Monday, March 03, 2014

Toxic Charity Seminar Notes

Last weekend I had the privilege of hearing author, entrepreneur, community developer, Vietnam veteran and president of FCS Urban Ministries, Dr. Bob Lupton speak. When I first read his book Toxic Charity, two years ago, I became an instant fan and encouraged everyone in all my circles to read it. His seminar was more of the same wisdom and knowledge he presented in his book, fleshed out with stories of his experiences living in urban Atlanta and working with missionaries and entrepreneurs all over the world.

I love to hear people speak from experience and Dr. Lupton has spent more than 40 years living what he teaches. He spoke of being a neighbor, he talked about his experience in the city. He shared the lessens he learned from his personal failures and where he's seen success in his own ministry. I could have listened to his stories for another couple of hours.

Here are my notes:

Service projects in the city are "fun" for the server but can be humiliating for the receiver. How does the resident feel about the volunteers? How do the volunteers unintentionally insult? When the volunteer repeatedly says things like, "WOW! your house is so clean," or, "WOW! your kids are so well behaved and respectful," it comes across like they expected the people in the city to be living in a dump and their kids to be out of control.

One way giving dis-empowers and erodes.
Give once = appreciation
Give twice = anticipation
Give three times = expectation
Give four times = entitlement
Give five times = dependency
This is a downward progression that leads to unhealthy and toxic relationships.

A crisis need demands an emergency intervention and lives are saved (tornado, flood, fire) ie: stop the bleeding
A chronic need requires development (rebuilding) ie: strengthening capacity
Address a chronic need with crisis intervention and people are harmed.

Has Katrina response created a victim culture? (He just asked this question, he didn't answer it or say that it has. I have a number of friends that have been involved with Katrina response since the beginning and they were able to give examples of how the current ministry in NOLA is healthy and not a crisis response.)

We need to evaluate how programs impact and strengthen the community. The best way to truly impact a community - become a neighbor. Being a neighbor changes your perspective. You see that everyone has something to bring to the table, everyone has something to contribute. USE every person as a resource. Young people were created in the image of God, they are not just thugs. The home bound elderly make a great neighborhood watch.

Three stories of toxic charity made healthy with community involvement.

1. Christmas adopt-a-family. Kids loved it, moms tolerated it, dads were embarrassed and emasculated. Changed the program to a Christmas store with donated items priced somewhere between garage sale and wholesale. Gifted parents with the joy of selecting and giving presents to their own child. Gifted parents with the dignity of taking care of their own. Employed local people from the community it served. Proceeds from the store went to fund a local job training program.

2. Food pantry. Created tension between giver and receiver. Created tension between receivers due to inequity of goods received. Changed the program to a food co-op. Enabled community members to work together to achieve a goal. Provided various roles in the program (shopper, treasurer, organizer, recorder) and required rules to be set and followed. Brought respect to a charity program that lacked dignity.

3. Clothing closet. Began as a free-for-all that had people leaving with armloads of clothes and discarded clothes found scattered around the community. Led to tension between givers and receivers as various rules and regulations were attempted. Changed the program to a thrift store. Created a merchant and a consumer situation where the merchant needs the consumer. The consumer is valued and valuable. Created jobs in the community. Allowed individuals in the community to be trained in retail and taught to work together.

Projects meant to help should be community directed and community led. There should be two-way evangelism where both helpers and residents share their faith, their struggles and their stories of how God provides.

Hunger in the United States isn't a crisis issue it is a function of poverty. The response to hunger in the United States is a crisis response that fills bellies but ultimate hurts the recipients and does nothing to alleviate the poverty at the root of the hunger.

Is bad charity better than no charity at all. No. Example: bloodletting was a primary therapy used by doctors for 5,000 years. In one generation the discoveries of Louis Pasteur turned it from a practice to malpractice.

We are in a moment in history. The searchlight of research is shinning on giving. We are ripping the lid off the time honored practice of charity to the poor. There may be a downturn in charity while people pull back, regroup and figure out how to do it right.

What the poor need most is a caring, connected neighbor. The poor stay poor due, in part, to isolation. Everything changes when you become a neighbor. It is hard, if not impossible, to help from afar. It is all about community.

One way giving is irresponsible. DO NOT DO IT! Responsible giving is key. If Dr. Lupton had his way there would be no benevolence committees. There is a massive misappropriation of kingdom dollars.

As urban families migrate into the suburbs, suburban churches should be agents of hospitality. It is biblical justice to welcome the stranger in your land.

We evaluate the wrong things when we ask, "How does this benefit me." We need to ask, "How does this benefit the community. We spend billions of dollars each year on short term missions trips that produce little lasting results. Short term teams are often major work for the hosting community and frequently complete work that must be re-done by professionals.

We are asking the wrong people to go on missions trips. We send helpers, we need to send entrepreneurs. We send servants, we need to send those with the capacity to create jobs.

You cannot serve a community out of poverty. Only jobs can lift a community out of poverty.

Many thanks to Dr. Lupton for his wise words on the topic of Toxic Charity!!


  1. Not gonna lie, I did a double take when I saw the title of this post and thought "Hey! I didn't do anything! What the heck!" I feel like I need to petition him to change the name of that.

    1. What a horrible word to have associated with YOUR name!! I'd sign that petition.


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