Posts in “Helping Without Hurting”
As the holidays approach, many churches and nonprofits undertake large-scale food and resource drives, attempting to tap into the spirit of abundance and generosity that characterizes Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations in North America.
Have you ever stopped to ponder the question, “What does it mean to be poor?” If poverty is rooted in the brokenness of the four key relationships, then the answer becomes clear: we are all affected by poverty. Because of the comprehensive nature of the fall, every human being experiences a form of poverty, a lack of fulfillment in the four key relationships—with God, ourselves, others, and creation. We’re unable to be what we were created to be and miss out on the joy that God intended for these connections. We’re like “square pegs in a round hole,” not quite fitting because we were shaped for something else.
In a previous post, we explored the significance of the four key relationships human beings are created to enjoy—with God, self, others, and creation. These relationships shed light on the complexity of human beings and help us unlock pathways toward effective poverty alleviation.
Fourteen years ago, when Jason Bull accepted a position as an Associate Director of Medford Gospel Mission, he realized he needed to learn how to faithfully operate a nonprofit ministry. He remembers, “I didn’t know anything about nonprofit management or working with a board of directors. I had to educate myself!” He began reading various books to sharpen his ability to lead the organization and to faithfully serve the homeless community of Medford, Oregon.
In our Helping without Hurting in Benevolence Ministry training, we share principles and tools to help you build a ministry that leads to real change. But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for every church. In order to create a benevolence program that works for your specific church context, you may need to make adjustments to fit your church’s specific capacity.
“30,000 Haitian kids live in private orphanages. Officials want to shutter them and reunite families.” This was the headline of an Associated Press article published this summer in over 600 media outlets around the U.S.. It shares how Haiti’s orphanages and children’s homes have long served as a band-aid to more complex problems, such as extreme poverty and lack of access to quality education.
Poverty is a complex issue affecting billions of people around the world. In 2023, the World Bank estimated 3.6 billion people worldwide were living on less than $6.85 per day and over 650 million were living in extreme poverty on less than $2.15 per day 1 If God’s people want to follow the heart of our gracious and compassionate God and take seriously His commands to care for those in poverty (Ex. 23:6, 11; Lev. 19:10, 23:10, 25:35-39; Deut. 15:4-7; Gal. 2:10; James 2:1-7; etc.), we should not let staggering numbers like this pass us by.
Adapted from When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Ourselves.
Defining poverty is not simply an academic exercise. The ways we define poverty—either implicitly or explicitly—play a major role in determining the solutions we use in our attempts to alleviate that poverty.
Local churches often make a significant mistake when it comes to helping those in poverty. They sometimes create divisions in their efforts that aren’t really necessary, according to Scripture. When we split up the act of spreading the message of God’s transformative power (evangelism) and the act of serving others or providing practical life skills (service or technical programming), we give the wrong impression that the world is fragmented. We make it seem like God’s work is separate from helping people in need.
As the Director of Programs for Restoration House in the Knoxville area, Lori Haskell has years of experience working with single moms who find themselves in difficult circumstances, especially when it comes to finances. They want to be financially self-sufficient but often lack the training and support they need to get there.
People are not projects. Please listen to these words and take them to heart. All human beings are made in the image of the living God. This means we are never merely projects defined by our economic statuses, our material possessions, or our vocations, graded on some scale of how well we are doing at life. Rather, we are equal in worth and in dignity, and this is true across race, nationality, age, culture, and gender, etc. In the same way, the church is full of beautiful, broken people gathering together to embrace Jesus’ love and to extend benevolence to all people. Doing benevolence well is an act of love in itself.
The work of creating a benevolence ministry that provides material assistance to those in need without creating or perpetuating unhealthy dependencies is challenging. It’s important for churches and ministries pursuing this work to come from a position of humility. Approaching church benevolence with the right posture should drive us to the cross, as it creates the opportunity for us to see our own sin and our own inadequacy. We cannot independently generate change in systems, people, and communities, but that does not hinder the work of the Holy Spirit.
When local churches try to engage in ministry that allows their members to be more present in the community around them—outreach, evangelism, or mercy and benevolence work—they often recognize that connecting with others is much more complex than they expect. Leaders and volunteers can end up feeling disconnected from the more natural pathways to connection and relationship-building that seem to work in other areas of their lives.
Local churches that have been engaged with a biblical framework for addressing poverty or have used various tools and trainings from the Chalmers Center know that one of the biggest keys in a healthy ministry is taking an asset-based, rather than a needs-based approach. An asset-based approach helps us see that all people, both those who are materially poor and those with material wealth, can contribute to poverty alleviation efforts.
If we’re going to pursue relational poverty alleviation ministry that aims toward long-term development, one of the main outcomes we’re looking for from ministry participants is learning. We want to see the people we’re walking with learn new skills, rediscover their dignity, and grow in their capacity to navigate the complexities of life.
God made the world out of love, and redeems us through His love expressed in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. He made us to enjoy loving relationships with Him, with ourselves, with others, and with the rest of His creation. Because of this, our work to walk with people in material poverty needs to be relational and participatory in nature, working together with people out of love, not merely doing things for them. True relationships are a two-way street. We give and receive.
During the past 22 years, in addition to publishing books about poverty alleviation, Chalmers has been creating training for use in both the U.S. and the Majority World (of Africa, Asia, and Latin America). These field-tested programs are built on God’s story of change and community development best practices to help you put a biblical framework for addressing poverty into practice.