When Helping Hurts Conference

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Christ Fellowship

2801 Orchid Drive

McKinney, TX 75070

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Friday: 7pm-9pm (Free open buffet will start at 6:30pm)

Saturday: 9:00am -12:00pm (Free breakfast 8:30am)

Where: CF Worship Center


A doctor can make two mistakes when you are sick: only treating the symptoms of your condition, rather than the underlying causes, or misdiagnosing you. In both cases, you won’t get better. But you might even get worse. The same is true in our efforts to help the poor. If we only treat the symptoms of poverty or if we misdiagnose its root causes, we can actually hurt the poor in our well-intentioned efforts to help them.

Good Intentions are not enough! It is possible to hurt poor people, and ourselves, in the process of trying to help them.

What is Poverty?

“Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings.” – Bryant Myers, Walking with the Poor

Who are the Poor?

Poverty isn’t just a lack of material things – it’s rooted in broken relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation. We were created to glorify God, reflect His image, love one another, and steward the rest of creation. But the fall and sin marred what God originally created. As a result, none of us are experiencing the fullness of what God intended for us.

Because the fall broke all of us, the first step in walking alongside our low-income brothers and sisters is embracing our own need for Christ’s healing work in our lives.

Not All Poverty Is Created Equal

While the symptoms of material poverty – a lack of food, clothing, or shelter – look very similar, different types of poverty actually require very different forms of poverty alleviation.

• Relief: In a situation requiring relief, the materially poor are truly unable to help themselves and need temporary, immediate aid. Relief is only appropriate after a natural or manmade crisis plunges people into a downward spiral, such as after a natural disaster, medical emergency, or personal trauma.
• Rehabilitation: In rehabilitation, people participate in returning their lives to pre-crisis conditions, contributing to improving their own situation.
• Development: In development, people participate in improving their lives beyond what they have seen before, experiencing reconciliation in their four foundational relationships. The materially poor recognize the gifts and abilities God has given them, using those gifts to His glory and to support themselves through work.

Unfortunately, many Christians don’t recognize these distinctions, providing relief in situations that actually require rehabilitation or development. By giving handouts to low-income people who are capable of helping themselves, churches and ministries contribute to the materially poor’s sense of shame and undermine their capacity to work.

The goal is to see people restored to being what God created them to be: people who understand that they are created in the image of God with the gifts, abilities, and capacity to make decisions and to effect change in the world around them; and people who steward their lives, communities, resources, and relationships in order to bring glory to God. These things tend to happen in highly relational, process-focused ministries more than in impersonal, product-focused ministries.

Book Review

“I have never read a better book on practically serving the poor….” David Platt, pastor and author of Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream

About the Author

Steve Corbett is the community development specialist for the Chalmers Center at Covenant College and an assistant professor in the department of economics and community development at Covenant College.

Brian Fikkert is a professor of economics at Covenant College and the founder and president of the Chalmers Center at Covenant College.

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Christ Fellowship

2801 Orchid Drive

McKinney, TX 75070

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