The Best Thing You'll Read Today, By Far

The poem that I share in this post will be the best thing you'll read today. The author, Julia Dinsmore, is an advocate and activist, a mother and neighbor, an author and prophet. She is an artist and a poet disrupting our illusions about the wealthy as well as those experiencing poverty. She is building a better world.

Posted on August 17, 2015 .

Nine Questions People Creating Partnerships Should Ask Themselves

Forty years of community development in distressed urban neighborhoods in Atlanta has taught FCS that we cannot do this alone. We are so much better together. As essential as collaborative relationships are, we have found that creating effective and sustainable partnerships requires a certain level of skill and type of posture. Everyone loves the idea of partnerships, but not everyone is great at creating them. 

Posted on August 10, 2015 .

Bringing the City into the Sanctuary: What happens when the church, artists, and the neighborhood come together.

Ian North is the Director of Communications for Refugee Beads. He and some fellow artist friends have started a project called Storyboard that is a great model for helping churches see the dignity and strength of their neighbors, rather than just their needs. As they are doing this, it is also reconciling a too-common divide between artists and local churches.

Posted on July 20, 2015 .

Blurred Vision, Brain Tricks and a Book You Need to Read

I would like to offer a recommendation for Bob Lupton’s book - WHICH RELEASED TODAY! - Charity Detox: What Charity Would Look Like if We Cared About Results. To tell you why I think this book is so important I first need to talk about a crazy trick your eyes and brain like to pull on you!

Posted on July 7, 2015 .

A Lament for Toxic Chairty

In My Name is Child of God...Not '"Those People" Julia K. Dinsmore uses her pen to bring to life a compelling, nuanced image of American poverty. Through her poetry, songs and stories she speaks not as a chairty practitioner, theoretician or advocate (though she is all of those things). She writes as an insider. The story she tells, the portrait she paints is her own. The subtitle of the book is A First Person Look at Poverty. It is a lens we too often do not look through.

Here I offer an excerpt from one of the poems she includes in her book. What you are reading below is a quote taken from part five of a six part poem entitled "Rant / Ode to My Desire for Change."  Listen in as she speaks of her experience as a recipient of charity. 

Posted on June 18, 2015 .

INTERVIEW: Brian Fikkert Speaks About His Latest Book

Dr. Brian Fikkert, President and Founder of the Chamlers Center for Economic Development, recently spoke with Charity Detox about his most recent book From Dependence to Dignity: How to Alleviate Poverty Through Church-Centered Microfinance. If you care about healthy and effective engagement with poverty - whether you know nothing about microfinance or have been practicing it for years - this is a book for you. Click below to listen to the interview and read about 3 highlights from the book.

Posted on June 16, 2015 .

Anatomy of Change: How One Ministry Changed Their Paradigm

At a recent Global Leadership Network event in Atlanta, I had the prviliege of eating lunch with the Director of a ministry in Decatur, AL who has led her organization through the process of detoxifying charity and is doing some exciting work.

I asked Mrs. Bolding to share with Charity Detox how Neighborhood Christian Center was able to change their paradigm. As you read the story she shares, it is an interesting look into the anatomy of change.

Posted on June 11, 2015 .

Being GREAT at Doing GOOD

Shawn Duncan had the chance to speak with author, speaker, and activist Nick Cooney about his recently published book, How to Be Great at Doing Good. You can listen in to that conversation or read a few of Shawn's thought about the book. Enjoy!

Posted on May 27, 2015 .

From Food Pantry to Food Co-op: Lessons Learned

One of the most common forms of charity is food for the hungry. How much of that work, though, is actually contributing to food security and long-term, sustainable progress for families? Home Sweet Home Ministries in Bloomington, IL made the decision to change the way they'd practice food ministry - going from a pantry, where clients show up to receive a free hand-out, to a co-op, where participating members work together to address their own needs. Their COO, Matt Burgess, shares with Charity Detox some of the important lessons they learned along the way.

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Home Sweet Home Ministries (HSHM) continues to make strides in detoxifying how we offer support to our community. After over two years of planning and implementation, we successfully converted our food pantry to a food co-op about 6 months ago. Within the past two months, our Co-op Advisory Board has started meeting. We call our co-op Bread For Life, and through this ministry the co-op members gain access to real food and real community. 

