At the recent PCA mercy conference, I attended Steve Corbett’s seminar on rethinking benevolence practices. If you are unfamiliar with Steve, if you are involved in mercy or diaconal ministries, you absolutely should read his book, When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty without Hurting the Poor. Or, go to this site if you want to know more about asset-based benevolence and the Chalmers Institute. The book and site will give you a clearer view of different kinds of poverty (material, being, purpose), the important distinctions between relief work, rehabilitation, and development work (and why pure relief may not be all that helpful outside of very immediate crises). What I found most helpful was his differentiation between need-based development (tends to focus on what is missing and outside resources can help) and asset-based development (which focuses more on existing assets that can be mobilized…and thus likely to be more sustainable).
Counseling that hurts?
We kindly Christians care about the world and about emotional, spiritual, cultural, and economic poverty. We want to help. Counselors want to help. It is necessary to review whether the help we offer is really all that helpful in moving individuals from passivity to activity. One of the hardest things to do in benevolence and counseling is to recognize when you are working harder than the one you are trying to help–and to then stop without withdrawing emotional support. For example, you counsel a person who is stuck in an abusive marriage. You so much want to help that person get to safety. But note several problematic responses
- Coerce. Even though what you want (safety) is good, forcing someone to safety from a violent spouse is merely replicating abuse. Yes, paternalism and control, even when done for a good cause, merely replicates inappropriate authority in the life of another adult.
- Ascribe motivation. When we get frustrated, we may desire to apply motives to the person.She doesn’t want to get out. She isn’t willing.In fact, it may be that she if afraid and cannot imagine a future outside of her current difficulty.
- Reject. There are times when we have to walk away from a counselee. However, even when we do so, we ought to communicate an open invitation for help in the future from ourselves or someone else. We are not God. We do not make final judgments.
One of the most important things to remember is that even if a person rejects our advice, we are still offering help. We are giving them opportunity to consider a new way of thinking. We are helping them weigh pros and cons. We are one safe place. If they reject our help, we will be sad. But we ought not feel guilty.