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192 of 197 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book will disturb most Christians...in the best way possible
When Helping Hurts is a compelling book that will be a significant help to the Church for years to come. The first chapter alone is worth the cost of the book and ought to be read by every church leader in every ministry category. This is not just a book for the missions committee (although it ought to be required for everyone involved in missions) or the Outreach...
Published on November 19, 2009 by J. S. Wallace

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48 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but not Great
Good but not great is how I would describe the book When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself. I would argue that Christians can and should learn from the insightful way that these authors look at poverty and its alleviation. I would also say, however, that the book can grow tedious and the ideas do not appear to be transferable to...
Published on May 15, 2010 by Travis Peterson


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192 of 197 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book will disturb most Christians...in the best way possible, November 19, 2009
This review is from: When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Yourself (Paperback)
When Helping Hurts is a compelling book that will be a significant help to the Church for years to come. The first chapter alone is worth the cost of the book and ought to be read by every church leader in every ministry category. This is not just a book for the missions committee (although it ought to be required for everyone involved in missions) or the Outreach Director, or the pastor. I think every Christian in America would benefit. Most evangelicals would be rattled.

There are several benefits from this book. Since most people read book reviews to try and determine whether they want to buy and read the book, let me mention those benefits.
It doesn't just pick on the Church or her leaders. This book is personal; it will pick on you. It was deeply convicting to me as I read it. I realized that as many times as I have been moved by stories about the fatherless and the widow, the poor and the sick, I am not purposefully living for my life, and leading that of my family, to intersect with these members of society. I have forsaken the needy by my enslavement to convenience and stuff. My house is conveniently situated away from poverty. I hardly see the needy. And then there is my busyness. All my important tasks that keep me far away spending myself on "behalf of the hungry" (Is. 58:10) are often where I find my own significance and worth. I am convicted that although I hold to the position that all humans are created in the image of God, I don't live as such. And I realize that I do have a god-complex (although every time I read that phrase in the book, my first reaction was, "No I don.....okay, I do. I do.").

The authors are not writing from lofty chairs in academia. They pen their own confessions. One of my favorites is, "I confess to you that part of what motivates me to help the poor is my felt need to accomplish something worthwhile with my life, to be a person of significance, to feel like II have pursued a noble cause...to be a bit like God...I sometimes unintentionally reduce poor people to objects that I use to fulfill my own need to accomplish something. it is a very ugly truth, and it pains me to admit it, but `when I want to do good, evil is right there with me' (Rom. 7:21)." [p. 65] They also give a number of examples that show where they blew it. This communicates not only humility, but also a sense that there's a bit of a journey involved. Helping the needy will never become neat, clean and orderly.

This book is highly biblical, both in its use of Scripture for application as well as in developing a theory of poverty that serves as the framework. You won't be able to get past a few pages at any point in the book without being confronted by biblical truth (and a helpful reference). And it does not do what many books on this subject do, namely, present steps and practices for alleviating poverty dissected from the Bible as the source of these truths or from the Holy Spirit as the source of divine power. Rather, the authors continually remind you of the authority of Scripture and our dependency on the Holy Spirit for power and guidance in the journey. One good example is early in the book, as the authors lay the groundwork for the importance of relationships in assisting the poor and sick. They take the reader back to the relationship in the Godhead, the Trinity. And from there they expand and explain how ministry flows through relationships. The poor are not going to be helped, without hurting them, if we just conduct drive-by ministry.

This book is also highly practical. The authors not only explain best practices and steps to take, but they give examples of what they might look like. And they also offer gracious critiques of benevolent practices that many of us have followed. The strange thing is that while reading many of the critiques, the thought ran through my head, "That always seemed a little unwise to me." You'll finish with not just new techniques, but will actually have an understanding of why some things work and some don't.

