Give A Man A Fish Or Teach Him How To Fish? How Do We Really Help The Poor?

Many in the world are united in the desire to use their limited resources to help those who are poor and less fortunate or just going through difficult times. Unfortunately, there seems much debate about how best to do so. Whether as an individual, family, community, church, or nation, we must ask ourselves the following question.

“How do we efficiently use limited resources to help as many as possible?”

Common sense and life experience should easily show us that if we simply give money away to everyone who asks without limit or boundary any individual or even a nation will quickly find themselves bankrupt. If you don’t agree… do an experiment with your own money or resources. Set aside a set amount you can afford to lose and offer it to anyone that asks in any amount they ask. You will not long have money to help people and in fact you likely did not help as many people as you could have if you were more disciplined and structured in your approach.

So then, how to proceed? Let us begin with the story of two fishing villages a long time ago.

In each village lived one man who knew how to fish and fish well. Both men prospered.

One day a hungry man came to the fisherman in the first village and asked for help. The fisherman wanted to help so he gave him a fish. The next day the hungry man came back and brought friends and the fisherman again gave them fish. “I can fish a little longer to help others”, he thought. The pattern continued for weeks, each day the crowd was bigger. Eventually the fisherman was discouraged. He could no longer catch enough fish to help everyone. Not only were people going hungry, but they were now angry with him also, shouting “You helped others, why will you not help us?!” Finally, the man was not able to even feed his own family on what he kept for himself and he left the village for another. The village now was left with many looking for free fish, but no one there to provide them.

In the second village, the story begins like the first. A hungry man came to him one day, asking for help. The fisherman gave the man a fish because he saw that he was very hungry. But before the hungry man left, the fisherman also offered that if he would return tomorrow, the fisherman would teach the hungry man how to fish on his own. The hungry man agreed. The fisherman challenged the hungry man that he would offer him lessons only for a short while and offer him free fish even shorter time than that. The hungry man thought this was more than fair… after all, the fisherman owed him nothing… and he was very eager to learn. He showed up early and stayed as late as the fisherman was willing to teach him. He paid close attention and asked good questions. He learned. At the end of the time both were good fishermen. By that time a crowd of others had made a practice to come by to watch. They, too, were hungry and wanted to learn how to fish. Now the two fishermen were able to teach more and when that class learned to fish their impact was even greater. Each new student not only received food to meet their needs for a short while, but then also learned how to provide for themselves and their families. At the end of each class, there were more who knew how to fish and were willing to teach others. The whole village learned to fish and provide for their families. Before long they even heard of a village down the river that was going hungry and a group of them started off to go teach those people how to fish.

Which fisherman truly helped the poor more effectively? The first did for awhile, but then his efforts collapsed. They were unsustainable. The second created capability within those in need to provide for themselves while meeting their immediate needs for a short while. The impact of the second was much more sustainable and changed lives.

Whether an individual, family, community, church, or nation… giving away free stuff without limitations and boundaries to all who ask for as long as they ask encourages sloth and laziness and in the end is unsustainable. At the very least, it does not multiply the impact of the help as effectively as teaching others to be able to provide for themselves and then teach yet more people how to do so.

The most significant example of the success of this strategy may actually surprise you. It started over two thousand years ago with a poor carpenter who had a very important message to share with the world. He helped many people, feeding the poor, healing the sick, and sharing His message with people. His ministry lasted only three years and yet it has global implications even today, over 2000 years later. That carpenter was Jesus Christ.

Jesus took time to help those in immediate need, and did so with great compassion. However, he ensured that he also invested time in teaching his 12 disciples how to learn and then teach others. Additionally, he spent even more dedicated time and invested more in three closest to him… Peter, James, and John. This method that Jesus used is called discipleship. He made disciples, or “learners” who then could go and teach others. It creates a wonderful multiplication effect that magnifies the impact of what you are trying to accomplish.

If Jesus had not focused his efforts through discipleship, but rather only spent all his time meeting the short term needs of the poor, the message would have been contained and died with him or at best with his closest followers.

We should take similar approach in our efforts to help people both physically and spiritually today. Help to meet the immediate needs, within established boundaries and guidelines that help ensure sustainability and teach and prepare those in need how to grow and develop skills to take care of themselves so they are not dependent forever on an individual… a church… or a nation’s government. When individuals are completely dependent on another in this way, they become like slaves or indentured servants rather than enjoying the fullness of freedom God intended for them.


Remember that all you have belongs to God. Manage your money God’s way. Visit .

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