It has been a tumultuous journey from pantry to co-op, but without a doubt worth every bump and challenge along the way. I'd like to share with you one painful realization we came to and three steps that moved us forward into a new and healthier model of charity.

A Painful Realization

One of the most significant challenges was one of the first things we had to do - take a long, hard look at what our preconceptions were about helping people. Reading books like Toxic Charity and When Helping Hurts and a couple trips to Atlanta to meet with Chad Hale at Urban Recipe influenced our thinking significantly. Rather than simply celebrating our outputs, like the number of pounds of food provided or number of households we served, we started to look at the outcomes, the difference these services/resources were - or were not - making in the lives of the people we were serving.

It was only when we stepped back from the action of running our food pantry that we could see that we were providing emergency food assistance, which should be a one-time, short-term intervention, to the same individuals and families month after month. We also became aware of the feelings of shame, embarrassment, and discomfort our pantry recipients were experiencing. Once we took the time to honestly look and listen, we heard statements like, "I can't believe I have to come to a food pantry," and saw the downcast faces of the recipients. Free food came with the price tag of personal dignity.

That was a painful realization.

So, what were we supposed to do about it? Well, the long answer to that question is the "tumultuous journey" to which I referred above! In interest of time, however, let me share with your three things we did to move us toward more a responsible model of food ministry.   

First, we started to listen intently.

We listened for six months before taking any action on what we heard. To do this, we enlisted the help of local college students and started asking our pantry customers questions. We asked about their experience with us, about their use of other food pantries in the community and about their thoughts on the co-op model. An overwhelming majority of the people we spoke with expressed excitement about the prospect of contributing to their own well-being and food security and were intrigued by the co-op concept.

Next, we made some incremental changes. 

We then began to evaluate the feasibility of converting our pantry to a co-op. Rather than make the leap all at once, we first converted our pantry from a 'prepackaged' model (we packed boxes of food and gave them to people regardless of their preferences) to a 'choice' model (where our pantry customers could shop for the food items they liked and leave the items they didn't). This involved changing the physical layout of our food storage area and adding equipment like glass-front coolers and freezers that are conducive to the shopping experience. We were blessed with the support of local businesses who provided funds to purchase a new freezer for this purpose. At the same time, we started to inform our customers about our upcoming change to be a low income co-op.

Finally, we took the plunge! 

After a short time of this, we took the plunge and changed our operations over to the co-op.  We thought we'd see a significant drop off in households when we made the switch, but we've seen the opposite! In fact, even before we opened we had well over 100 people submit co-op membership applications and we now serve more households as a co-op than we ever did as a food pantry (& have many more on a waiting list to join).  

The message is clear to us - people want to be given the opportunity to provide for themselves & will jump at the chance to do so. We have people who have joined the co-op who have been told in other areas of their lives that they have nothing worthwhile to contribute. When we tell them we need them and want to utilize their God-given talents and abilities, they positively light up!  Our Co-op Advisory Board shares responsibility with us in charting the future direction and scope of the co-op. We take their guidance on things like membership requirements, food products to stock, classes to offer, etc.

Over the past 8 months, we’ve seen the co-op members fully embrace this shared responsibility model of food assistance.  When we give tours, our co-op members chime in with enthusiastic comments about their experiences.  Our members tell their friends and family about the co-op and encourage them to join, too.  Based on these, and other affirming responses from co-op members and others in our community, we believe offering food assistance through the co-op model is truly a way that helps restore dignity and a sense of capability to people while at the same time easing their struggle to feed themselves and their families. 

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Matt Burgess is the Chief Operating Officer at Home Sweet Home Ministries in Bloomington, IL. Although he has been trained as a mental health therapist, he has spent much of his career in social work administration and has been blessed to be at HSHM for the past 6 years. 

HSHM is an independent Christian ministry serving people who are experiencing homelessness and/or living in poverty.  For over 97 years they’ve served Christ by providing food, shelter, and hope to the hungry, homeless, and hurting in their community.

Posted on May 22, 2015 .

How the Local Church Can Detoxify Benevolence: 3 Practical Steps (and a bonus!)

For the last 6 years Shawn Janes has been serving as the Outreach Director at 12Stone Church, a multi-campus church with nine locations serving Gwinnett, Hall, and Barrow counties. The Outreach Department at 12Stone Church consists of Local and Global Missions as well as Benevolence Ministry. Shawn has been creatively implementing healthier models of ministry in all the above ministries. In the post below, he shares with us some crucial lessons he has learned as he has worked to move 12Stone to more responsible approaches to their benevolence ministries.

