Updated: Jul 14
There's a lot of talk right now about "need" and "systems being broken." I see many good-willed people scrambling to understand and respond to needs they see everywhere they turn. Some want the government to do more. Others want the church to do more. Still, others want "the rich" to do more. Everywhere we turn, we continually hear, "We must do more, give more."
So we give more. We do more. Yet people are not being lifted out of need; more often they are being sustained in a lifestyle of need. It seems overwhelming and it's not getting better. Common methods to address need are confusing and discouraging, to say the least!
Why are such good intentions doing so little to actually
restore people to the life God has called them to?
My desire is to invite Christians into a conversation about helping differently. I've been learning a lot about "helping" over the past few years. Trainings, conferences, books, and countless discussions have challenged my thinking and given me new insight about helping others without hurting them or myself. I've also been helping to develop Love in the Name of Christ here in South Wood County. We are a partnership of 16 area churches from multiple denominations and we are now a local affiliate of the national Love in the Name of Christ organization. For the first time in the 44 years that we have lived in Wisconsin Rapids, I see churches willing to work together in unity to help neighbors in need! It's been very exciting.
Throughout our nation, Love INC has been highly successful in helping thousands of churches work together to offer wholistic help to people so they can grow and move forward in life. And over time, personal and community transformation happens—one relationship at a time.
What's the Reality?
One insightful training by Lois Tuyppi (from Love INC of Treasure Valley) offered an interesting perspective and I found it quite eye-opening. First she shared statistics from 2015:
U.S. Census Bureau Statistics:
—13.5% of people live in poverty - an estimated 43.1 million people
—An additional 31%, over 100 million people, are labeled as low income
(Almost half of our population are now considered low income)
—1 out of every 5 children are on food stamps
—65% of children live in a home that receives some type of government
—An average of 46 million Americans use food banks
Lois also said it's getting worse by at least 2% each year. Lois went on to share that a more recent study by the Heritage Foundation was conducted to determine the effectiveness of the "war on poverty." Communities all over the country have hundreds and sometimes thousands of helping agencies and programs that have been set up to specifically address needs. This study found that instead of eliminating poverty, the number of families living in poverty has continued to grow.
History has shown that to actually help people leave their state of need and reduce poverty, both participation and relationship are required components. If this is correct, can the government effectively address poverty? Or is the church better qualified to make a lasting impact?
Lois also traced our current system of helping back to 1933 . . . .
How Did This Happen?
In 1933, the economy was in a Great Depression and Franklin D. Roosevelt created a program called the New Deal to help restore prosperity in our nation. The New Deal Plan was designed to help people by creating work relief programs that would have a three-fold focus offering: 1) Immediate Relief, 2) Recovery, and 3) Restoration.
The New Deal program was extremely successful in getting America back on it’s feet. But after the crisis passed, the government stayed involved, and unfortunately the Recovery and Reform aspects of the New Deal were pulled out of the program. The government moved into simply offering relief. Since government is not able to be present in every community to build relationships with people, they created programs that addressed need - like food, housing and transportation.
At the same time, the responsibility of addressing need moved away from the church; this perpetuated a need for the government to create more and more programs that focused on meeting need.
"I believe this shift in focus from people to need is when our current problem really began." Lois Tuyppi
Sadly as we look back at history, the church switched gears and followed the government’s lead. The cry became, "We must meet needs!" Very quickly the church moved out of building relationships with individuals and moved into creating programs that would help the church meet needs by distributing materials — just like the government. Food banks, soup kitchens, clothing banks—all those things started to spring up in churches.
But the shift in focus from people to need started to
SUSTAIN PEOPLE IN NEED
LIFT THEM OUT OF NEED.
Now, many many generations later we have an unbelievable amount people living in chronic need - which is also called generational poverty. People have not been asked to participate in the solutions to their dilemmas and their need situations since 1933—so over time they have come to believe that they actually don’t have anything to contribute. People have become dependent upon others' help for their daily sustenance, and many have developed victim and entitlement attitudes.
By switching our focus from PEOPLE to NEED, we actually created the dilemma! We are now in our 6th generation of generational poverty, meaning that each generation had children that were born into poverty and could not make their way in life without assistance.
What Happens to People in Generational Poverty?
When people live in generational poverty their need soon defines who they are. The need starts to dictate what their value is and what their potential is. They live compromised lives because of these labels that have been stuck on them generations ago and are being passed down through the family in the home. They actually start to believe that they’ve been created to live differently—that they were not given potential, that they do not have abilities, that they deserve to live in need. They buy into lies. Then they adapt a lifestyle that is assigned to them by circumstances or others—even by people who try to help them! They start to lose hope and quit believing that anything is ever going to change.
Think about it: If you are a child in the 6th generation who has never known anyone who is not living in need, you will not think anything will be different for you. Likely you will just begin to live as a needy person and figure out how to navigate the system.
Is there anything we can do?
The answer is a resounding YES!
Even though it may feel overwhelming, I believe the church is still the best hope of the world! God seeks to restore each one of us, and gives us each a small part to play. He will show us what to do, one step at a time.
along with more resources for you to learn more.
When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert
Toxic Charity by Robert D. Lupton
Redemptive Compassion by Lois Tuypi