When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself
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When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself

4.22 of 5 stars 4.22  ·  rating details  ·  2,455 ratings  ·  378 reviews
Churches and individual Christians typically have faulty assumptions about the causes of poverty, resulting in the use of strategies that do considerable harm to poor people and themselves. Don't let this happen to you, your ministry or ministries you help fund! A must read for anyone who works with the poor or in missions, When Helping Hurts provides foundational concepts...more
ebook, 288 pages
Published April 20th 2012 by Moody Publishers (first published June 24th 2009)
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John Martindale
Aug 19, 2012 John Martindale rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to John by: Pastor Bynum
A very good book, though it is messing up my world. Their chapter on why short term mission trips are typically more harmful then good, was unsettling (Especially since my job is to host short term mission teams), I disagree with them on some points (for example, they claimed short term trips don't result in more full time missionaries, but I am a full time missionary because of going on short term mission trips and practically ever missionary I know has the same story). but yeah, I still see ho...more
Barnabas Piper
The first half of this book should get 6 or 7 out of five stars. The principles, concepts, and framework it presents are ministry and mindset altering. For me, as someone who gravitates toward that kind of instruction and thinking, it was priceless. The second half of the book looked deeper at particular areas of ministry such as short term missions or micro finance, so it was aimed a bit more at practitioners. Over all, this is one of the few books that I think every single missionary, pastor,...more
Overall, really good content and a good reminder of some major blind spots in the church in the developed world, along with some good guidance on better ways to move forward.

It felt a little scattered in places because often, in the midst of talking about theories of poverty alleviation, they suddenly throw in, 'but this isn't enough - don't forget about the gospel.' And while this is true, the way it was included in the book felt more like a distraction in some places than a helpful note.

So here's the thing. This book contains radically important and often overlooked information. Sometimes the band-aids we put on what we view as poverty ends up causing much more harm than good in the long run, in ways we've refused to see. I get that. It points out that we sometimes see ourselves as some kind of savior, perfect and needing to share that perfection which is just all wrong. I get that too. I also feel more and more that we should help smarter-put our time and effort into the ways...more
I could not be bothered to finish this. I agreed with many of the cited information and claims that the authors made, but not with any of the conclusions that they drew from this information. I'm not crazy about short-term missions and I deplore many of the things that the author condemns, such as the "poverty as deficit" model, paternalism towards the poor, and blaming the poor for their situation. I appreciated Chapter 8, but feel that it fell short.
However, the author often backtracks or rew...more
Jonathan McIntosh
Outstanding book. A must read for any Christian or local church that is serious about serving the poor. This book totally challenged my existing ideas of poverty, poverty alleviation, and practical steps local churches need to take to serve the poor both at home and abroad.
Douglas Wilson
Very good book, with the exception of chapter 8. That one was a brick, but the rest of the book is much needed.
This is an absolute must-read for those who are engaging in the current trend toward missional poverty alleviation efforts. Corbett begins with a Biblically based understanding on broken relationships derived from the fall and their radiating effects to all the various relationships that make up our social structures. He marries this Biblical understanding to scholarly research on social work, highlighting especially potential misconceptions or matters of ignorance in the common practices of pov...more
Marcus Lynn
Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert have done a great service for the Church in their book When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Yourself.

One of the major premises of the book is that “until we can embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good.” Their central point is, ” One of the biggest problems in many poverty-alleviation efforts is that their design and implementation exacerbates the poverty of being of...more
Jill Boyd
This is the best book I've ever read on this subject. My basic take away is that true, effective, sincere help is possible when given in humility and the attitude that we're all broken and in need. The reason people are in need is because their basic relationships are weak...their relationships to family, friends, God and creation. Completely fixing these things are impossible but we can help in a way that takes time, time, time and energy, energy, energy and be effective.

