Using the scripture 1 John 3: 17-18 “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words and speech but with actions and in truth.” The authors encourage churches to help more, not less. The authors say that some churches have stopped benevolence and have been afraid that by helping people they have been hurting them instead.
In this book the authors try to get the readers to understand that poverty is a life-long cycle and that to truly help the poor it requires a commitment to do more than just give them handouts, which is where most benevolence funds stop. They also urge churches to err on the side of giving if they have any doubt to the legitimacy of a person’s claims.
If you have spent any time at all working with the poor you can quickly become jaded because unfortunately there are many that will lie, cheat, and steal and are only wanting handouts rather than a hand up. The problem with church benevolence is that many churches have denied people who were truly in need because of unfairly judging them or their situation. Many people have been turned away, unable to pay their rent or to keep their electricity on because someone judged them incorrectly and looked down their nose at them, not believing their story. The same churches who turn needy people away are also seen adding on to their building, paying for expensive trips for their youth or elderly ministries to go on frivolous trips, and funding overseas mission trips and bragging about the good they are doing to help the poor in another country while one right under their own noses goes away in need. This has to change.
Unfortunately the majority of churches do not employ a psychologist or mental health professional, and the staff who make the decisions on who and how to help are not trained to understand or recognize the complexities that makes up poverty for an individual. If all you do is meet material needs then you can create a dependency. You have to get to the root of the poverty and treat that. The concepts presented in Chapters 1 and 2 of this book are only beginning to touch on the surface of helping churches understand poverty. There is no way that something that usually takes 6-8 years in college to fully understand can be taught to a layman in a few short pages. Although the intentions are good, and it is a great start, expecting people who are not trained in mental health to fully grasp these concepts is asking too much. Additionally, the majority of staff in churches are males, and males have a tendency to look for solutions to problems and to try to fix things. It takes training for most people to understand that they cannot fix or change another person and to learn how to help the right way.
I think this book would be great to use in conjunction with some conferences on mental health or to guide church staff to make appropriate referrals to professionals who can handle the complicated issues surrounding poverty which are usually multilayered, complex, and ingrained. I have been on both sides of giving and receiving and unfortunately have been the recipient of judgmental benevolence church staff who did more harm to me than good when I needed help. I am also a social worker and trained mental health professional and can grasp the intricacies that make up poverty. I recommend this book and think that more people will be helped instead of hurt by their churches if churches can begin to understand poverty and change their benevolence programs to truly help those in need.
Disclaimer: I received a free ebook copy of this book in exchange for a review. I was not required to give a positive review.