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Six years ago when I began leading our church’s Outreach Department I had little knowledge about working with the materially poor or the church’s role in supporting them.  At first, I enjoyed giving people money for their bills, providing food, and ensuring they kept a roof over their head.  It was empowering to be the hero for someone who, in my observation, couldn’t manage these problems on their own.  I loved seeing the joy on their faces as we helped to rescue them from the crisis they had found themselves in.  Besides, who else is better positioned to help those living in the margins of society than the local church? Isn’t this what Jesus commands of us in Matthew 10, 25, etc.…?   

It didn’t take long to see a trend forming as those we helped came back seeking additional assistance.  Our giving had created an entitled expectation that ultimately developed into dependency.  Our short-term solutions weren’t working.  It wasn’t long into this process that I began reading books like “Compassion, Justice & the Christian Life: Rethinking Ministry to the Poor” and “When Helping Hurts”. (see below for purchase)  For the first time I started to see the material poor as valuable, resourceful, and gifted.  This revelation led to some major shifts in how we serve people within the Benevolence Ministry of our church.  Here are a few insights we learned in the process.


1. Scheduled Benevolence Time

Currently, we have a team of skilled and trained volunteers that lead our Benevolence ministry.  They meet with people once a week on Monday nights from 6:30pm – 7:30pm.  Prior to setting a scheduled time for Benevolence, our process was scattered and without boundaries.  We were reactive with "solutions" and felt pressured to provide an immediate answer.  Problems we thought were crisis were actually chronic.  Establishing parameters in when and how we serve others was critical in maintaining a healthy environment for everyone.

2. Establish Guidelines Consistent with Your Resources

 You need to do this. Determine what level of help you will offer to someone who walks in off the street as compared to a member who is engaged and has tenure with the church.  We would love to offer everyone the same level of assistance, but our resources just won’t allow it.  Because we are clear about our limitations, we rely heavily on our partnerships in the community.

3. Define Your Types of Assistance

 Every community is different.  Based on our demographics, we landed on two primary long-term solutions in our Benevolence Ministry.  We will often still help with bills, food, etc…, but there is an understanding to participate in one or both of the following options.

  1. Financial Coaching: We have found that several of our clients have financial resources, but don’t know how to manage them.  It is shocking to see how many people don’t understand how to budget.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Did your parents talk to you about money?   Mine didn’t.
  2. Counseling:  We usually get about 15-30 minutes of time with people.  It’s really not enough to carve through the symptoms and identify what is going on.  We work with several Christian Counselors who can help people identify the root cause of what’s going on and decide if they want to do something different.  Typically, we will help people get into three counseling sessions.  We also require them to pay $10 of the counseling cost.  This payment is minimal, but important.  Unless people are contributing to the process it likely won’t have much value.
  3. The SolutionThere is only one solution.  As one of our counselors said, “only Jesus can heal the pain he has allowed”.  Unfortunately pain is part of the process of change.  Until your pain exceeds your fear, you probably won’t do anything different.  Think about this in your own life.  Money, fitness, relationships.  Once you got sick and tired of being sick and tired, you probably made a change.  What if pain is a part of God’s process and we swoop in and rescue them. Please note: I’m not saying this is always the case, but you’ll need a level of discernment before you decide to provide immediate relief for people.  What if all you gave them was prayer?  Don’t we believe the Spiritual has power over the natural?  How often we forget this.  Can you be okay if someone leaves the church and they’re not happy with you, the church, or God?  That’s a hard and necessary lesson to learn.  As compassionate followers of Christ, we want to help people, and that often leads to a material transaction driven by our own discomfort. Our teams are trained to listen and pray with people as if they are in the context of a prison.  What would you offer someone in prison if you couldn’t provide something tangible? You’d offer them Christ.

Bonus: Ask yourself, "Who’s really the client here?"

Someone once challenged me to consider if I was the mission.  When I sit across from a person experiencing material poverty it is often not difficult to distinguish who’s who.  "Poor" in the bible is not only defined as material lack, but often spiritual as well. Consider these descriptions from the Greek definition of poor in the bible.