Many in the church will want to read this because of their local outreach. But this book is just as important for global outreach. In my job, I am continually laboring to help churches understand the importance of their short-term trips not becoming drive-by (or fly-by) ministries. Feeding the poor is wonderful. Caring for the orphan is beautiful. Both are biblical. But to be the best these ministries can be, both need to be in the context (connected to) a sustainable ministry. Biblically, you can't escape the fact that this is the church. Ministries that are conducted apart from the church die when their leadership dies (or moves, or changes strategies, or gets new vision, etc...). They are simply not sustainable. But when ministry is conducted in and through the church, there is lasting fruit. New believers are folded into that work. And when the US worker (or partnering church) leaves, the church will continue the ministry.

I don't get to read a ton of books, but this is one that has so impacted my thinking and stirred my heart, that I am encouraging everyone to read it. It's one of those books. I've got a stack of copies with me for my next journey to share with folks. I think it will disturb you too, in the best way possible.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fresh Look at Social Ministry, February 24, 2010
This review is from: When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Yourself (Paperback)
As the pastor of a rural church in the heart of Appalachia, I am confronted with the harsh realities of material poverty on a daily basis. Generational poverty is not a pretty sight, but neither is the attempt of many to alleviate that poverty. Most people are emotionally moved by images of poverty. Then, after the initial emotional response, the question becomes how can the materially poor best be helped? Unfortunately, most attempts at helping are futile at best and can even be destructive. Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert do a very good job of addressing that question in their book, When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Ourselves.

This book is far from a typical, tired, social gospel guilt trip. The authors begin by building a theologically sound foundation by defining the true nature and mission of Jesus, His church and the Gospel. It is only out of that correct understanding of the Gospel that truly beneficial social ministry can occur. From there, they lay out their case that much of what is done in the name of Christian charity is not beneficial. They do not shy from their belief 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." They further state that their 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 authors did not just take the opportunity of this book to rant against what they see as wrong. In addition to accurately depicting what is wrong, they do an outstanding job of pointing out a better way. Once the problem is clearly understood in the reality of the fall, material poverty can be addressed in the right way. "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.... Rather, 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."

This book does not attempt to be a step-by-step guide for how to develop an effective ministry to the poor. It is not a "how-to" book, despite the fact that it gives good examples and suggestions. Instead, its strength is in the way it challenges paternalistic mindsets about the poor and realigns social ministry with the Gospel. The premise is sound and the theological foundation is solid. Because of that, any ministry that is developed from it will help without hurting.
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48 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Provocative, much-needed analysis of where our attempts to help have gone wrong, July 13, 2009
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This review is from: When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Yourself (Paperback)
Thank you, Brian and Steve, for this tremendous book. So often we miss the unintended consequences of our wonderful intentions. For anyone who has been on a mission trip, plans on going on a mission trip, or is thinking about supporting missions, please pick up a copy of this book. Its thorough analysis and helpful guide to thinking through long-term issues will dramatically refine your understanding of the world and of missions.

Chris Horst
HOPE International
[...]
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48 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but not Great, May 15, 2010
This review is from: When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Yourself (Paperback)
Good but not great is how I would describe the book When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself. I would argue that Christians can and should learn from the insightful way that these authors look at poverty and its alleviation. I would also say, however, that the book can grow tedious and the ideas do not appear to be transferable to all contexts.

What I Liked

The authors of this book have a clear love for the poor, but not the sort of adopt-a-stray-puppy love that many wealthy folks have toward those less fortunate. The truth is, sometimes adopting a poor person or people group as your pet project might harm them and you, and Christians need to know this truth for themselves.

I found the authors' description of different kinds of poverty very helpful. Not all people who we think of as poor are impoverished in the same ways. The poor could have extra need for healing in their relationship to God, self, others, or the rest of creation. This book addresses all these categories.

The authors also do very well when pointing Christians toward more than one kind of aid that a poor person might need. While our gut reflex is to give immediate relief in the form of food, money, or service to someone in need, the authors wisely attempt to guide readers to a bigger-picture approach. Sometimes immediate relief is needed. Sometimes rehabilitation or skill-development is more appropriate. The authors show us how wise decision-making in this category can be a life-saver for the needy and the helper alike.

What I Did Not Like

While much of the book is very solid, I have to confess that this book simply grew hard to read after a while. The authors obviously had even more information, volumes worth of information, that they wish they could have packed into this little book. Unfortunately, the broadness of scope that they work toward in later chapters makes the reading far more tiresome than it is in the beginning of the text where readers are just becoming acquainted with this new view of poverty and help.

Recommendations

This book would be an excellent resource for church deacons or benevolence committees who need to think very clearly about how to help the needy in their area. It is a good work for pastors to ponder as they consider mission trips and giving for the congregation. Even county ministerial groups might want to take a look at this work for guidelines for how a larger group of churches might think differently about the poor. But, do not think many should pick this up for pleasure-reading. It get's thicker as you go.
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39 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lives Changing, July 9, 2009
By 
David Larson (Portland, OR USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Yourself (Paperback)
Yep, I know. "Lives changing" is not grammatically correct.

Nevertheless, I use this play on words to indicate that this book is not just life changing for you, me, and other readers, but, for the millions who we can and must serve. This is about THEM and their lives, even though it starts with you, me, and our churches.

As we learn and put into practice the authors' supremely wise counsel, we will see enormous increases in the effectiveness of our ministries to a hurting world. I dare say as well that as we see these profound qualitative improvements, the quantity of our efforts will skyrocket as well - we'll want to do far more as we discover the joy of doing far better.

Thus, This Is Big. To say this is the best book ever on the subject would be, believe it or not, an UNDERstatement. That's partly because it's not only a book - it also has fabulous accompanying materials (website learning and discussion aids, courses, speakers, trainers, etc.) that will significantly help readers and churches put these "lives changing" ideas into practice.

All this is literally an unbelievable Gift from God - for the church and the world.

Dave Larson
Economic Development Consultant
Portland, Oregon
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read this before you try to help the poor, April 22, 2010
By 
John Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Yourself (Paperback)
When well-meaning Christians attempt to alleviate poverty, they often unintentionally do more harm than good, according to Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert in this book. It is an important message for Christians from Western countries to hear before they march boldly onwards with their poverty relief efforts. Poverty is not solved simply by splashing cash around.

Poverty is not just an absence of money; it is also about broken relationships, and people living in poverty have often been acculturated into a poverty mindset. Materially wealthy people have poverty in their lives, just as do materially poor people, and if you want to serve the poor in a non-arrogant way you need to acknowledge your own struggle with brokenness. Helping people out of poverty is more about people and processes than about projects and products.

This is an important book which needs to be read by any church groups involved in poverty relief, and I am therefore reluctant to offer criticism. However, I think that, in the context of today's African poverty, the authors' ideas of relief, rehabilitation and development do not fully take into account the economic conditions driving people into poverty. When war, disease, famine, corruption and many other forces prevent people from improving their conditions, successful development is almost impossible. If people are living in conditions which Western Christians consider unacceptable, then the option of refusing to provide ongoing relief on the ground that it creates dependency is not in my opinion morally justifiable.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for anyone has ever given to charity!, October 15, 2009
By 
D. R. Renz (San Diego, CA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Yourself (Paperback)
When Helping Hurts is an important book for anyone that has or is giving to a development or relief organization. It digs deep to get to the root of the problem with giving money and resources away. The authors continually describe how we can undercut the development of those in need with our giving. Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert provide alternative solutions to giving money away to efficiently help those in need.

This book helped to raise questions in my life and has served as a great yardstick to measure if I have been actually hurting those I thought I was helping. When Helping Hurts is a great book to go through with a group because the authors spur discussions throughout the text.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for those who want to help the poor, August 19, 2011
By 
Jonathan Hakkeem (Bangkok, Thailand) - See all my reviews
A necessary and well-written book about the gap between intentions and effects in our attempts to alleviate poverty. The authors lay out a convincing argument, developing strong principles and then referring back to them appropriately rather than just giving their own opinions. To put it bluntly, many of us (as individuals, organizations, and governments) have spent a lot of money and time on good intentions that have actually made poverty even worse.

I was grateful for Part 1, focusing first on God's mandate to us to help the poor (so that the discouraging message that many of our efforts are misguided doesn't deter us from following through on God's commands), and then building on that mandate by asking what poverty is really about and what our goals are when we talk about addressing it.

