Wasted Charity - We May Be More Guilty Than We Think

Kara Powell | Nov 16, 2011

Ever since our Deep Justice work, I have been so much more attuned to the ways that I (and others around me) are so well-intentioned, and yet we make so many assumptions, snap judgments, and false steps in ministry to and with those who are in poverty. That’s why I was especially interested in this Christianity Today review of Bob Lupton’s new book, Wasted Charity.

Confession: I haven’t read the book yet. But I still love the insights shared just in this book review. Here are some particular excerpts from the book/the review.

Our self-centeredness contributes to the problem. We evaluate our giving, Lupton argues, “by the rewards we receive through service, rather than the benefits received by the served.”

Lupton does offer some ideas for improvement. He proposes a new “Oath for Compassionate Service” for the charity industry to adopt, much as the medical community has adopted the Hippocratic Oath. Lupton’s Oath offers six key guidelines: (1) Never do for the poor what they can do for themselves; (2) Limit one-way giving to emergencies; (3) Empower the poor through employment, lending, and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements; (4) Subordinate self-interest to the needs of those being served; (5) Listen closely to those you seek to help; (6) Above all, do no harm.

The Oath embodies the philosophy of “asset-based community development” (ABCD). This is a glass-half-full strategy that focuses on a community’s strengths more than its needs. It takes seriously the gifts and talents of the poor, and seeks to do ministry in the community with them rather than for them, thus protecting people’s dignity.

For example, Lupton profiles a church that replaced its traditional food pantry with a food co-op. Local residents pay $3 in co-op dues for $30 worth of groceries, andthey buy the food, box it, and distribute it. Another congregation turned its free clothing closet into a revenue-generating thrift store that teaches job skills. Still another transformed its soup kitchen into an entrepreneurial venture for female recipients who had a vision for starting a catering business.

I was talking to some leaders in our Urban Youth Ministry Certificate program this past weekend who are living out the ABCD they learn in our training in their own ministries. They are emphasizing partnerships and reciprocal relationships in new ways, and seeing new fruit.

In what ways is the giving/serving that your family and/or your ministry doing helpful? In what ways might it be helpful? It’s at least time to start asking those questions and prayerfully making adjustments based on the answers that emerge.

Note: If you’re interested in learning more about ABCD and the other emphases of our Urban Youth Ministry Certificate, or to meet the November 30 deadline for our next Urban Youth Ministry cohort, visit our website.

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.


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