Sometimes good intentions aren’t enough.

Take the New York Police Department, who in an attempt to foster better relations with the public decided on this great plan:

“Do you have a photo with a member of the NYPD? Tweet us & tag it #myNYPD. It may be featured on our Facebook,” the department posted on its NYPD News Twitter feed, hoping to fuel a feel-good, low-cost public relations campaign.

Or how about that time in 1986 when:

The whole crazy scheme – known as Balloonfest ’86 – was a fundraising effort organised by the United Way, an attempt to break the world record for simultaneous launch. Disneyland’s 30th Birthday, the year before in Anaheim, was the previous champion. 


What could possibly go wrong, right?

Except maybe THIS…

New York police Tuesday were eating extra helpings of humble pie after asking people to post images of themselves and NYPD officers on Twitter – only to face a deluge of pictures of alleged police brutality.[You can read the rest of the article and see some of the unfortunate pictures over here  in what has overnight become a PR nightmare of epic proportions].

Or perhaps THIS…

Then the “asteroid field” of airborne debris clouded the sky, shut down a runway at a local airport, interrupted the Coast Guard attempts to rescue a pair of fisherman, spooked some prize-winning horses, and generally made a mess of un-biodegradable [edit: apparently the balloons were biodegradable, for what it’s worth] garbage on land. [You can read and see more about this one over here,  including video of a news report from the following day].

Great ideas, but possibly not well thought through. This is an area that non-profits and churches involved in short-term mission trips could well learn from.

Books like ‘When Helping Hurts’ [Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert] and ‘Toxic Charity’ [Bob Lupton] have started to open up the conversation that some of the well-intentioned activities we take part in may not always benefit those we are attempting to help, and at times may even cause more harm than good.

“Give a man to fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life. But at some point we also need to ask why the fishing licences are so expensive, who owns the fences around the pond and who has been polluting the pond.”

Great words, if lived out. But too often we get caught up in simply giving people fish [why? because it is easier, brings instant gratification and doesn’t require much personal cost and also everyone likes us when we give them fish and so it feels like we’re doing something helpful]

Jesus had some helpful words to say about this one:

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Something about counting the cost.

Something about sharing ideas with other people because ‘You might not be the one with the most knowledge when it comes to this particular situation’.

Something huge about relationships and the importance of knowing, listening to and having some measure of understanding the people you are going to be working with.

Something about working with those who you might be doing outreach to as opposed to working at.

Something about long term investment, even if you are doing short term trips, possibly choosing an area and group you connect with on a recurring basis so that you can start to know, listen to better and understand the people and the context you are working with.

Something about possibly building relationship first [and possibly for a long period of time] before rushing in with help, assistance, things.

Something about good intentions being a great start, but sometimes, not enough, and sometimes not by a lot…