Since simple church is incarnational in nature (taking the Gospel of the Kingdom to the world rather than inviting the world to come join our Christian activities) and since people in need are often the ones most receptive to the Gospel, we should not be surprised when we find ourselves, at times, serving people in varying degrees of physical need and poverty.
The question is: are we prepared for this?
To help us with this issue, I want to mention an excellent primer in empowering people in need: “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself” by Fikkert and Corbett.
The authors share many of their own experiences and those of others that helped them realize 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.”
The book points out very well that “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.”
Using excellent Scriptural background Fikkert demonstrates that the goal of kingdom work 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.”With this in mind the book outlines some key principles for serving the poor:
1. Know the difference between relief, rehabilitation, and development. Know which one is needed in the given situation and apply it. Providing ongoing relief (meeting critical needs in a time of crisis), for example, when community development (empowering people to help themselves) is called for will simply exacerbate the problems and helplessness of those we want to help.
2. Beware the poison of paternalism and “do not do things that people can do for themselves.”
3. Begin with assets not needs. Asset-Based Community Development:
You can check out the book here or their website here.
“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?”
“In contrast, needs-based development focuses on what is lacking in the life of a community or a person. The assumption in this approach is that the solutions to poverty are dependent upon outside human and financial resources. Churches and ministries using a needs-based approach are often quick to provide food, clothes, shelter, and money to meet the perceived, immediate needs of low-income people, who are often viewed as “clients” or “beneficiaries” of the program. Pouring in outside resources is not sustainable and only exacerbates the feelings of helplessness and inferiority that limits low-income people from being better stewards of their God-given talents and resources.”
4. Use a participatory process that engages and energizes as much of the community as possible.