(Originally published 9/21/2011)
I heard an amazing talk recently by Dr. Brian Fikkert, author of When Helping Hurts and Community Development Director of the Chalmers Center. His basic premise was that when we try to help the poor without having a proper definition of poverty we often do more harm than good to both those we try to help and to ourselves. He gave the example of a church who handed out turkeys and toys in a poor neighborhood every year at Thanksgiving and Christmas. After several years of charity they discovered that the neighbors felt more poor and more shame, and the church people felt more self-righteous and more superior; each worse off then they were at the beginning.
Dr. Fikkert’s bottom line is that root of poverty is broken relationships going all the way back to the Garden of Eden, and in reality we are all poor. He says until we can sit down together as poor people and figure out what we can do to do help each other we won’t do much good and we might actually be doing harm.
I think this has huge implications for church planters and leaders. Do we really understand the needs of our community? Are we handing out bookbags and grocery cards because that is the best way to help the people around us, or are we just looking for a quick attendance boost. Is “missional” just a code word for “marketing”? What are the real needs of our neighborhood? What are root causes? How can we help?
We have to do the hard work of a missionary. To really understand the fabric of our community, not just the demographics. To get involved with those we want to serve rather than just giving hand outs. To focus less on winning people and focus more on loving people. To sit down together with other poor people and help each other find our way back to God.