The When Helping Hurts Small Group Experience [NOOK Book]


Good intentions are not enough.

When Helping Hurts offers a different framework for thinking about poverty and its alleviation. Rather than simply defining it as a lack of material things, the book addresses the roots of the issue: broken relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation. Online videos included.

Join together as a class or small group to explore how to help the poor without ...

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The When Helping Hurts Small Group Experience

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Good intentions are not enough.

When Helping Hurts offers a different framework for thinking about poverty and its alleviation. Rather than simply defining it as a lack of material things, the book addresses the roots of the issue: broken relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation. Online videos included.

Join together as a class or small group to explore how to help the poor without hurting them.

The Small Group Experience, an ideal training resource for small groups, Sunday school classes, and parachurch and nonprofit ministries, utilizes free online video lessons to unpack the basic principles of poverty alleviation in an accessible way. Each of the six lessons includes discussion questions, application exercises, and materials for further learning. Join the many ministries and churches that are already implementing these ideas, transforming their culture of poverty alleviation, and moving toward helping the poor without hurting them.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802490247
  • Publisher: Moody Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/24/2014
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 96
  • Sales rank: 443,750
  • File size: 5 MB

Meet 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 the Founder and Executive Director of the Chalmers Center at Covenant College, as well as a Professor of Economics and Community Development at Covenant College.

BRIAN FIKKERT is an Associate Professor of Economics at Covenant College and the Founder and Executive Director of the Chalmers Center for Economic Development at Covenant College. Brian received a Ph.D. in Economics with highest honors from Yale University, and a B.A. in Mathematics from Dordt College.
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Read an Excerpt

When Helping Hurts

The Small Group Experience

By Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert, Pam Pugh

Moody Publishers

Copyright © 2014 Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8024-9024-7




Discuss these questions before beginning this week's unit.

• What is poverty? List the first five to ten words or phrases that come to your mind when you think of poverty.

• List the first five areas (e.g., of your city, community, the world) that come to mind when you think of poverty.

What's the Problem?

The average North American enjoys a standard of living that has been unimaginable for most of human history. Meanwhile, 40 percent of the earth's inhabitants eke out an existence on less than two dollars per day. Indeed, the economic and social disparity between the haves and the have-nots is on the rise both within North America and between North America and much of the Majority World (Africa, Asia, and Latin America).

If you are a North American Christian, the reality of our society's vast wealth presents you with an enormous responsibility, for throughout the Scriptures God's people are commanded to show compassion to the poor. In fact, doing so is simply part of our job description as followers of Jesus Christ (Matthew 25:31–46). While the biblical call to care for the poor transcends time and place, passages such as 1 John 3:17 should weigh particularly heavily on the minds and hearts of North American Christians: "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?"


Close your books and use the accompanying QR code to watch this week's video.


1. Did the words the materially poor used to describe poverty in the video differ from the words you listed in the preliminary questions? If so, what words and differences did you find most surprising?

2. The brokenness of the four relationships illustrated below can lead to behaviors and circumstances that contribute to poverty.

Consider the story of a friend or family member who is poor. Where do you see evidence of each of the four broken relationships in his or her life? Can you see ways that this brokenness has led to his or her poverty?

• Broken Relationship with God:

• Broken Relationship with Self:

• Broken Relationship with Others:

• Broken Relationship with the Rest of Creation:

3. How might thinking about this person's poverty in terms of these broken relationships change the way you interact with him or her? Are there new ways you could show the love and healing work of Christ to this person or family in each of the broken relationships?

CLOSE (or proceed to Go Deeper if time permits)

Poverty is the result of broken relationships. But as we will explore in the rest of this series, broken relationships can be restored by the work of Christ. He came to make all things new, breaking the hold of sin and death "far as the curse is found." He came to show us that we can have a relationship with our Father, that we have dignity as creatures made in God's image, that we are to love one another in nourishing community, and that we have the privilege of stewarding the rest of creation. The fall has marred what God intended for us at creation, but the work of Christ offers hope that what is broken, both inside of us and around us, will be repaired. His victory over sin and death is certain, and His healing power is our comfort and peace. Let's walk together as we explore what God's reconciling work in this world looks like, and how we can effectively partner with Him in ministering to people who are poor.


"Human beings are fundamentally wired to experience these four relationships. It's not all arbitrary, it's not all up for grabs. When we experience these relationships in the way that God intended them, we experience humanness in the way God intended."

Spend time this week praying that God would open your eyes to the beauty and potential around you, including in the lives of people who are poor. Pray that He would help you to break free of a material understanding of poverty, leading you to love and serve these people in ways that point them back to His original design for their lives.


Use one or more of the following modules to further explore principles of poverty alleviation.


(Reference When Helping Hurts, 52–54.)