  • One who slinks and crouches. 
  • Often roving about in wretchednessTo cower down or hide
  • To be destitute of honor
  • Lowly
  • Afflicted
  • No rich endowment of Spiritual treasure

It is unfortunate that some people wear their poverty for the world to see while the rest of us go silently undetected.  I have often found that the materially poor, whether here in the U.S. or around the world, have a deeper understanding and dependence on God than I do.  God often uses the poor to sanctify those of us in ministry.  This is probably the greatest revelation I have discovered in serving the poor.  I’m frequently asking God why he has put this person in front of me and what he wants me to learn.

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The books Shawn Janes found transformative for his approach to ministry:

Posted on April 13, 2015 .

Redefining Ministry with the Poor: Three Cautions

Jason Williams, founder of the Aspire Movement, shares three cautions for those interested in leading congregations through a process of redefining ministry among the poor.

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Only God above could script a story like mine.

Growing up in the Washington, D.C. Metro area, my life was largely influenced by hip-hop culture, the go-go music scene and the crack epidemic. Fortunately for me, I could shoot basketball with the best of them and scored a Division I scholarship to George Mason University where I had a standout freshman season. The summer following my freshman year, reckless living caught up with me, and I was arrested and charged with three felonies for drug trafficking.

After a few more years of bad choices and serious consequences, I found myself surrendering to the Lord Jesus Christ in an African American, Pentecostal church in the poorest part of Birmingham, Alabama. As a white guy, I never once felt marginalized in that church. It was there that I grew in my faith and calling to impact urban youth who followed similar paths as mine. My calling eventually led me to take a position as Urban Missions Pastor at a predominately white, suburban and affluent church—also in Birmingham.

I have had the privilege to lead our church in urban ministry for the past six years. In my time, I have experienced moments of great encouragement as well as times of deep sorrow for how we as a church view urban ministry and outreach. My church preaches the Word of God faithfully, generously gives half of our enormous budget to missions, and is comprised of some of the most godly people I have ever known. But like every church, we have our warts and blind spots and some of those show up ever so glaringly in cross-cultural ministry.

There are numerous stories I could share, but I’d like to limit this to how we have dealt with the challenges to redefining our philosophy of ministering to the poor in our city. If I were to say that everyone in our congregation agrees on both principles and methodology I would be exaggerating. With over 5,000 members, the process of change is slow. It takes a lot of time and energy to help others come to an understanding of empowerment and to change the way we quantify success in outreach.

Having walked through changes in this area, God has taught me the following principles that I believe could help you navigate your organization through a redefinition of ministry to the poor:

Value the Process.

First, please remember that God's timing is not ours.

When the realization finally comes that some poverty alleviation methods may actually hurt the very people we wish to empower, we can feel that everyone else should immediately “get it.” This can be dangerous.  Just because we may have been enlightened and learned new methods, it doesn’t mean our people will automatically respond in similar fashion. In fact, if your church is large it may take years to work through downloading a new way of thinking.

There is a great need for patience and humility. While navigating change can be frustrating and painful, value the process of what God is doing in your own life. His design is to conform you into His image as much as it is for you to help others.

Beware of the Sacred Cow.

Every church has a "legacy ministry" - you know, something that was started by a well-respected saint and is treasured by the congregation. Sometimes leaders, armed with new convictions that certain methods are "toxic", take it upon themselves to be the one to “destroy” the legacy ministry as a show of how harmful it is. While it may make you feel good that you have ten reasons that the sacred cow should be destroyed like the golden calf, this approach can cause you to lose the very capital you need to see changes occur.

I would suggest instead that you grow up a parallel opportunity that addresses similar needs. When you do this, people will learn for themselves and come to their own conclusions. Change happens when people experience the ministry for themselves. While we can be articulate in teaching, nothing replaces the learning that occurs when their skin is in the game.

Differentiate the Mandate from the Methods.

Remember that methods are just methods, and they are neither concrete nor infallible. To move people along in this area, avoid making them feel dumb for how they have operated and thought about ministry. Instead, point out the good, lead with encouragement and remember methods differ from mandates. We have a mandate to reach the poor in Scripture, what we don’t have is a mandate on how that work should be done. Sure, there are certain principles but carefully focus on winning people as opposed to winning arguments. You may win battles and lose the war. 

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Jason Williams is the Urban Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL. He founded the Aspire Movement, a mentoring program empowering at-risk urban youth. He is married to Dr. Jessica Williams and has 3 children. 

Posted on March 24, 2015 .

