Why I’ve Stopped Giving Handouts

A Street Minister Rethinks Giving Money for Nothing

My Story
Like so many passionate young people ten years ago, I became enthralled with the radical generosity of God’s grace and began ministering directly to the homeless in my city. It gave me a feeling, quiet though it was, of self-righteousness in my own generosity.

Weeks and months of these one-sided relationships passed, and I saw change neither in the giver (me) nor the recipient. All of my handouts were doing nothing.

My friends and I would discuss our desire to help the poor, but come to no practical consensus about how to do so. Our handouts did nothing, and left us feeling violated – conscientiously and financially. It was as though the poor sought out idealistic young people to emotionally abuse with their sob-stories.

When “Helping” Hurts
But the pieces didn’t click together until we read When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. Their main points (outlined creatively in this video) are:

  1. At the deepest level of need, poor people, like all people, have broken relationships (with God, others, creation, and self).
  2. Though we may try to help the poor, “good intentions aren’t enough.”
  3. Poor people (like all people) need Jesus Christ and His local church to heal broken relationships at the root of poverty.
  4. The image of God in all people means that each of us has dignity, worth, and ability to work hard. “The ultimate solution to poverty comes not from the outside in, but from the inside out.
  5. Practically, we should only help the poor in ways that they cannot help themselves (i.e., pay for work, not for nothing).

Wow, even watching that video reminds me of the great harm I’ve done, we’ve done, in giving handouts to homeless people who willfully choose to beg rather than work. And these are the “handouts” I’m talking about – not all types, just the dishonest, undignified types.

There is a woman we meet who works hard and still has unexpected troubles, then there is a man who comes to our church to beg off of everyone. The first should be helped and counseled; the second rebuked and cast out if he continues his dishonest ways.

Giving handouts to those who can and should work instead tells them that it’s okay to beg, steal, lie, and cheat to get their cash. Instead, we ought to be pointing them to the Christ who is able to help us each fulfill our callings wherever we need to serve, work, and love.

A Moment on White Guilt
I’m not big into talking about this (Doug Wilson is one who does it more faithfully and carefully), but we ought to think long and hard about how money and privilege entitle us neither to withhold generosity nor succumb to guilty handouts. The people around us need better “love” than that; their souls are worth more.

I know I often “feel bad” because I grew up with opportunities that maybe others didn’t have, but there’s nothing wrong with opportunities. We know not why the Master gives one manager ten talents, the next five, and the last just one. We just know He gives them and calls us to account for them.

So Paul’s word to the rich in Ephesus makes more sense:

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty,
nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches,
but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.
They are to do good, to be rich in good works,
to be generous and ready to share,
thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future,
so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
1 Timothy 6:17-19 ESV

Let us who are rich in this present age do good with the talents our Lord has given us, with an eye toward loving others and storing up treasure, not in self-righteous works, but in heaven. These “good works,” however, ought not indebt the poor to our own “goodness,” nor maim the image of God within them, but stoke the fires of Godly passions.


About B Treece
loved by God before I ever loved Him, saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone by the authority of the Bible alone to the glory of God alone, made to enjoy Him forever, happily married with wonder-filled children.

2 Responses to Why I’ve Stopped Giving Handouts

  1. Pingback: Why I’ve Stopped Giving Handouts by Britt Treece « Resting in His Grace

  2. mtsweat says:

    This is really good… and appreciated. Blessings.

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