I have long held the conviction that the Gospel is more about action than it is about words and that it is more about going to people (or encountering them in relationships) than trying to get them to come to some kind of church service. Several years ago we had a lot of fun doing random acts of kindness through the church I pastored. In more recent years, I was involved with the ShareFest movement which has provided an avenue for churches to work together to do some big things that actually helped the people in their communities.
But I had a weird experience a few years ago when I worked at a food pantry instead of developing warm and fuzzy feelings of having done something good, I felt like something was wrong. I finally discerned that there were two things that I didn’t like about the food pantry. One was the attitude of some of the workers who would say things like, “You have to watch this guy. He will try to take extra stuff “ and “This guy is a drug addict who spends his money to support his habit.” Another thing I didn’t like was the way people were demoralized by our process of taking a number, registering and verifying residency, then waiting for their number to be called while trying to keep their children under control. We were in the food-handing-out business and we had developed an efficient system, much like feeding cattle.
Then a couple of years ago, I read that the way we usually do charity causes bad attitudes to arise on both sides of counter. Clients will inevitably try to circumvent the rules or take advantage of the system. Workers will add more rules and develop a less than benevolent attitude toward those who try to take advantage of their good-heartedness. Hence, a definite us/them mentality develops.
I am a couple chapters away from finishing a wonderful book that integrates biblical, and practical insights for helping the materially poor. It is the most insightful thing I have read on the topic. The book is When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.
Here is something I learned. The Industrial revolution caused huge economic growth for a handful of countries. As a result, the average American lives on more than $90.00 per day, but approximately one billion people live on less than $1.00 per day and 2.6 billion – 40% of the world’s population – live on less than $2.00 per day.
This post was originally published February 2, 2010.