INTERVIEW: Cathi Linch, LifeChurch Redefines Short-Term Missions

In a previous interview with Brian Fikkert of the Chalmers Center, I was pointed toward LifeChurch as an example of a church committed to detoxifying their approaches to charity, specifically in reference to short-term missions.

LifeChurch is a multi-site church with 22 campuses stretching across seven states drawing in approximately 65,000 worshippers each Sunday. With a significant online presence and commitment to developing redemptive technologies that equip all churches, you just might have a piece of LifeChurch in your pocket right now - the YouVerson Bible app.

One of the board members for the Chalmers Center is Cathi Linch, who is LifeChurch's Financial Operations Leader and Treasurer as well as one of the core leaders in their Global Missions Strategy. Cathi agreed to share with Charity Detox the story of how LifeChurch was able to successfully navigate the disruptive process of detoxifying charity.

Our conversation offered one of the most important elements for successfully making it through the process of detoxifying charity: leadership - specifically leaders who possess conviction and the skill of organizational management



We don’t need a different missions strategy, we need a different paradigm.
— Cathi Linch

When LifeChurch had about 15,000 members they envisioned one of the driving forces for their continued growth and development to be a more robust commitment to short-term missions. However, at that time, only 1% of their members were actively engaged in STM. So, they got to work creating some of the most innovative approaches to STMs that one could imagine. As they dreamed and strategized, though, an important realization dawned on them. It wasn't their strategy that needed fixing, it was their paradigm.

The leadership team at LifeChurch had been introduced to three books: Lupton's Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life, Fikkert and Corbertt's When Helping Hurts, and McNeal's Missional Renaissance. As they read through these texts together, they came to the realization that they could no longer do what they had been doing.

We knew it was the right thing to do. We knew there was going to be fallout, but we were committed to doing it anyway.
— Cathi Linch

Navigating the disruptive process of detoxifying charity requires leaders that know that this is not simply about making improvements on an already good model. Leaders that can create lasting change know that accepted models of charity can no longer be practiced, and they know that it would be better to do nothing at all than to continue on the same path. Cathi and LifeChurch did not simply find good ideas to improve STMs, they discovered truths that required them to put an end to the old and innovate the new.        



Forget about charity and STMs for a moment. Detoxification is about change management more than it is about anything else. Whether the context is business, government, or a family system, navigating change requires a particular skill set. It is not enough to have the awareness that model "A" is unhealthy. It is still not enough to innovate a compelling model "B" for people. The real test for the detox process is in getting from A to B. That messy middle is the discipline of organizational change. LifeChurch's team of leaders possessed the acumen in this area to make change successful and sustainable. I share with you 4 lessons learned from Cathi about how LifeChurch managed the disruptive process of change.

  1. Anticipate pushback and have a plan to engage it in healthy ways. The leaders of LifeChurch knew that people would be unhappy. There is a lot of emotion tied up in what people are currently doing. They had staff members that did not really understand and staff members that passionately disagreed. They faced questions about their faithfulness of biblical mandates (ie. "go into all the world"). They knew a vocal minority would oppose their vision. They planned to have personal conversation with every one that had questions or concerns. They appointed the staff member with the most natural and personal connection with the concerned member to speak with them. They also were ready and able to help members transition to other places where'd they find what they were looking for. There is not way to get around the pushback, but you can plan for it. You can also reduce it if you...
  2. Educate in a careful and inclusive ways. LifeChurch's leadership had a long time to read, discuss, wrestle, think, learn, and grow. They knew that they could not simply come out of that with a decision they dropped on their people. They had to respect them enough to offer them the same careful process of education. They could not give in to the temptation of arrogance for people who haven't learned these things yet. So, LifeChurch first spent a year with the staff from all their campuses studying When Helping Hurts. They gave them room to doubt, challenge, and question the material. They worked through it until they were on the same team. Then they created a video curriculum that all of their small groups would use to bring the rest of the congregation along. People need to know that they are included in the thinking and decision making process. Top-down decision erode trust and do not embody respect.  
  3. Be guided by principles that protect the process. The anxiety of conflict and the stress of change can easily derail the process. Good leaders have to know when and where they can compromise and where and where they cannot. Without a clear set of rules, a working filter, and some agreed upon guidelines, the process will be thwarted. They came up with 5 principles that would serve as their guide. Whatever decisions were made, programs implemented, partnership created, etc., that had to fit into these rules. It has been tough and it has limited what they can do. They know, though, that it is better to do less well and responsibility than to do a lot.
  4. Lead with a vision of where you are headed not with a posture against where you've been. This is the one lesson that LifeChurch learned after the fact. They discovered that something was terribly wrong and could not go back to the status quo. They did not know, though, where they were headed! So they led with a posture of what they were against rather than with a vision for what was ahead. Because they were skilled at leading well, they still managed to moved forward and find their new models. However, Cathi reflected on the need to give people a compelling vision for what is ahead to get them on board.