"At that moment, it doesn't matter how much the doctor loves you. It doesn't matter how compassionate the doctor is, it doesn't matter how many good intentions the doctor has.... If the doctor misdiagnoses what's wrong with you, you won't get better, and you might get worse."

Look over the frequently cited causes of and responses to poverty below:


1. In the space within the table, write down examples of how you or your church have built ministries to address the various causes of poverty. (For example, under "A Lack of Knowledge," you might write, "Students were dropping out of high school ... so we started after-school tutoring programs.")

2. Does your work seem focused on addressing one particular cause?

3. How might each of the causes of poverty listed in the table actually flow from brokenness in the four relationships? How might this deeper diagnosis impact the ways you interact with people around you who are poor?


(Reference When Helping Hurts, chapter 2.)

When the four relationships are functioning properly, humans experience the fullness of life that God intended—we are being what God created us to be.

But as we discussed in the video, the fall broke these relationships.

From this framework, poverty isn't about a lack of material things. Instead, it is about much deeper issues:


"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

With this definition of poverty and the four broken relationships in mind, read the following story about Mary:

Mary lives in a slum in western Kenya. As a female in a male-dominated society, Mary has been subjected to polygamy, to regular physical and verbal abuse from her husband, and to fewer years of schooling than males. As a result, Mary lacks the confidence to look for a job.

Desperate, Mary decides to be self-employed, but needs a loan to get her business started. Unfortunately, the local loan shark exploits Mary, demanding an interest rate of 300 percent on her loan of twenty-five dollars. Having no other options, Mary borrows from the loan shark and, along with hundreds of others just like her, starts a business of selling homemade charcoal in the local market. The market is glutted with charcoal sellers, which keeps the prices very low. But it never even occurs to Mary to sell something else, because charcoal is the only resource she knows how to access. Frustrated by her entire situation, Mary goes to the traditional healer (shaman) for help. The healer tells Mary that her difficult life is a result of angry ancestral spirits that need to be appeased through buying and sacrificing a bull.

1. Where do you see each of the four broken relationships in Mary's story, and how does each specifically contribute to her material poverty?

• Broken Relationship with God:

• Broken Relationship with Self:

• Broken Relationship with Others:

• Broken Relationship with the Rest of Creation:


(Use in conjunction with When Helping Hurts, chapter 3.)

If we are to move forward in helping without hurting, we have to fully embrace a relational view of poverty, setting aside our tendency to view poverty as primarily a material condition that can be solved primarily with material things.

We are deeply conditioned by our society's modern worldview to view everything around us in material terms. Thus, the way that we act toward the materially poor often paints a faulty picture of the nature of God, self, others, and the rest of creation.

The modern worldview, sometimes called "Western secularism," holds that the spiritual realm does not even exist. The universe is fundamentally a machine with origins and operations rooted in natural processes that humans can master through their own reason.

The material definition of poverty emanates from the modern worldview's belief that all problems—including poverty—are fundamentally material in nature and can be solved by using human reason (science and technology) to manipulate the material world in order to solve those problems or achieve these goals.

The worldview of biblical theism describes a God who is distinct from His creation but connected to it, a reality in which the spiritual and material realms touch each other. Indeed, Colossians 1 describes God, in the person of Jesus Christ, as the Creator, Sustainer, and Reconciler of all things, including the material world. Thus, our approach to poverty alleviation should reflect this worldview, addressing the materially poor's physical and spiritual needs, not just one or the other.

1. When you get sick, what do you do?

2. Read 2 Chronicles 16:7–9 and Psalm 20:6–8. What was Asa's sin?

3. Because of the ways we have unintentionally accepted the modern worldview, we tend to rely on science and our own reason to solve our problems. We forget to call on the one who created and upholds the universe. Are you like Asa? How does your worldview need to be transformed to reflect a biblical understanding of God and creation?




Discuss these questions as you read this week's introduction.

• If Alisa showed up at your church door next Sunday asking for help, what would you do?

• How would you define success in your efforts to help Alisa? What would her new "story" look like?

Are We There Yet?

During the 1990s, Alisa Collins and her family lived in one of America's most dangerous public housing projects in inner-city Chicago. Alisa got pregnant at the age of sixteen, dropped out of high school, and started collecting welfare checks. She has five children from three different fathers, none of whom help with childrearing. With few skills, no husband, and limited social networks, Alisa struggled to raise her family in an environment characterized by widespread substance abuse, failing schools, high rates of unemployment, rampant violence, teenage pregnancy, and an absence of role models.

From time to time, Alisa tried to get a job, but a number of obstacles prevented her from finding and keeping regular work. First, there were simply not a lot of decent-paying jobs for high school dropouts living in ghettos. Second, the welfare system penalized Alisa for earning money, taking away benefits for every dollar she earned and for every asset she acquired. Third, Alisa had child-care issues that made it difficult to keep a job. Finally, Alisa felt inferior and inadequate. When she tried to get vocational training or a job and faced some obstacle, she quickly lost confidence and rapidly retreated back to where she was comfortable—public housing and welfare checks. Alisa felt trapped, and she and her family often talked about how they couldn't get out of the ghetto.


