When helping hurts a small group

OK, so this may be the only Small Group Blog you’ll read, which starts by sitting at the feet of an economist! The man in question, Brian Fikkert, wrote a book – When Helping Hurts. It said (my paraphrase) that you can (without meaning to) hurt people in poverty by helping, if your help answers their problem for them.

Why? First, because it locks up their own ability to answer the problem, making them dependant on you. And, second, because it obligates the donor to continue being that answer indefinitely (which can prompt an unhealthy co-dependant relationship).

What’s that got to do with your small group?

Jesus didn’t leave a Mr/s fix-it, but a counsellor. The difference? A counsellor helps unlock the counselee’s own potential, enabling them to walk their own way out of their problems.

While a Mr/s fix-it does it for them.

Jesus’ pattern was to unlock the disciple’s potential, sending them out, even telling them they’d do all – and more – than he’d done.

So – if you’re a small group leader, is this your aim? To unlock your group member’s potential, to see them doing all you’re doing in the group – maybe even more?

Underpinning this is the knowledge that God doesn’t ask people to face things he will not enable them to deal with, as they have faith in him. Every person in your small group has enough God-given potential to have a go.

This isn’t about independence, but becoming emotionally able to hold the hand of God, with the counsel of his Spirit, and the support of a small group. And through it discovering more of who God made them – and you – to be.

At a simple level reflect on this question: could you lead a small group session, or even a small section of it? Have you had a go? Have you asked to have a go? Have you asked God to help you have a go? If you lead the small group, have you asked a member to have a go?

Luke 16:10 suggests that faithfulness in big things follows learning to be faithful in small things: can you step into a small thing, or invite someone else to – knowing it may be the doorway to bigger things?

Because, as Brian Fikkert says, if our kindness leads us to do it for others, when they could be learning to have a go themselves, then our helping risks hurting them.

About Steve Adams

Steve is married to Ruth and they have 4 children. They’ve run small groups in churches and written several books resourcing small groups in creative ways of engaging with God, the Bible and current issues.