When Helping Hurts


How would you feel if you discovered that after all your best efforts you were causing harm to the people you most wanted to help?

I’m now a couple of months into my new job at Compassion Australia and I’m continuing to learn more and more about the work we do in releasing children from poverty. I’m very keen to know that what we’re doing is having the effect that it’s meant to be having. With that in mind I’m grateful for books like the one I’ve just finished reading. While it’s not a new book, (first released in 2009) it’s the first book I’ve finished for 2014 and it was a challenging read.

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself is a book that will continue to make many people uncomfortable.

Authors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert point out how much of what has been done to alleviate poverty has actually caused damage to both those being ‘helped’ and those doing the ‘helping’ but far from being a book that simply points the finger, it gives a clear direction forward and urges us to increase our efforts to reduce poverty everywhere.

Corbertt and Fikkert speak directly to the Christian church and asks the hard questions about the nature of poverty and the best ways to change the lives of those in both what we term as developing and developed countries.


When Helping Hurts uses the Bible and the Great Commission to state that the church’s mission should be to help the poor and the desolate.

Corbett and Fikkert state that the definition of poverty will change depending on who is defining it, with the poor defining it through the psychological and social scope while more wealthy churches emphasize the lack of material things or a geographical location.

The authors emphasize that this can cause a harmful cycle where North American churches provide material resources and evangelism to the poor, which reinforces the poor people’s sense of inferiority and lack of self-esteem, which in turn increases the original problem.

Corbett and Fikkert give several hypothetical scenarios to illustrate this cycle and then offer several solutions that they say can alleviate poverty. – Wiki

I’m pleased to say that there is a lot of encouragement in there for the direction Compassion is taking towards relieving poverty through holistic child development.

I would recommend When Helping Hurts to any Christian who is prepared to think through some of the harder issues of reducing poverty. If you want to do more than just feel good about doing something to help, grab a copy and be prepared to ask yourself and your church or ministry some tough questions.

The book is a must read for church leaders and especially anyone in a church or ministry involved in any kind of mission locally or overseas.

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About the author

Rodney Olsen

Rodney is a husband, father, cyclist, blogger and podcaster from Perth Western Australia.

He previously worked in radio for about 25 years but these days he spends his time at Compassion Australia, working towards releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name.

The views he expresses here are his own.

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1 Comment

  • It’s a very challenging and worthwhile book. I had the privilege of hearing Brian speak at a conference in the USA. Another great one in the same genre is Peter Greer’s The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good. Hope the new job is going well!

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