"Not all charity is good charity"

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Paul J's picture

Having the responsibility for Care, which includes Benevolence, for a seeker friendly church with weekend attendance of 12,000 this is something I deal with daily.  It is interesting to navigate the mindset within the western culture.  You have competing outcomes you are attempting to balance.

First is helping new followers of Christ to move from “Tipping God” to lives of Loving God and Loving Other.  So creating opportunities for them to give is one of those ways.  We work through local, regional and international organizations to help meet real needs while helping our people take steps to think beyond themselves.  You want to find organizations that take an approach which not only focus on “Relief” meeting a real need but also “Restoration and Rehabilitation” helping them move beyond the cycle of looking for the handout.  This is where Western Christians and our society really shine but many times we feel better while the person receiving the assistance is harmed (the example quoted for the book).

Second is Benevolence, meeting the real needs of those within our congregation.  Family is the best place for this to happen with the church being the next best.  Especially when it can happen in “community” this can naturally when people with needs are connected in smaller groups such as Sunday school or small groups.  If you are living in community with the one in need you have a better sense of need and a better accountability.  You are invested and will go the distance, beyond relief and on to restoration and rehabilitation.

What we have found is many times the one with the need is not connected, they are still on the periphery and are not part of any small or mid-sized group so they do not have a natural group to care for them and the y have no family connection.  Many times the need is compounded by poor choices they’ve made or dome unforeseen circumstance has happen which causes the need.  The latter are the easier ones as short-term relief will help them over the hump and you can encourage them to help through repayment or some other service to help someone else.  The person in the first example will require more attention and it is difficult to walk with them as they may need aspects of both rehabilitation and restoration.  These are rarely linear and working through stumbles and relapses are trying for the most seasoned believer trying to bring someone along.

For those outside our congregation we partnering with local non-profits and leverage governmental resources.  We realized that we were not an island when it came to helping.  We’ve taken the position that we are going to leverage the resources available realizing that others are better suited to provide what may be needed and so you need to know who they are and understanding their capability.  Also we provide help, both financially and through releasing our folks into service within those organizations.  It gives our people the opportunity to be light within the community.  So sending workers, providing funding and resourcing our people can take the next step in “Loving God and Loving Others” while meeting need both within and without our faith community.

We’ve used these two books for those serving in care ministry and those serving in global initiatives’.  “When Helping Hurts” Corbett and Fikkert along with the book sited “Toxic Charity” Lupton.  Lifechurch.tv produced an interesting film called "Restore// The Film" which is is an interesting piece.  It's available on youtube in three parts and it is available if other formats at  resources.lifechurch.tv/products/restore-film-series

Jim's picture

I know of 2 cases where a church gave a needy person a car. In both cases the recipients could not afford the follow-on expenses (repairs, insurance, etc).

Both examples of toxic charity.


Joel Shaffer's picture

This is a true story that I wrote about in our ministry's last newseltter, which exemplifies toxic charity......

He didn’t even know which charity it was, he only knew they brought gifts to his house every Christmas. His mom would invite the strangers who delivered the toys into her house and with hugs and tears she thanked them.  While the toy deliverers were present, she placed the gifts under the tree. For the next few days, he and his younger brothers and sisters wondered to themselves, Would this be the year that their mother finally allowed them to open up and keep their Christmas presents? The day before Christmas, the young boy and his younger siblings faced reality again. While they slept, their mom gathered the Christmas presents from under the tree, unwrapped them and made her way to the pawn shop to sell. Once she had the money in hand, she then hurried to the drug house, where she smoked it up on crack. The toys given to her children by the charity became extra income to support her drug habit.

The boy, now grown into a man and well into his twenties, confesses that his childhood memories of Christmas inflicted more pain than joy. In fact he’s had an easier time dealing with violence on the streets during his time as a gang member (even losing several of his friends to gang killings) than reliving the pain of his childhood memory with the shattered hopes and dreams on Christmas.

Here’s the problem. This charity unintentionally made things worse. Not because they attempted to show compassion to impoverished kids in our urban neighborhood, but because they did not cultivate a relationship with the ones they showered their gifts upon. We should be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” when we give to people. If churches and charities build long-term, loving, no-nonsense relationships of trust with the poor and needy, then incidents like this will become rarer indeed.

Huw's picture

With the greatest respect Joel it wasn't the mothers crack addiction that was to blame. It was the nonsense of christmas, of present giving and of trees that were the problem here. And this problem is perpetrated by the very people who profess to uphold the truth. 

Paul J's picture

I love hearing Joel's stories from the front line.  It's interesting you hear about the difficulties in the big cities but we sometimes forget about the mid-sized cities like Grand Rapids.  Even our little Lancaster is a different place then what it was 25 years ago.  It is becomes very interesting as you get into the thick of it and where your connections take you in serving the least of these.