With more than 300,000 copies in print, When Helping Hurts is a paradigm-forming contemporary classic on the subject of poverty alleviation.
Poverty is much more than simply a lack of material resources, and it takes much more than donations and handouts to solve it. When Helping Hurts shows how some alleviation efforts, failing to consider the complexities of poverty, have actually (and unintentionally) done more harm than good.
But it looks ahead. It encourages us to see the dignity in everyone, to empower the materially poor, and to know that we are all uniquely needy—and that God in the gospel is reconciling all things to himself.
Focusing on both North American and Majority World contexts, When Helping Hurts provides proven strategies for effective poverty alleviation, catalyzing the idea that sustainable change comes not from the outside in, but from the inside out.
This is the age-old dilemma that so many people face, when it comes to helping people and serving others. Not only is this text theologically grounded and solidly biblical, but it is practical and thorough in explaining the answer to the question, why does it hurt to help?
First of all, this book will enlighten the reader on the issue at hand.
Secondly, this book will empower the reader to think through and discern how and when to help in a way that will bring about lasting change. There is a good chance that the reader will find themselves helpless when they pick up this book because they are frustrated and perhaps even feeling empty. But the reader will walk away with a fresh perspective on helping others and the proper way to go about it to bring about the most change and impact.
This is the kind of book that will be around for decades and continue to be a go-to resource for helping others and serving the least of these.
When I heard about this book from a review by a friend I thought it would be a great resource to have. I was right. This book is a great tool on how to properly use aid when dealing with the poor. The solution is not to throw money at the problem but rather find out what is causing the poverty.
Corbett and Fikkert do an excellent job of giving their foundation for helping the hurting: Jesus. Jesus came to earth and helped the hurting. By His example we should do the same. However, there is a way to do so without making this worse than before.
The first thing is find out what type of poverty it is. Is it poverty by tragedy (hurricane, tsunami, medical reasons), economic environment (low income job, high cost of living) or lack of initiative? What the authors have done is show that each situation is not the same. It is the proverbial feed a man to fish, but make sure that there is a river in which to fish.
What was addressed, that never dawned on me, was the mental and psychological battering that the poor are assaulted with that a middle income earner does not face. Thoughts of worthlessness, stupidity, hopelessness, and others plague the poor. These items must be addressed but the solution is not always to give financial aid. What then is the proper response? That depends on the cause.
Sometimes the proper response is to give money but that such situations needs to be examined carefully. It may only be a one time need (i.e. car trouble, damages because of natural disasters, etc) and such needs may be solved by money. However, what about the situations like poor education, loss of a job, etc.? Giving money will not fix these problems but it is often used because it is one of the easiest.
This gets to the heart of the book: overcoming poverty requires a long term approach. It demands time, energy, relationships, and perseverance. It requires getting to know the people who make up the poor, understanding their fears, dreams, thoughts, and worldviews. This is how to help without hurting: empowerment.
This is a great book and should be on the shelf of anyone involved in ministering to those in impoverished environments. I highly recommend that every pastor, homeless shelter director, and missions organization get a copy. In fact, get more than one so you can lend out a copy or two. It will be well worth it.
“Does our desire to help those in need cause us to really hurt those in need because we are not thoughtful in our approach to their needs?” This is the haunting question that Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert bring to light in the challenging yet helpful book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself.
I have had this book recommended to me over the past several years since it was first published. Knowing the contents of this book, I have been hesitant to read it knowing that this book would call me to question and change the way that I view missions and reaching out. The book has raised more questions than I feel like I have answers to and has opened a discussion that every Christian who has a heart for the needs of others and every Christian leader needs to engage.
Corbett and Fikkert address the programs and approach to poverty ministry in a church, local, and global context. The book is written in a way that focuses on stories of the good, bad, and the ugly of reaching out to those in need. The book also includes a storyline that follows a local church as they wrestle with the challenge of helping the hurting without hurting them in the process.
The most helpful ideas in the book, in my opinion, are the equation that often defines people’s relationship to the poor and the definition of an effective method of helping the poor.
The equation of the often found current relationship is:
“Material Definition of Poverty + God-complexes of Materially Non-Poor + Feelings of Inferiority of Materially Poor = Harm to Both Materially Poor and Non-Poor” (p. 64)
Corbett and Fikkert redefine helping the poor through the following method definition:
“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.” (p. 74)
When Helping Hurts calls Christians and churches to embrace relationships over programs, partnership over ownership, collaboration over process, and holistic life change over a handout. This is a profoundly helpful and challenging book that will change the way readers think of helping the least of these.
There are not many books that I would say is “mandatory reading” for people. But for Christians truly seeking to help the poor, I would say this is “mandatory.” I’m not alone–David Platt called this book “required reading” for those intentionally seeking to help the poor internationally and around the world. Why? Because as the title suggests, some of our best efforts to help the poor actually wind up hurting them – and us.
In When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself, the authors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert share powerful principles and real-life examples of how and why some poverty alleviation strategies do more harm than good and also examine why some strategies fail. The book’s last few chapters deal with specific proven strategies we can implement to help people out of poverty.
If you have ever questioned how well the welfare system work, or the effectiveness of a short missions trip to relieve poverty, you will likely find this book extremely helpful.
One foundational principle is that not all poverty is material poverty. Some poverty is due to broken relationships, intellectual poverty, or spiritual poverty. Trying to remedy all problems with money assumes that money is the solution to relational or spiritual poverty, which is not true. “As westerners we tend to think of material solutions to poverty because we are materialists.”
If money isn’t always the answer, what is? How do we truly help the poor?
The goal is not to make the materially poor all over the world into middle-to-upper-class North Americans, a group characterized by high rates of divorce, sexual addiction, substance abuse, and mental illness. Nor is the goal to make sure that the materially poor have enough money…
Rather, the 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. [page 74]
Truly helping the poor involves seeing complex issues for what they are and trying to see the root causes of it. Corbett and Fikkert share several good and practical ways of analyzing the situation and also ways to think about remedying potential situations of poverty. Their approach is theological, educational, immensely practical, and will likely transform the way you think about poverty alleviation and probably yourself.
If you can’t tell already, my experience with this book was a very positive one. It formed my mind and shaped my heart to be more realistic and excited about helping the poor in a way that really helps, and is a book I would highly recommend. I will likely revisit this book in the future.
Add new comment