Thursday, February 9, 2012

Tom Cramer's When Helping Hurts handout

When Helping Hurts
Mission Summit 2, Presbytery of Los Ranchos
February 4, 2012

A discussion group based on When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor... and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. 

What do you think of the when you hear the phrase "When Helping Hurts"? Any particular stories come to mind? Any images or thoughts?

What does "being made in the image of God" say about the mission enterprise? How does it shape one's mission?

What is your understanding of poverty?  What does "poverty of being" mean?

What is the difference between "asset-based" mission and "need-based" mission?

How can the materially wealthy avoid acting in a way that communicates that they are superior and the materially poor are inferior?

What do churches to to confirm people's feelings of shame and inferiority?

What is the difference between "doing for" and "doing with"?

What is the difference between these three types of mission service?

What are the root causes of poverty you are trying to alleviate?

What can we learn from the church around the world regarding faith and ministry?

The Oath for Compassionate Service From Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton
  • Never do for the poor what they can do for themselves
  • Limit one-way giving to emergencies
  • Empower the poor through employment, lending, and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements
  • Subordinate self-interest to the needs of those being served
  • Listen closely to those you seek to help
  • Above all, do no harm.
(My Note: Christianity Today has a review of Lupton's book Toxic Charity here,

Principles of Partnership, from "Presbyterians Do Mission in Partnership" 2003 General Assembly Policy Statements, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)

In doing mission in partnership, we seek to be guided by certain principles:
  1. Shared Grace and Thanksgiving. Partnership calls all partners to confess individual and collective failings, to seek forgiveness for complicity with powers of injustice, to repent from histories of shared exploitation, to move toward common celebration of Christ's sacrifice of reconciliation, and together to give thanks and praise to God for all gifts of grace and renewal.
  2. Mutuality and Interdependence. Partnership calls for interdependence in which mutual aid comes to all, where mutual accountability resides, and no partner dominates another because of affluence or "expertise."  
  3. Recognition and Respect. Partnership calls all partners to respect other partners in Christ, and to recognize one another's equal standing before God.
  4. Open Dialogue and Transparency. Partnership calls for open dialogue where a common discernment of God's call to mission is sought, where Scripture is the base for prophetic challenge, where local initiative is respected, where differences are meditated in a Christ-like manner, and where all partners are transparent with regard to their activities and support.  
  5. Sharing of Resources. Partnership calls for the sharing of all types of resources: human, cultural, financial and spiritual; especially including friendly conversation and faith-transforming life experiences.

Partnership Commitments

Doing mission in partnership, we commit to be guided by these principles both individually and collectively. In the spirit of candid evaluation, we commit to asking ourselves discerning questions. For each principle, certain approaches are suggested:
Shared Grace and Thanksgiving
  • Is there courage to confess human sins and confront the forces which deny the abundant life God promises to all in Jesus Christ?
  • Is God's forgiveness mutually shared in Jesus Christ?
  • Does the community of partners join in thankful worship to celebrate God's gift of grace and renewal? 
Mutuality and Interdependence
  • Is each partner's self-reliance affirmed, with mutual giving and receiving?
  • Is there space for all partners to be guided by self-determination?
  • Beyond unhealthy dynamics of power and dependency, is there openness to new dynamics of mutual service and mutual renewal?
Recognition and Respect
  • Is there recognition of the self-affirmed identities of each partner?
  • Are the unique contexts of all partners recognized and respected?
  • Are gifts and needs of all partners affirmed and respected?
  • Are cultural differences being mediated with sincerity and in a Christ-like manner?
Open Dialogue and Transparency
  • Is there local initiative in mission discernment and mission activity?  
  • Does God's Word shape us to lovingly confront one another's failings and prophetically challenge the world's systems of power and domination?  
  • Is there transparency with all partners about what is being done in mission, even if there is disagreement?
Sharing of Resources
  • Do partners minister to and inspire one another, listen to and critique one another?  
  • Is there mutual accountability in the exchange of all resources, including human, cultural, financial and spiritual?  
  • In trusting relationship, have partners moved beyond two-way relationships into open mission networks and ever-expanding webs of mission relationships?
As heirs to God's grace in Jesus Christ and joint heirs with all who confess him Lord, we commit to wrestle with these questions. We look toward the promise of Christ. We count on the subtle power of the Holy Spirit to guide and limit us. We hope, standing firm in common praise to the Triune God, that our practice of partnership may be transformed; that our participation in the Missio Dei may more fully contribute to the abundant life that God promises all people and all creation.  


  1. in Latin, Missio Dei
  2. Book of Order (G-9.0103)
  3. Book of Order (G-3.0300) 

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