-CULTURAL ENGAGEMENT 101. One of the reasons that STM teams sometimes dance like Elephant [sic] is that the teams are unaware of what happens when cultures collide. (152)

The monochronic view sees time as a limited and valuable resource. (152) …the polychronic view is somewhat unlimited resources. (153)

Similarly, cultures differ in their understanding of the role of the individual and the group in shaping life. (153)

It is crucial that North American STM teams move beyond ethnocentric thinking that either minimizes these cultural differences or that immediately assumes that middle-to-upper-lcass North American cultural norms are always superior to those of other cultures. (154-155)

THE EFFECTS OF STMS ON POOR COMMUNITIES. The core problem with STMs to poor communities is that STMs tend to reflect the perspective of “poverty as deficit,” the idea that poverty is due to the poor lacking something. North Americans often view the “something” as material resources, but a lack of knowledge or spirituality is also commonly cited. (155)

In contrast, we have discussed how a more relational understanding of poverty sees both the materially poor and materially non-poor as suffering from broken relationships, albeit in different ways, and seeks to pursue processes that foster the reconciling work of Jesus Christ in the lives of both parties. (155)

Development is a lifelong process, not a two-week product. (157)

STMs from the Perspective of Participatory Development. The discussions about STMs need to include the potential calculations that may be going on in the minds of our materially poor brothers and sisters in Christ. If they really had the social, political, and economic power to speak their minds, we might be a bit surprised at what we might hear. (160)

Dollars and Sense. The North American church needs to more deeply appreciate the fact that Christians at home and abroad are ministering within their own nations, people groups, and communities at a large and growing rate, particularly in the Majority World where the church continues to expand and mature. (161)

Some defenders of STMs argue that the money spent on STMs is new money for missions. Because the giver typically knows the person or team and the gift is seen as one time and without a deep commitment, money given for STMs is money that would not be given for other forms of missions such as supporting indigenous ministries. If this is an accurate description of the nature of giving to STMs, it is very sad. Why can’t God’s people be challenged — from the pulpit and beyond — to exercise better stewardship of kingdom resources with their missions giving? … the gospel has always called for challenging societal norms if they hinder the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. It is not about us. It is about Him! (162)

Other defenders of STMs argue that such trips should be seen as an investment that yields large returns for the kingdom by producing increased missions giving, more long-term missionaries, and profound, cross-cultural relationships. … While no doubt these statements are sincerely made, there is growing evidence that these reports seriously overestimate the long-run impacts of the trips on those who go. (162)

Kurt Ver Beek’s data indicates that there simply is not a significant increase in long-term missions giving for either the team members or their sending churches. It is also hard to support the claim of increases in the number of long-term missionaries, given that the number of long-term missionaries is fairly stable despite the explosion of STMs. And as for all those great relationships that get developed, the reality is that only a small percentage of STM team members ever have any contact — at all — with their new “friends” after the trip ends. | In summary, the returns do not seem to justify the investment. (163)


Designing the Field Experience. Make sure the host organization, i.e., the agency receiving the STM team, understands the nature of poverty and practices the basic principles of appropriate poverty alleviation. | Make sure the host organization and community members have requested a team as part of their plan to improve their ministry and lives. … Make sure the host organization and community members are the lead decision makers concerning what the STM team will and will not do. | Be sincerely open to not sending a team. | Design the trip to be about “being” and “learning” as much as about “doing.” Stay in community members’ homes and create time to talk and interact with them. (163) | Ensure that the “doing” portion of the trip avoids paternalism.  Keep the number of team members small. (164)

Recruiting and Screening the Team. Stay away from the “go-help-and-save-them” message and use a “go-as-a-learner” message. | Do not advertise or create STM trips that focus on the adventure and fun the team will have. …don’t label vacations as “missions” nor dare ask people to fund them with their tithes and offerings. Doing so is an outrageous insult to the thousands of indigenous and expatriate brothers and sisters who sacrifice in mighty ways in ministry and to the poor themselves. | Change the name from “Short-Term Mission Trip” to something like “Vision Trip” or “Go, Learn, Return, and Respond.” (164) | Be careful how STMs are presented as part of the larger missions movement. | Have a substantial presentation for prospective team members of at least several hours that clearly explains what the trip is and is not about. | Require potential trip members to demonstrate a serious interest in missions by being active in their church and its local outreach efforts. (165)

Training for Success. Research is showing that a central factor in increasing the potential for STMs to have positive, long-run impacts on the team members is for there to be a training process that includes pre-trip, on-the-field, and post-trip components. (165)

8. Yes, in Your Backyard

For the first time in US history, more poor people live in suburbs than in cities. (169)

BROKEN SYSTEMS AND BROKEN INDIVIDUALS. Poor people are often at the mercy of systems created by the powerful. Hence, poverty-alleviation efforts need to address both broken systems and broken individuals, using highly relational approaches wherever possible. What does this look like in the North American landscape? (171)

9. And to the Ends of the Earth

[This chapter discusses the pros, cons, and considerations regarding Micro-Finance.]

Part 4: Getting Started on Helping Without Hurting

10. Excuse Me, Can You Spare Some Change?

Principle #1: Foster Triggers for Human Change. (207)

Three common triggers for change for individuals or groups are: 1) a recent crisis; 2) the burden of the status quo becoming so overwhelming that they want to pursue change; or 3) the introduction of a new way of doing or seeing things that could improve their lives. (208)

Never waste a crisis! (209)

…when people feel a profound sense of inferiority, there can be a huge impact from asking the simple question, “What gifts and abilities do you have?” And when people live in cultures that have been devoid of hope for centuries, a powerful trigger for change can be found in asking, “What are your dreams?” (209)

Principle #2: Mobilize Supportive People. (210)

the biggest challenge that ministries face is an insufficient number of people who are willing to invest the time and energy that it takes to walk through time with a needy individual or family. Finding armies of people to volunteer one Saturday per year to paint dilapidated houses is easy Finding people to love the people, day in and day out, who live in those houses is extremely difficult. (210)

If poverty is rooted in broken relationships that result from both individual and systemic brokenness, then highly relational approaches are needed to alleviate poverty. (213)

Principle #3: Look for an Early, Recognizable Success. (214)

By starting small and starting soon, early recognizable success is more likely to happen. This in turn will then generate the enthusiasm and drive to grow the program over time. (216)

Principle #4: Learn the Context as You Go. (216)

Having the attitude of a humble learner throughout the process is far more important than having comprehensive knowledge at the start of it. (216)

Principle #5: Start with the People Most Receptive to Change. (216)

11. On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!


Step One: Assess and Mobilize the Gifts of the Church or Organization. (225)

Step Two: Learn About the Existing Organizations and Services in the Area. (225)

Step Three: Adopt Asset-Based, Participatory, “First Encounter” Policies. (226)

Step Four: Explore the Possibility of Starting a New Ministry. (227)

Some readers have misunderstood the message of the first edition of this book to be: “Individuals and churches with financial resources should stop writing checks.” That is not our message. We do believe that individuals, churches, and ministries should rarely be simply “writing checks” or handing out cash that individuals and churches that have been blessed with financial resources like Parkview should dramatically increase their financial giving to churches and ministries that pursue gospel-focused, asset-based, participatory development. (233)

No single institution should seek to take on the responsibilities that God has given to other institutions. Families are not businesses, and churches are not governments. Each institution needs to fulfill the role that God has given to it, nothing more and nothing less. (235)

Even the average North American who walks into most materially poor churches or communities in the Majority World is Donald Trump in that context. That’s right, you are Donald Trump! “Suggestions” become “new directions” very quickly, and the results can be as harmful over time as the gymnasium was. Note that although this dynamic was present in Parkview’s relationship to the Jubilee Center, it is far, far more pronounced in Parkiew’s relationship with its partners in the Majority World. (240)

What is the solution to this? There are no easy answers, but here are a few suggestions:

  • Work hard to develop truthful and transparent relationships with your partners over time. Sticking with them, even when they fail, builds trust.
  • Be less visible.
  • Be extremely hesitant to make “suggestions.” Listen more and talk less.
  • Make sure that the local people — both your ministry partners and the people they are serving — are contributing their own time, money, or other resources to the project. (240)

A Final Word: The most Important Step

It is the step of repentance…our repentance. (247)

Without such repentance, our efforts to help the poor will continue to be characterized by providing material resources to the poor, rather than walking with them in humble and relational ways as we call on King Jesus to fix the root causes of both of our poverties. (248)

…evangelical gnosticism fails to understand who Jesus Christ really is, replacing the biblical Jesus with “Star Trek Jesus,” who beams our souls up out of this world, a world in which He is fundamentally disinterested, a world from which He is fundamentally disconnected. (248)

In contrast, “Colossians 1 Jesus,” is the Creator, Sustainer, and Reconciler of all thing, the King whose kingdom is wiping out all of our diseases and all of our poverty. “Colossians 1 Jesus” doesn’t ask us to stop being humans in this world or the next. (248)

Appendix: The Community Organizing Process in North America

…conduct learning conversations … relational, face-to-face, 45-60 minute interview of the individuals, associations, and institutions int he community that focuses on discovering what people care enough about to act on. (252)

…identify the community’s “connector-leaders” individuals who are the key to mobilizing the community’s assets in order to bring about wider change. (253)

It is imperative that the connector-leaders are very much in touch with the individuals, associations, and institutions that are willing to act and the issues they are willing to address. (253)

— VIA —

This will be mandatory reading for those in my spheres of influence who wish to participate in anything service or missions oriented. Corbett and Fikkert identify an amazing array of concepts, ideas, problems, and challenges, and offer effective responses to all of them. I appreciate their candor, their focus on the gospel and kingdom, their sociological work, and their commitment to the end results.

Here are a few “nit-picky” items:

Failing to root the curriculum in an explicitly biblical worldview could have been devastating, even if the program participants successfully obtained jobs and increased their incomes as a result of the program. (92)

While I think I understand the sentiment of this statement, the usage of the word “devastating” seems a bit unwarranted. This is where Christian fundamentalism may miss the mark.

We really need to be careful that we are not imposing our culturally bound interpretations and applications of Scripture’s transcendent truths onto other people. (93)

I would say this is simply impossible. All interpretations are culturally bound and influenced, and even the Bible’s “transcendent truths” are contextualized in a language, one of the major forms of culture. This requires deeper theological and philosophical work, but suffice to say that we must accept cultural influence before we can combat it.

Secular arguments for participation often rest on two faulty assumptions. First given the postmodern belief that truth is relative, some argue that poor people must participate in the process because they need to construct their own reality. Who are we outsiders to impose our ideas on poor people? they say, Second, a humanist faith in the inherent goodness of human beings leads some to believe that participation, like democracy, will necessarily produce positive results. Both of these assumptions are wrong from a biblical perspective. The Bible teaches clearly teaches that there is absolute truth and that — to the extent that we know it — we are to speak such truth in love (Eph. 4:15). (138)

First of all, the Bible does not teach that there is an absolute truth, and second, the phrase, “to extend that we know it” betrays the reality that all expressions of truth are subjective. Again, deeper philosophical work is needed here. It is these over-simplified, philosophically misconstrued statements that will ultimately undermine the Christian’s credibility when thinking holistically about faith and practice. It is my hope that Christians take better care in this area.