So hey, maybe giving a...more
This book was recently recommended to me by the missions pastor at my church and I am very grateful to him for this recommendation. This is a book that deals with the topic of poverty alleviation from a North American Christian perspective and seeks to answer the question: why do certain missionary projects in our communities and around the world tend to do no good or even harm to those we are ministering too. The authors, Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert, rightly point out that the foundationa...more
Harold Cameron
“How TO Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting The Poor And Yourself”

“With a new foreword by David Platt, two new chapters and a final word on how to help without hurting, this expanded edition of When Helping Hurts creates a new paradigm for partnership by asking Christians to declare and demonstrate among people who are poor that Jesus Christ is making all things new. While this book exposes past and current development efforts that churches have engaged in which unintentionally undermine the peopl...more
I'd recently read The Hole in our Gospel, and thought it a compelling call to action. This book, recommended to me by a friend, is a plan of action. Well, not a plan perhaps, but a set of guidelines and considerations on how to help effectively. Basically, it about how not to make things worse by throwing money around and attempting to rescue those who do not need *you* to rescue them. It focuses on the need of both rich and poor for the true Savior to rescue them, and how to effectively ministe...more
I'm about a year behind everyone else reading this. But that's ok, I've read plenty else that, I think, provides a good context for understanding where this book is coming from, and where it could be going. This book points out some relevant questions, but answers them from a very arrogant point of view (while affirming non-arrogance) and does little to provide motivation other than selfish reasoning. Don't help the poor the wrong way or you'll hurt yourself and waste your time.

There seems to b...more
Jason Custer
If you have any intention of ever being involved in missions (short or long term), humanitarian aid, or working with those in poverty, I'd highly recommend you read this book. The thesis is that, in our western and materialistic understanding of poverty, when we try to help those in poverty we actually do more harm than good (both to those we are trying to help, and to ourselves). We tend to see the problem of poverty as a material/financial solution that we need to fix by giving the right amoun...more
I greatly enjoyed this book and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in "helps" ministries.

The book is probably more suited for people who are highly involved in running or participating in "helps" ministries, but even if you aren't running a ministry it is great to think through the issues raised in this book; especially the issues that the authors bring up about paternalism, money/power issues, god-complexes, and other pitfalls pertaining to the social issues of the "goers" and "he...more
Wow! This is a book that will go beyond stepping on toes.....it stomps on them, slaps your face and pierces your heart! Steve Corbett makes total sense and addresses the alleviation of poverty in a way totally opposite of what I generally hear in churches or in literature geared toward sparking folks to "get involved in missions." Those in poverty focus on the shame and humiliation that comes with an inability to provide for yourself or your family. It seems that the focus of many Americans with...more
This book was a helpful reminder of things that many authors have previously said ("give a man a fish...teach a man to fish..."); but it didn't break any new ground.

But there was a general tone, especially in the Forward and the Preface, towards Marxism.

In the Forward, Dr. John Perkins calls for the need for "social justice." That has become code word not for justice and mercy for the poor, but the call for the government to redistribute wealth.

In the Preface, the authors favorably discuss the...more
Karen B
I read the first edition of this book quickly about 2 years ago. It's good and important, but it felt like it wasn't addressed to me. I work overseas in international relief and development. This felt like it was more oriented towards a US-based audience, church leaders and missions pastors who need ideas for a better way to give.

So I perhaps didn't read it as deeply as I should have because it wasn't "scratching my itch" or addressing issues and questions I was facing at the time. However, rece...more
[I think this review is connected to the ebook but I read it in actual physical book form.]

This book is essential for any Christian called to alleviating material poverty in both the USA and the rest of the world - that means every believer should read it.

The book is about half theological foundational discussion and half practical framework/advice.

I had the privilege of attending a "Helping Without Hurting" workshop a couple weeks ago, given by Brian Fikkert (one of the authors). If one comes...more
Mik Ferguson
I read this book earlier this year.

It is excellent and very challenging. I recommend this to anyone with the poor.

The principles are easier to put into place if there is an existing church in the area but are still very helpful for areas where there is not.

