The holidays are here. It’s an exciting time of the year. Imagining gifts, food, friends and family; it’s a great time for many people. Many families have different traditions that involve some type of service to the poor. As well many churches and ministries have programs that are centralized on giving freely to the poor.

I have helped and orchestrated many different gift drives and turkey giveaways. I’ve always enjoyed being a part of them. It makes me feel good to give to people who need it. But one thing I have noticed is that I walk into these events feeling excited and leave feeling somewhat uneasy.

I remember how frustrated I was finding out that many of the recipients of the gift drive were the 3rd and 4th generations of recipients. I would carry turkeys and Christmas gifts to brand new cars that caused me to wonder how someone in need could have a much nicer car then myself. I would experience the chaos and division seen between the “haves” and “have-nots.” I started leaving these events more disturbed then encouraged.

Is it because you want to feel good?

Collecting rooms full of toys and games that were to be given to the poor feels good.  Giving a turkey out for Thanksgiving seems nice. Handing out canned goods causes many to feel happy about themselves. But eventually one must look at this large collection of belongings and question who receives the glory in these programs. Is it God or is it all the people who have defined their generosity with these piles of things.

What is it like for the father who comes home to find his kids have toys for Christmas and he didn’t do anything about it. He feels shame. He feels somewhat bitter about those who gave the toys and he is disgraced.

I am not against Christmas gifts. I am all for getting gifts for my family and helping see other families have the capacity to do so. My problem is that in the process of our charity, we many times hurt those we are trying to help.

Pastors and church leaders, as our churches begin to use this time of year to show compassion to the less fortunate, we must ask a few questions.

1) Is our program or event weakening those we are serving?

2) Is it fostering dishonest relationships?

3) Is it deepening dependency?

4) Is it eroding recipients’ work ethic?

(Questions from Bob Lupton’s “Toxic Charity”)

I would like to challenge pastors and church leaders to start asking these hard questions and have a vision to do greater things. Greater doesn’t necessarily mean spending more money. Envision reaching the poor in the community by spending less money and putting in more time for relationships. I know, you’re salivating. This is what pastors love. I’d love to see churches using their resources to serve the poor in ways that build healthy relationships and not rob the dignity of those who already can feel weak.

It takes a decision to change things. Start asking the hard questions about whether or not our program is effective. Then after that start brainstorming about ways to do programs that are relationship focused. Seek to do things that empower the poor. Walk alongside them and strategize for them to become more self sustaining. Help them purchase gifts. Help them purchase turkeys.

“Giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people.”

-Toxic Charity

For more information, Check out:
Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton

When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert