When Helping Hurts: Book Review

when helping hurtsWhen Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert is a comprehensive guide on effective approaches to missions and poverty alleviation. It is a must read for present and future missionaries and BAM practitioners hoping to fight poverty. Corbett and Fikkert are both part of the Chalmers Center for Economic Development at Covenant College, USA. Corbett is an Assistant Professor of Community Development at Covenant College, and has worked for Food for the Hungry International as Regional Director for Central and South America. Fikkert is the founder and president of Chalmers Center for Economic Development, and is a professor of Economics and Community Development at Covenant College. 

When Helping Hurts provides practical strategies and systems that will change the way Christians approach working with the poor. Many have agreed that traditional approaches to poverty alleviation have had a negative long-term impact on the poor. Corbett and Fikkert test this theory, address the issues, dissect them and provide solutions.

Part one of the book focuses on the foundational concepts for helping without hurting. Going back to the real root of poverty and motivation for mission the authors pose three questions: Why did Jesus come to Earth? What’s the problem? and, Are we there Yet? They unveil a new definition of poverty; understanding that poverty is due to broken relationships in more than one area. Once the real problem is surfaced, the authors address whether or not we are already obtaining or can obtain a real solution. Corbett and Fikkert shake our foundation for understanding poverty and mission in order to make it stronger.

The central message of this book is that we need the person of Jesus Christ to transform not just the poor but also ourselves.

– John Perkins, Foreword

 In part two, the authors delve further into principles for helping without hurting. They walk through the different stages that communities go through as they rise out of poverty. Each stage, one leading to the next, must be approached in a unique way to create lasting change. Alongside that, the authors challenge the mindset of outsiders coming into a community. They confront our notions of coming in with preconceived ideas and ready answers, and instead equip us to work with the resources and ideas the community already has.

To top off the practical nature of this book, the authors finish by looking at real strategies for helping without hurting. Corbett and Fikkert give models of effective missions for a variety of contexts, both domestic (primarily focusing on the USA) and overseas. Microfinance, providing jobs, providing education and training are all strategies discussed; as well as business as mission! The book is rounded out with stories, suggestions and applications that give encouragement and empowerment for the would-be missionary or BAM practitioner.

When Helping Hurts wonderfully combines heavy-duty thinking with practical tools

– Joel Belz, Back Cover

 The authors intention for When Helping Hurts is for, “this book to be used by God to affect your heart, your mind, and your actions.” (p15) To this end, they provide questions and exercises throughout, for individual or group study, that will help readers engage and integrate the material. A video-based Small Group Experience, with free online videos and a separately published study guide, is also now available.

Whether your mission is across the globe or in your backyard, the perspective this book gives on missions and effective outreach is fresh and vital-to-know for every follower of Christ. This is an essential resource and empowering tool for current and future BAM practitioners that are in business to address the real issues of poverty. This ‘need to read’ will stretch your thinking, challenge your worldview and influence your strategies. When Helping Hurts has inspired me to go out into the world with a different way of thinking than I had before.

When Helping Hurts guides you toward a true understanding of poverty and a plan to make a difference.

– Back Cover

Karla Miller is studying for a Bachelors degree in Global Ministry in the Market Place at Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma and is an intern with the Business as Mission Resource Team. She is passionate about making a difference in the lives of vulnerable women and children through integrated business and ministry.


Photo credit: The Chalmers Center