The chapters on understanding that poverty is more than material need, how to work with people (not doing it for them) and the understanding that social action is rooted in the good news of Jesus and God's desire that we all work if possible...more
A helpful, readable introduction to thinking carefully about how to approach poverty alleviation. The authors contend that many of the standard ways of "doing ministry" are actually harmful to the poor (increasing their shame and dependency) and to ourselves (building god complexes). Poverty alleviation should work with the goal to restore people in their relationships with themselves, others, God and creation so that they are able to glorify God by working and supporting themselves and their fa...more
When you, or your church, or your government tries to help the poor, no one thinks that his good intentions could actually result in harm -- but that's exactly what the authors of 'When Helping Hurts' contend happens much of the time. While this book focuses mainly on the work of local churches domestically and abroad, its lessons are applicable to persons and their governments as well.

The authors make a useful distinction between relief, rehabilitation and development, noting that most ministr...more
John Brackbill
This was a very helpful listen. Once I was into it I wondered if it would have been better to read it though for careful evaluation and interaction rather than listening. With that disclaimer here are my thoughts.

Reasons to read the book:
-It challenges you to think about caring for the poor.
-It challenges the idea that caring for the poor is as simple as giving money to the poor.
-It provides very helpful principles for how to help people without hindering their future development. In fact, I...more
"When Helping Hurts" explores how current methods of helping the poor might do more harm than good to everyone involved. They also explore methods that can be more helpful long-term.

The authors believe the Bible's explanation of what's wrong with this world. They recognize and explain how a person's worldview can be a part of what is keeping them in poverty, so it's essential to teach a correct worldview based on the Bible for lasting change. (For example, if you worship rats and therefore won't...more
"If Christ is Lord of all, how do we do farming, business, government, family, art, etc..., to the glory of God?"

The evangelical church's retreat from poverty alleviation was due to its shift in theology and NOT due to the government's intervention. Some would like to lay the blame at the feet of government but the truth is that religion lost its bearings and in the process lost its ability to help in a beneficial way. As one man in Rwanda said, "You missionaries brought us Christ but never taug...more
Have you ever taken a look at the world and wondered why we still have massive amounts of poverty despite the massive relief efforts underway? Maybe we with our attitudes are doing more harm than good. This book takes a look at Christian relief efforts and helps to create a practical and Biblical model for thinking and engaging in mission from the local church that will do good instead of harm. I recomend it as a must read for anyone in the church considering work among the poor.
Adam Shields
Short Review: I have heard a lot of people talk about this book since it came out in 2009. The basic point is that we need to evaluate our methods of assisting the poor and make sure that they are helping the poor and not just making us feel better. So there is an emphasis in long term, relationally based assistance and less on short term emergency assistance. On the whole I think the book is right. My main complaint is that the book is overly negative in presentation about what is currently hap...more
Mark Loughridge
An excellent book that every pastor, missionary and anyone seeking to help the those in need should read. The authors cogently argue that in many ways we do more harm than good -- outlining those ways in detail. They reorient the reader as to the nature of poverty -- tied more to broken relationships with God, others, self and the world, rather than simply material poverty. This means that we are all poor in different ways, yet many of us have an unwitting 'god complex' where we come across as i...more
Stormie Walston
If you have ever donated money to the poor, gone on a short-term mission trip, or volunteered to help in other quick-fix ways, you may have done more harm than good to the very ones you were trying to help, and to yourself. The author explains that a vast majority of the poor should not be receiving handouts but instead be receiving character training, job education, small loan option (borrowed from a co-op of others in their community), etc. This book is a shocking eye-opener and very important...more
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Community Development Specialist for the Chalmers Center for Economic Development and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics and Community Development at Covenant College.
More about Steve Corbett...
Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions: Leader's Guide Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions: Participant's Guide

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“Until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do more harm than good. I sometimes unintentionally reduce poor people to objects that I use to fulfill my own need to accomplish something. I am not okay, and you are not okay. But Jesus can fix us both.” 5 likes
“Poverty alleviation occurs when the power of Christ's resurrection reconciles our key relationships through the transformation of both individual lives and local, national, and international systems.” 4 likes
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