This is going to be hard. Your leadership team has to have an absolute commitment to the need for change. They have to be committed to leading and leading with a skill for managing the disruptive, emotional, and conflict-ridden process of change.





Posted on March 13, 2015 .

BOOK REVIEW: Where the Cross Meets the Street

Noel Castellanos, CEO of the Christian Community Development Association, recently wrote a book entitled Where the Cross Meets the Street: What Happens to the Neighborhood When God is at the Center. You should get it, read it, and share it with those with whom you work.

On a very cold day in Chicago, Noel took a break from his training walk for an upcoming pilgrimage to talk to me about his book and share his thoughts about how people like us can detoxify charity. First, a quick overview of the book, and then a few reflections on it's implications for Charity Detox.


Much like John Perkins's Quiet Revolutionwhich was highly influential in Noel's journey, Where the Cross Meets the Street is a memoir-like introduction to CCDA ministry. The book contextualizes the theology and practices of the CCDA in the pain and joy of his own story and the story of his barrio. Noel expressed to me that one of the main reasons he wrote the book was to remind practitioners that there is no "silver bullet." To the contrary, he says, we must engage our under-resourced neighborhoods with a "holistic approach" that is "complex and multi-dimensional." He contends that no one method, no matter how healthy and legitimate in it's own right, is capable of transforming a community. 

Noel's book is structured around the following diagram: 

Noel models well what he calls a Latino approach to theology because it integrates personal narrative, theological reflection, and contextualized practice. The book begins with Noel's story growing up in a nominally Catholic, immigrant family in Texas. This lays the foundation for his calling not only to a deep, personal faith but into ministry. From there he seamlessly weaves together stories about his own life, discussions of CCDA philosophy, and compelling narratives about La Villita, or Little Village, the barrio in Chicago where he and his family have lived for 25 years.

Noel's integrative teaching on theology and ministry begins with Incarnation, which refers to moving into the neighborhood among the people society has placed on the margins. Incarnation is what he considers the "linchpin to all effective ministry." He then gives one chapter each to the four other parts of the diagram: Proclamation and Formation, Demonstration of Compassion, Restoration and Development, and Confrontation of Injustice. 


I recommend this book whether you have never heard of CCDA, are brand new to it, or have been implementing its philosophies for years. It offers a healthy and honest critique of the primarily white, Westernized theology that has undergirded toxic approaches to charity and mission for years. Where the Cross Meets the Street has many implications for the process of detoxifying charity. Here are but a few:


Detoxifying one’s work may not be about strategy as much as it is about relationship.
— Charity Detox

I asked Noel why moving into the neighborhood is not just important but vital to the work of transformation. He spoke of the value of knowing people by name and being immersed in their stories over the course of many years. This alters the way one understands and responds to presenting needs. Charity, benevolence, or what Noel languages as "Demonstrations of Compassion" are often toxic because they suffer from a proximity disorder. If we are not rooted in people's lives and in the contexts in which they live, then we are always going to be limited in how we understand the path ahead. The way we label the problems, define solutions, and build strategies will miss the critical elements that only the long, hard, and quotidian work of neighboring can reveal. Noel's life and his book model the transformative power of knowing and being known as a neighbor rather than a service provider. Proximity allows us to be able to treat crises like crises and chronic issues like chronic issues. Detoxifying one's work may not be about strategy as much as it is about relationship.


One of Noel's most important critiques concerns how a truncated Gospel leads to unhealthy ministry. For example, he says that when "everything else is seen as a hook for proclamation" it reveals our underlying assumptions about the nature of the Gospel. His concern is that when one treats acts of charity or efforts to develop a community as bait for evangelism, it sets up toxic relationships and ultimately unhealthy models of engagement. He warns, "people are treated like projects, and no one wants to be someone else's project." Though Noel affirms that Proclamation and Formation as an indispensable aspect of biblical mission, it cannot stand alone or apart from the other elements. The same rule applies to the other pieces of the diagram. Therefore, the path toward responsible charity is not just about critically examining our programs. Detoxification requires us to look carefully at some of the biblical metaphors that define our work and see if their are other texts, images, passages that invite us into a more robust approach. EVERYONE needs to regularly recalibrate their theology with a vision of a Jesus on the margins who preached and healed, who compassionately fed the hungry and prophetically confronted the systems of power. 


