Any good idea, or revolutionary paradigm can have unintended consequences. When Bob Lupton wrote Toxic Charity, he hoped to ignite a transformation in the way charity was performed around the country and maybe even the globe. While his ideas resonated with many on-the-ground practitioners, there were unintended responses to the message. I wrote before about compassion paralysis, but today I’m exploring practitioner's guilt.
I have had the opportunity to meet so many people who give of their whole selves, working long hours and making significant sacrifices in response to a call to love and walk alongside the materially poor. Day in and and day out, they listen to, serve, and care for communities of people society often ignores.
These are courageous, amazing people.
Some of these heroes of mine read Toxic Charity and agreed right away that traditional charity paradigms are not working. In fact, the message was not altogether surprising as they moved through the unfolding argument.
They knew charity was falling short. And they know this because they’ve seen it - up close and personal. They’ve watched as a one-time gift soon developed into an ongoing expectation. They’ve seen programs intended to come alongside parents unintentionally undermine and demotivate their efforts. They’ve witnessed local, grassroots businesses and services go by the wayside once charity steps in.
As the problems and pitfalls were defined, these readers became aware of this inconsistency with what charity intends versus what it actualizes. And some found themselves experiencing significant guilt.
They looked back over their past work through a new lens and worried about how much damage they may have done, about their contributions to toxic charity. They wondered whether or not what they have done has made any difference at all. And they questioned themselves and all they have labored so diligently to accomplish.
There are two words of encouragement that we offer to those facing practitioner’s guilt. First, remember that Jesus promised that every “cup of cold water” we give in his name will be seen and celebrated (Mt 10:42). Our gifts will always be incomplete, our love imperfect and our best efforts insufficient. But God is faithful to receive our cups of water and build his Kingdom with them.
Second, instead of hearing a word of condemnation, embrace this message as God’s own invitation to you to join God in more redemptive work. Paul tells us that we can have confidence every good work God has begun in us will be carried on to completion in Jesus Christ (Phlp 1:6)! So, we invite you to hear this message as evidence that God sees and honors your work and is lovingly inviting you to follow into deeper waters.
Lupton’s book is a call to those heroic people out there, like you, to continue in their call to walk alongside the materially poor. His description of the challenges facing charities is not a cease and desist order. Rather, it is a call to serve in innovate and exciting new ways so the communities practitioners love so much can flourish like never before!
Have you found yourself feeling guilty about past service when you consider its potential effects? How do feel about seeing this as God’s personal invitation to innovation and creativity instead?
Post by Shawn Duncan, Director of Education & Training