Close your books and use the accompanying QR code to watch this week's video.


1. You may not be materially poor, but what evidence do you see in your own life of the four broken foundational relationships? In what areas do you need to repent and pray for God's healing?

• Broken Relationship with God:

• Broken Relationship with Self:

• Broken Relationship with Others:

• Broken Relationship with the Rest of Creation:

2. Read through the definition of poverty alleviation below:


A process in which people, both the materially poor and non-poor, move closer to living in right relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of creation.

• Think back to a situation in which you tried to minister to people who were materially poor. Did your approach reconcile the four broken relationships in each of you? In what ways?

• Were there any ways that your approach actually contributed to greater "poverty" in the four relationships in each of you? If so, what could you do differently in the future?

3. Look back at Alisa's story at the beginning of this unit. Given what we have talked about so far, including the quote below, what do you think "success" would look like in her story?

"If you go back to what is poverty, poverty alleviation isn't just about fixing their circumstances. It is about helping them discover that they are an image bearer and that they have tremendous value as a human being, that they are called to be a steward of their resources and opportunities."

• In what specific ways would her life be different?

• What personal choices would Alisa need to make, with God's help, to move out of poverty?

• What changes in systemic factors or circumstances—challenges Alisa has no control over—would aid Alisa in the process of moving out of poverty?

• With this new "story" in mind, how could you or your church help people like Alisa when they walk into your church?

CLOSE (or proceed to Go Deeper if time permits)

After decades of living on welfare checks, Alisa Collins started finishing her high school degree, working full-time as a kindergarten teacher, and getting up at 4:00 a.m. to wash her family's clothes before she was due at work. What happened?

It all began when Miss Miller, the principal of the local school, hired Alisa to work part-time as a teacher's aide. Miss Miller soon observed that Alisa had natural teaching gifts and took the time to encourage Alisa to pursue a teaching career, guiding her to the education and certification she would need. With Miss Miller's relational and nurturing approach, Alisa began to gain confidence. And while her view of herself was changing, two important changes also occurred in Alisa's economic environment. First, Congress passed welfare-reform legislation, making welfare more "pro-work" and placing limits on the length of time people could stay on it. Alisa knew her days on welfare were coming to an end and that she simply had to find a full-time job. Second, Miss Miller offered Alisa a job as a full-time teacher.

Churches are uniquely positioned to provide the relational ministry on an individual level that people like Alisa need. Of course, churches can also offer Alisa something that Miss Miller could not: a clear articulation of the gospel so that Alisa can experience the profound and lasting change of material poverty alleviation—the ability to fulfill her calling of glorifying God through her work and life.


"Jesus Christ transforms both of us ... Poverty alleviation is about walking side by side, hand in hand, and saying 'I'm broken, you're broken' but Jesus Christ can show up and bring healing to both of us."

Spend time this week praying that God would reveal your need for His miraculous reconciling work in your own heart, and that He would show you ways you can be a channel of that work to others in your community.


Use one or more of the following modules to further explore principles of poverty alleviation.


(Reference When Helping Hurts, chapter 3.)

"It is very hard to beg. You know, if I come to you to ask for things, I've got to come down." —Sarah Kasule

While we are all poor in the sense that we are all experiencing less than the fullness that God intended for us at creation, the materially poor face a daily struggle to survive that creates feelings of helplessness, anxiety, suffocation, shame, and desperation that are simply unparalleled in most of our lives. Thus, the definition of material poverty alleviation has its own unique dynamics:


Working to reconcile the four foundational relationships so that people can fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of that work.

Note these two things about the definition of material poverty alleviation:

• Material poverty alleviation involves more than ensuring that people have sufficient material things. Rather, it involves the much harder task of empowering people to earn sufficient material things through their own labor, for in doing so people are moved closer to being what God created them to be.

• Work is an act of worship. When people fulfill their callings by glorifying God in their work, praise Him for their gifts and abilities, and see both their effort and its products as an offering to Him, then work is an act of worship to God.

1. Think about your past and present work: Do you believe and act like the purpose of work is to glorify God?

2. What gifts has God given you? List gifts that are both specific (skills and talents) and more general (personality strengths, things you have learned from past experience, etc.).

3. In what ways has your work, present or past, utilized these gifts?

4. Think about your materially poor friends or family members. What gifts do you see in them that they could use to God's glory and to support themselves through work?


Excerpted from When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert, Pam Pugh. Copyright © 2014 Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Unit 1: Called To More

Unit 2: God at Work

Unit 3: Good Intentions are Not Enough

Unit 4: Joining God's Work

Unit 5: Fostering Change

Unit 6: Getting Started

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