Do what you are called to do, but do it with the recognition that your approach is not all that is needed.
— Noel Castellanos

Since responsible and transformative work in a community requires this holistic approach, I asked Noel what advice he would have for people who look at all these parts and wonder how in the world they can focus on something so big and complex. This is why, Noel affirms, that "collaboration is so important," which the stories in his book model really well. He reminds us that "there is no one person or church who can do it all well." Therefore, Noel advises, we have to develop relationships with people who can help us to mature in those where we struggle or lack experience. He shares about his own passion having been centered on Restoration and Development over the years and the importance of joining with others in recent years to do immigration reform advocacy. Noel's corrective to our one-dimensional tendencies is to "do what you are called to do, but do it with the recognition that your approach is not all that is needed." Detoxifying means knowing your strengths and developing partnerships with people, churches, and organizations that can help you participate in God's work in more holistic ways.


One of the great quotes from the book is when Noel writes, "When demonstrations of compassion reach their limits, you have to move toward development for people to find real freedom." I asked him to talk about how practitioners can know when they have reached those limits and what to do about it. He shared at length about the need to be honest with yourself if people in your ministries are simply becoming dependent or if they are being empowered to move forward. Noel challenges us to remember that we have to have less interest in promoting and sustaining our programs and more interest in seeing people flourish. This, I am learning, is one of the great challenges of detoxification - having the vision to set better objectives and the courage to let those objectives subvert our well-established methods. Noel advises that we place "measuring sticks" around the things that matter like dignity, interdependence, empowerment, and the like.  We have to let go of our affection for the types of things, like the good feeling we get out of giving things to others for free, that do not promote a more redemptive model. Otherwise, Noel warns, we end up with "bad compassion" that perpetuates problems. He says that we have to "be willing to admit where we are wrong and that we have areas to grow in."  Humility and confession, in turns out, are part of the necessary ingredients to start, sustain, and bring to completion the kinds of radical change many charity efforts need to go through. Detoxification is not just the process of transforming models, it is about being willing to be transformed ourselves.


As Noel reflected on the challenging process of changing long-held philosophies of ministry and well-established rules for operation, he offered some wise caution for people beginning that journey. He expressed concern for people who look at large, established organizations, like Lawndale CDC in Chicago or FCS in Atlanta, who are doing community development well. As important as seeing other, more successful models may be, it is easy to get discouraged at how big and successful they seem to be and how small and unsuccessful we feel. He reminds us that they were all small at one time, and they grew at the only pace that healthy things can grow - slowly! Detoxifying charity means we are committed for the long haul. Although it will come in slow and in small - painfully small - increments, change will come.


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Noel Castellanos has worked in full-time ministry in Latino, urban communities since 1982. He has served in youth ministry, church planting, advocacy and community development in San Francisco, San Jose, and Chicago. After serving on the Board of the Christian Community Development Association for many years, he established the CCDA Institute, which equips emerging church leaders in the philosophy of Christian Community Development, and currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of CCDA. Noel was appointed to serve on President Obamaʼs Council for Faith and Neighborhood Partnerships, and is a highly sought after speaker, motivator, and mentor to young leaders throughout the USA, and has a deep passion to serve and invest in the lives of leaders committed to serving the poor. Along with Where the Cross Meets the Street, Noel is the co-author of A Heart for the Community, New Models for Urban and Suburban Ministry, and has contributed to various other books and publications, including Deep Justice in a Broken World, A Heart for the City, and Crazy Enough to Care (see below). He and his wife, Marianne, have three children; Noel Luis, Stefan, and Anna, and make their home in the barrio of La Villita in Chicago.

Posted on March 2, 2015 .

Detoxification: 3 Things Worth Measuring

Recently on our Twitter feed, we encouraged our followers to measure what matters. We started with these two posts: 

It is really easy in charity work to measure inputs and outputs, activities and volume. What would it mean, though, if we measured our efforts by how they actually change the economic well-being of a neighbor/neighborhood? That would mean taking an honest look at our outputs, whether they are the ones we intend or not.