The book has great examples of sincere efforts that can do more harm than good. It shows how the effects of sin on individuals and systems have helped to cause poverty and stymie our attempts to address it. It also does a good job of addressing paternalistic attitudes of superiority that can further cement long-term poverty when Western "aid" is brought in to a Majority World situation. And the entire Part 3 goes in depth to explain a few ways in which we can turn it around and serve the poor in a manner that actually helps both them and us.

I only have minor gripes with the book. First of all, the book is written in such a manner that will likely turn off many non-Christians. I think the authors had to decide on an audience for the book and chose to focus on an explicitly Christian audience, but there is a need for non-Christians to hear this wisdom too. That's not to say that the "Christian" aspects of the book are at all bad (in fact, I believe they're necessary), I just think they could have been worded in such a way as to allow a non-Christian audience to be more open to listening to the message. Second of all, the section on how to tell if something is really an emergency "relief" situation is quite good, but I feel the question "To what degree was the individual personally responsible for the crisis" could too easily be abused. I'll note that when Jesus or the disciples were helping people, this isn't a question that appeared to hold much importance. Instead, the individuals who needed help got full help regardless of whether they had brought their situation on themselves, with the mandate "go and sin no more".

The exercises at the beginnings and ends of the chapters were challenging and helpful. I would encourage anyone reading the book to complete these exercises as they read. It will slow you down and force you to think about the practical aspects of what is being said. This would be a great book to do with a small group focused on service or within a leadership group in your church, which is what I will try to do myself among our church's missions and service leadership.

All that being said, this book is still just a starting point and the authors are clear on that. Good practical advice is given, but if you really want to make your service alongside the poor effective, there's still going to be much more to learn. I was very happy that the authors offered web resources and online courses for further study, and I intend to take advantage of those in the coming year.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How can poverty be alleviated?, November 23, 2009
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This review is from: When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Yourself (Paperback)
Fikkert and Corbett have provided a critical analysis of why so many development and relief efforts in the Majority World do not succeed and, more importantly, what might be done to truly alleviate poverty. What are the causes of poverty? What does the bible tell us about these causes? What might be done to alleviate this poverty in such a way that it is sustainable, that the impoverished conditions don't return when the aid worker or program ends. The book is extremely well written and grabs the readers attention through colorful examples drawn from Fikkert's and Corbett's own experiences in development work in Africa and in the US. While written from a carefully thought out Christian perspective, the analysis would be helpful to those of other faith's as well. It is a terrific book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Real Eye-Opener, June 7, 2010
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This review is from: When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Yourself (Paperback)
There is so much brokenness in this world. Even here in America, we can see that things are not as they should be. Marriages end. Children are abused. Crimes go unpunished and the innocent often suffer. Babies are aborted by the millions.

When we leave our borders, this brokenness becomes even more magnified as we encounter billions of people living in abject poverty, without access to the basic needs for human survival. Every day, people die by the thousands due to starvation and preventable disease. While many look away, choosing to remain ignorant of these problems, most people -- Christian and non-Christians alike -- are stirred to compassion when confronted with human suffering. We want to help in any way we can.

But is it possible that our helping might really be hurting?

Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert say that it often does. Due to "poverty-alleviation strategies that are grounded in unbiblical assumptions about the nature of poverty," many churches and relief organizations actually contribute to the poverty problem through their well-meaning attempts to minister to the poor. This book aims to point out and correct these assumptions, and to offer a more effective model for poverty alleviation.

To minister effectively to those afflicted with poverty, we must have a firmly biblical worldview, and be able to communicate it to the poor. This means having a right understanding of who Jesus is, why He came, why He cares so much for the poor, and why Christians, as part of Christ's body, are to love and care for the poor as well.

We must also have a better definition of "poverty". Too often, we narrowly define it as a lack of material possessions, but the authors define poverty in light of the Fall. God created the world and declared it "good", but when Adam sinned, everything changed. Pain, shame, and death entered the world. The ground was cursed. Worst of all, the perfect fellowship that Adam and Eve had shared with God was broken.

