Here’s a thought-provoking article by Steve Saint. Even if you don’t agree with all that he has to say here, his perspective and experience are well-worth considering.

Here’s the conclusion:

Giving handouts creates more problems than it solves. It is like casting out demons with long leases. Break the lease or they will come back and bring more roommates (Lk 11:24-26). Where the Church is being established among people that perceive themselves as powerless, there is a great need for deep discipleship, wrestling with the roots of poverty at the community level rather than concentrating on the individual.

Financial help that does not develop sustainable, local, financial self-sufficiency is much more likely to create poverty than it is to meet real needs. Until we realize that we can’t overcome poverty with handouts, we will never be much help in completing Christ’s Great Commission.

As followers of Christ we must fight poverty through discipleship rather than covering it with spiritual frosting. Either we do God’s will God’s way or we aren’t doing His will at all. Discipleship means teaching others what we have learned so they can teach others to care for their community’s physical, economic, emotional and spiritual needs on a sustainable basis! (2 Tim 2:2, Mt 28:19-20)

This is one where you’ll want to read the whole thing to understand where he’s coming from and what he’s advocating.

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17 thoughts on “Poverty and Missions”

  1. John says:

    A couple of thoughts on this:

    1) The concern that I see frequently among the New Reformed types is that we will give too much, and it will actually make people worse off. I don’t think this is a biblical concern. That doesn’t make it wrong, but I have yet to see a clear example of where the Bible says something like what this article states. I would welcome a counterexample.

    2) Perhaps it is a handout. But the reality is that there is some economic evidence that Basic Income Grants (BIGs) significantly reduce poverty. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income_guarantee) So if you’re not arguing biblically, you need to argue on practical grounds, and you need to contend with BIG-related research.

    1. R says:

      I agree with John.

  2. markus says:

    this is a straw-dog argument, as pretty much no charity gives things away. Seems like a convenient excuse to not care for the poor as we’re commanded.

  3. Justin Taylor says:

    A few quick thoughts:

    (1) Just a gentle encouragement for folks to read the whole piece before voicing disagreement. You might still disagree, but it’s better to read more than just this excerpt.

    (2) It’s helpful to remember that this is written out of Steve’s own experience on the field.

    (3) Let’s be slow to judge motives on these issues. Not every argument of this sort is driven by selfish greed that could care less about the poor!

    1. Michael says:

      I predict this post will not be popular here due to modern Christianity’s distorted view of missions. Also, I predict many will misunderstand the argument Saint is making, thinking that he is making a case for not giving at all.

      1. waynebradley says:

        Michael, I would like to hear your opinion on modern Christianity’s distorted view of missions. Could you either explain more or post a link to where you have discussed this on your blog? And, yes, you are absolutely correct in your second prediction.

        1. Michael says:

          To get an idea of what the most American Christians think about missions, see Kevin DeYoung’s 5 part series on social justice.

  4. Doug Perry says:

    JT, you’re right. We’ve got to read the whole article, because this quote seems very wrong without the ocntext. The author is not promoting individual independence, but rather the self-sufficiency of the church community. Also, the quote seems to be focusing on the purpose of discipleship being to lift folks out of poverty. But when I read the article, the author means the opposite.
    Taken on its own, the quote seems quite different from the intent of the article itself. Gotta get the context to understand what the quote means.

  5. Les Prouty says:

    Justin and others,

    I did go and read the piece. I think Saint hits it just right. I am the director of the Haiti Orphan Project. We partner with evangelical churches in Haiti to help them help the neediest of the needy…orphans. And there are many orphans in Haiti.

    I’ve been to Haiti eight times in the last little over a year. I’ve seen what Saint is talking about. I’ve seen some orphanages elevate the standard of living for the children so far above the community standards that parents have literally abandoned their children so they can get some of that “better life” inside the orphanage. They actually think they are helping their little ones.

    I think there is a difference in meeting needs in places like Haiti where there has been some sort of catastrophe. We might call this “relief” in that we are putting food in mouths as people are starving. Then there is longer assistance we might call “development” That is what we are trying to do.

    Our goals are to see the local Christians (who have very little resources) taking care of the truly orphaned and abandoned children themselves. This means helping them (not handing out to them) develop small businesses as means of producing some income for the orphanages. It includes sewing centers and bakeries and ag projects. This provides jobs for people who desperately need jobs. It means growing their own food to feed the orphans and some to sell to the community which provides more income for the orphan costs.

    Everywhere you go in Haiti you see people wearing sports shirts and jerseys and other American clothing. These have been donated with the best of intentions–to provide clothes for people who can’t afford clothes. But dumping all this stuff into Haiti has had untended consequences. Seamstresses have had to fold up shop. They simply cannot sell clothing they make when free clothes abound.

    John, as for biblical support I might suggest Deut. 24:19, which we see worked out by Boaz in Ruth, wasn’t just a handout. The person still had to work to gather for themselves. Of course 2 Thess. 3:10 references no work-no eat. Then Eph. 4:28.

    It just seems that the best way to help the poor is to help them help themselves and I believe that notion is supported biblically.

    As I wrote in my latest blog post, “It is truly amazing how so many of us go to Haiti expecting to “give” those orphans something they need and yet come back having unexpectedly found something WE actually need.

    People ask me why we take groups to Haiti 5-7 times a year. I think the answer simple. We need them more than they need us.”

    Justin thanks for posting this.

    1. waynebradley says:

      I agree completely. I have seen the same thing. Your distinction between relief and development is an important one of which unfortunately many evangelicals in the US are not aware.

  6. Les Prouty says:

    Wayne,

    I didn’t come up with it. I got the distinction wording from “The Poor Will Be Glad” by Greer and Smith. I really liked their book (the forward being by Rob Bell notwithstanding).

  7. Bret says:

    “When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert similarly makes useful distinctions between types of need, using the terms relief, rehabilitation, and development. I’ve found those categories useful in thinking about different practical approaches Christians can take when meeting people’s material needs.

  8. Andrew Guastaferro says:

    I absolutely encourage those who read the excerpt to read the entire article before making any assumptions (as I admittedly did based upon the excerpt alone). I think there’s a real distinction in terms that needs to be made, along the lines of Corbett and Fikkert. Saint seems to be referring to community development where the term “poverty” may be defined and approached according to the Western paradigm, which carries alongside it negative effects. Instead, Saint does not promote a “do nothing” approach but rather one that is incarnational; one that requires a great deal of prayer , sacrifice and understanding; and one that is Gospel intentional.

    I also didn’t get the sense that he was referring to situations where there is dire need, such as the Somalis who have lost their children to hunger arriving across the border themselves famished and on the brink of death. This was not the poverty in community that Saint was referring to in the article.

    An excellent article worthy of reading, to say the least. Thanks for posting!

  9. Les Prouty says:

    Imager that Corbett and Fikkert’s book is a very good one to read about this subject.

  10. Les Prouty says:

    Don’t know where “imager” came from. Well,I do. Word recognition on iPad. I meant “I agree.”

  11. Scott says:

    For a great organization that helps the poor with the gospel, but also economically by enabling them to help themselves, and teaching tithing even when they are poor, check out the website for FARMS International. http://www.farmsinternational.com.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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