For example, it is one thing to celebrate the number of meals distributed, the number of volunteers involved, the number of homeless individuals served, etc.. It is another this to ask, "Why are the same people returning week after week after week?," or "What can we do alongside our homeless neighbors to ensure that they are able to provide food and shelter for themselves so that they no longer need this?"

These are the foundational concerns and questions of the Charity Detox community. 

One of our Twitter followers asked for examples of things to measure that matter. Here are 3 things to serve as a primer for that conversation with your ministry partners.

1. Involvement. Are those being "served" involved in the leadership, organization, distribution, planning, etc. of the ministry? If it is the materially wealthy making all the decisions and doing all the work and the materially poor simply living at the receiving end, toxicity will always persist. Begin to measure progress toward equal involvement AT ALL LEVELS of the organization.

2. Capacity. If those being "served" remain in a perpetual need for the service you provided, your measurements have to shift. Is the poverty needle moving? Is the capacity of the neighbors who seek assistance being leveraged so that they are able to provide for themselves and their families. We have to think beyond the immediate presenting need to the underlying causes and the long-term health of our neighbors.

3. Application. What keeps charity toxic is the misapplication of responses. When a crisis hits, emergency relief is the appropriate strategy to apply. A tornado wipes out a town. Donations of food, clothing, shelter, etc. make sense. When a problem is chronic, however, applying emergency relief only perpetuates (or worsens) the problem. If an organization works on measuring the appropriate application of responses, they may begin celebrating that they are giving less and less volume of stuff away and pointing more and more people to processes that lead to their personal growth and health. 

Posted on January 20, 2015 .

GUEST POST: Detox Starts (and ends) With Posture

There is a lot of focus on models, practices, and programs when it comes to detoxifying charity - and rightly so. We need better ways of doing things! However, we can't forget the critical role that "posture" plays in ensuring that toxicity is removed from our charity efforts. Dr. Shawn Duncan, Co-Founder of EIRO, shares some words of wisdom from two Somali women who know what it is like to be on the receiving end of toxic charity.

Posted on December 17, 2014 .

GUEST POST: Donating With Dignity

The push for Christmas and yearend donations to nonprofits is in full swing! How do we give in ways that are non-toxic? What role to donors and donations play in ensuring that we are moving toward responsible charity? A fundraising professional, Ginny Giles, shares with the Charity Detox community a few practices and principles to answer these questions. 

Posted on December 9, 2014 .

INTERVIEW, PART TWO: Brian Fikkert on Short-Term Mission Trips

Short-term mission trips have become a staple of the American Christian experience with billions being spent every year traveling, working, and attempting to make a difference in the name of Jesus around the world. Many have begun to question the efficacy of these trips. Brian Fikkert, author of When Helping Hurts and founder of The Chalmers Center, has recently published Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions to help leaders and participants detoxify the way these trips are practiced. Charity Detox interviewed Fikkert recently about this new book.


Charity Detox had the opportunity to speak with Brian Fikkert, Founder of the Chalmers Center and author of When Helping Hurts. The interview will be posted in two parts. PART ONE reports on the first half of our conversation, which focuses on the process of change for organizations seeking to detoxify their charity. Next week we will publish the remainder of the interview, which discusses Fikkert's new book, Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions.   

GUEST POST: The Whys and Hows of Christian Advocacy Work

Many Christians have responded to a call to address brokenness in their community. From human trafficking to food security to the education gap, they feel a burden to make a difference, to see healing and reconciliation happen. Sometimes work in these areas leads to an awareness that there are systemic issues that contribute to the problem. Many realize that no matter how many direct services they provide, lasting impact will not come without structural/legal change. Speaking from his experience leading a national immigration reform effort, Matthew Soerens, author of Welcoming the Stranger and Field Director for the Evangelical Immigration Table, shares two reasons why we should do advocacy and two pieces of advice on doing it well.

Posted on November 20, 2014 .

GUEST POST: How To Move from Betterment to Development

Believing that change needs to happen in the way charity, missions, or benevolence is practiced is one thing. Figuring out how to make that change is another! Author, innovator, veteran community developer, and 40-year practitioner of urban ministry, Bob Lupton speaks to the Charity Detox community about the ingredients for change.

Posted on November 18, 2014 .