The book focuses on the Fall's manifestations in four types of broken relationships, which result in four types of poverty. The first is Man's relationship to himself, which leads to a "poverty of being." Rather than having a right view of himself, Man thinks either too much of himself (a "god-complex") or too little (low self-esteem). The second is Man's relationship with others, which leads to a "poverty of community." People become self-centered, exploiting and abusing others. The third is Man's relationship with Creation, which leads to a "poverty of stewardship." Without a proper understanding of work (which existed before the Fall and is therefore "good") and of Man's God-given responsibility to exercise dominion over all the earth (Genesis 1:26-28), this sort of poverty manifests itself in laziness (and in "workaholics"), materialism, misuse of resources, and a lost sense of purpose. Finally, Man's relationship with God is broken, which leads to a "poverty of spiritual intimacy." The "default mode" for humanity is separation from God, so many worship false gods and idols, while others deny God's existence and authority.

Furthermore, all of these broken relationships together lead to four broken world systems, which affect everyone in the world, and lie largely out of the control of the individual. These are the economic system, the political system, the religious system, and the social system. All of these broken relationships and broken systems contribute to the vast problem of material poverty; it is a much more complex problem that at first it appears. At its root, though, is sin, which is why Christians are the only ones truly able to alleviate poverty. Jesus Christ is the great Reconciler of these broken relationships, and He has given to us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).

This view of poverty begs the need for a holistic method of poverty-alleviation. We must find a way to help meet the needs of the materially poor without contributing to their poverties of being, community, stewardship, and spiritual intimacy. When we merely provide material things for the poor, we are actually making things worse for them and for ourselves if we do not address the root causes of their -- and our-- poverty.

The greatest mistake that most Christians and relief organizations make is a failure to identify the best way to help. The authors describe three types of aid: Relief, Rehabilitation, and Development. Relief is "the urgent and temporary provision of aid to reduce immediate suffering from a natural or man-made crisis." Rehabilitation "seeks to restore people and their communities to the positive elements of their precrisis conditions." Development is "a process of ongoing change that moves all people involved -- both the `helpers' and the `helped' -- closer to being in a right relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of Creation."

Most poverty-alleviation efforts concentrate on providing Relief, which is actually the least-commonly needed type of aid. What is most needed, and most effective for producing long-term improvement in the conditions of the materially poor, is Development. This is also the most difficult and costly, requiring years of dedication and relationship-building.

The focus is on a participatory approach, in which those providing aid work with the poor, rather than doing things to them or for them. In addition to helping to equip the poor with the skills and resources to care for themselves, this approach - by including the poor in the decision-making process and in every step of the work to be done - grants them a sense of dignity, as opposed to when the materially non-poor fly in to "save the day", implicitly engendering a sense of superiority/inferiority in both the poor and the helper.

The authors identify several problems inherent in "Short-Term Mission Trips", which have become exceedingly popular in the last 20 years (for instance, in 2006 alone, over 2.2 million Americans went on STM's, spending in excess of $1.6 billion on these trips). Too often, these trips become a "right of passage" for young Christians; something we check off our list of things good Christians do. Sometimes, STM's are marketed for their opportunities for sightseeing, or as a way to give students a taste of what poverty looks like. In other words, the focus is more often on the missionary than on the people supposedly being served.

A better approach to STM's (which are not all harmful) is when Christians travel to work as part of a team with those who are working in long-term or vocational missions with the people. Furthermore, mission-minded Christians should look first of all to meeting needs in their own vicinity, rather than looking first at foreign missions. Yes, foreign missions are valuable and necessary, but we must not ignore the need in our own neighborhoods. As the authors state, "while all Christians have a responsibility to help the poor, there is enormous diversity in the ways that each Christian is to fulfill this biblical mandate." STM's are rarely the best way to do so.

This is a book that will challenge every reader, and will make many uncomfortable. It cuts right to the heart of many things we have believed in our churches for a long time that may not actually be true. It is a must-read for anyone who has ever participated in short-term missions, or has a desire to do so in the future. My own personal assumptions were put to the test, and I have learned that I have much to re-think in terms of what real Christian "missions" look like.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; Behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors of Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:17-21
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