Chapter Ten: Getting Started


(Note: Spoiler Alert. This post is writing commentary on the book Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It). This book is being discussed on April 11 by the Avondale United Methodist Book Club. Those who want to read the book before forming opinions are advised to read this column after reading the book. For the rest of you, consider this a long-winded review and commentary on the book, and please comment your thoughts.)

“Find out what God is up to, and get in on it.” – Henry Blackaby

Finally, we reach the last chapter, with action points for getting started. Lupton uses a lot of bullet points, and so will I.

First, let’s compare and contrast betterment and development, and why we should move from betterment to development:

  • Betterment does for others. Development maintains the long view and looks to enable others to do for themselves.
  • Betterment improves conditions. Development strengthens capacity.
  • Betterment gives a man a fish. Development teaches a man how to fish.

Starting points

We need to ask “what is my parish?” and stay focused on it.  Community development has too many facets for any one organization. We need to be proactive with our geographic and activity focus.

Mission driven organizations tend to see their goal as most important. Be aware of this. Habitat can build too many affordable houses and unbalance a neighborhood that needs a good economic mix, for example.

Lupton gives the example of his organization, Focused Community Strategies, which asks these questions:

  • Is capable, indigenous (or indigenizing) visionary leadership behind the effort?
  • Is the plan neighborhood-specific? Does it focus on one and only one target community?
  • Is the effort comprehensive? Do the programmatic pieces all have as a primary objective the ultimate self-sufficiency of the neighborhood?
  • Does the plan emanate from local churches and/or people of faith? (People of faith are the greatest resource of hope and vision within any community.)
  • Does the plan protect against displacement or reconcentration of lower-income residents?
  • Does the plan promote interdependency rather than continued dependency?
  • Does the plan attract, retain, and/or develop indigenous leadership in the community?
  • Does the plan attract new achieving neighbors into the community?
  • Does the plan utilize grants and nonprofits as catalysts for development that can eventually reduce the need for external subsidies?
  • Does the plan lead to economic neighborhood viability, as measured by its ability to attract and harness market forces?

It boils down to, do we see shortcomings or potential? Potential is the core of the Asset-Based Community Development philosophy.

So What Do We Do Next?

How do we turn the corner from giveaways? We need an honest evaluation of each program’s benefits and limitations. We need to move away from thinking of personal investments to goals of the mission. Ask questions like these:

  • Is there a way we can bring more human dignity to the process of exchange rather than simply using one-way giving?
  • Can we increase our personal involvement with those in crisis to assist them with housing, day care, or other support while they get back on their feet?

Suggestions for first course-changing steps:

  • Begin with a discussion on how to support and strengthen the church’s ministry to the poor.
  • Engage in an evaluation process to identify the greatest strengths and weaknesses of the current programs
  • Research ways other ministries have increased their effectiveness.
  • Strategize ways to become more personally, relationally involved in the lives of those you serve.
  • Explore new options, new paradigms of service, to expand current ministries in a more holistic direction.
  • Identify new leadership to go on point for new initiatives.
  • Once buy-in for the new paradigm has been secured, the door has opened to move ahead with change.

I will conclude with a great concluding comment from Lupton:  “If there is one take-away message that this book can offer to those in service work or supporting it, it is this: the poor, no matter how destitute, have enormous untapped capacity; find it, be inspired by it, and build upon it.”


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