Shame is a powerful and often silent killer of our soul. It has afflicted many pastors and ministry leaders. Edward Welch, author of Shame Interrupted (a great book) defines shame in this way. Shame is the deep sense that you are unacceptable because of something you did, something done to you, or something associated with you. You feel exposed and humiliated. Or, to strengthen the language, you are disgraced because you acted less than human, you were treated as if you were less than human, or you were associated with something less than human, and there are witnesses (Kindle loc 177-180). So how do we deal with it. Here are some thoughts.
3 Ways Leaders can Deal with their Shame
- Realize where shame comes from.
- It comes from our own sin.
- It comes from sins others commit against us.
- It comes simply by association (i.e., someone in your family commited something scandalous and you feel shame because of it).
- It comes from our humanness (i.e., when we realize we don’t have what it takes to achieve our goals in life; this is often true for pastors when they realize they may never pastor a big church).
- Take comfort in God’s perspective on shame.
- He takes great interest in the shamed, forgotten, and marginalized (1 Cor. 1.26-28).
- Jesus experienced shame for us and therefore knows it intimately (Is. 53.3).
- God loves us not because of our worthiness (our perception that we have it all together) but because of His loving nature (Deut. 7.6-8).
- Make four critical decisions.
- Turn to his face in repentance. Read the amazing story of Isaiah’s encounter with God in Is. 6.1-7 for the biblical basis of my thoughts below.
- When we feel shamed, we don’t want to look someone in the face. We want to avoid them. However, Jesus wants us to come into his presence and look Him in the face to deal with our shame caused by our own sin. He wants us to confess and repent. Psalms 34.5 says, Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.
- Receive his touch of forgiveness.
- Jesus often physically touched the outcast, broken, and shamed. Human touch can often melt away shame. Jesus wants us to experience his touch of forgiveness and cleansing
- Drink deeply of His Spirit.
- In John 4 we read the familiar story about the woman at the well. When Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for water, he crossed many shame barriers: rabbis did not talk to women, Jews did not talk to Samaritans, and Jews did not contaminate themselves by eating or drinking with non-Jews. He offered her life-giving water from His Spirit. God’s Holy Spirit can wash away our shame as it did for this woman.
- Feast at his table of acceptance in the church community.
- After Peter denied Jesus, he felt great shame. Yet, after Jesus’ resurrection and after Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him, he had a meal with Peter and the other disciples which pictured his being welcomed back into community. Shame can melt away when we experience real community in the church.
Shame stings, but it need not be deadly. Although people and circumstances around us may still shame us (and it hurts), Christ can release us from its destructive power.
1Pet. 2.6 For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
What has helped people you know deal with their shame?
Several years ago I took improv classes in downtown Chicago to help develop my right-brain skills. I left mid-day to miss the traffic and then catch up on my task list at a table at Chipolte. One week, with my ear buds snug in my ears to block out noise, I focused on my “important” projects. I was busy, maybe too busy. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a dark haired sixty-ish women sitting at the table to my left. As she held a courtesy cup I watched her use a spoon to crush a few lemon slices in water. What happened next surprised me.
Something prompted me to ask her if she had anything to eat. In broken English she said that she hadn’t eaten all day. After we talked for a few moments I learned that she was Muslim, had immigrated from Turkey 5 years earlier, and had been homeless for 4 years.
As I heard her story God prompted me to say, “I want to buy you dinner.” At first she refused, but then with thankful tears she acquiesced. I bought her a chicken salad and a soft drink.
For the next 45 minutes I set aside my “important” tasks and simply listened to her stories, often as she gently cried. I learned her name, Sabria. I learned that a problem had occurred with her immigration papers that had led to her homelessness. Also, her husband had divorced her in Turkey decades prior, her parents were dead, and she never had children yet two sisters and a brother were still living. She told me that she refused to beg on the street and would not become a “dirty girl” which I understood to mean she refused to become a prostitute.
I told her that the meal (and some money I later gave her) was from Jesus and that I was a Christian. She responded with, “I like Jesus too.”
As my class time neared I asked if I could pray for her. Wide-eyed she said, “Ok.” After I prayed I left her my name and told her I’d be there every Wednesday at 5. I had an inkling that I might see her again (I did a few times).
Here’s what this “God encounter” with Sabria taught me.
- Too often I let tasks trump relationships.
- God brings opportunities to serve the “least of these” at inconvenient times.
- I can’t ignore the tasks that ministry requires, but when I am in task mode I must keep my spiritual “peripheral vision” active, looking for those “God moments” with the Sabrias of the world.
- God values everybody and so should I.
- True love always costs me something, my time, my money, my listening ear, my ….
Has God every encountered you in this way by interrupting your plans with His? What have you learned when He did?
Today, be on the lookout for your Sabria to whom God wants you to love.
Woundedness. A condition this side of heaven we all will face from time-to-time. Pastors are not immune. I’ve been hurt and you probably have been as well. If you’re a wounded pastor right now because of what someone in your church or family said or did, what should you do? Consider these five critical choices that can help you deal with your hurt.
- Recognize and acknowledge your basic behavioral response when you get hurt.
- God wired our brains to act quickly when we feel threatened. Two small almond shaped cluster of neurons (brain cells) called the amygdala lie deep in the brain. When we feel danger or threat (i.e., someone hurts us), they enable us to respond quickly. Although they are quick to respond, they don’t differentiate very well between a real tiger in the woods (real danger when we need to run to keep from getting eaten) and a paper tiger (someone in your church who said something hurtful to you).
- Here are the four basic responses to hurt. When we become aware of the one that is our predominant reaction, we can then become more proactive to not let it get out of hand.
- Fight: we react, become defensive, yell, scream, refuse to yield
- Flee: we physically or emotionally cut ourselves off from others, become passive aggressive, quit talking, shut down
- Freeze: we don’t take any position, we stay neutral and don’t do anything when we should do something
- Appease: we people please, try to keep the peace at any price, compromise convictions, enable the person to continue in his or her hurtful behavior
- Act as if.
- Jesus said in Luke 6.27 that we must love our enemies. The word for love is the word agape, a love that is not based on the merits of the other person. This love is not something that happens to you (i.e., like someone who ‘falls’ in love). Rather agape love is a choice of our will superintended by the Holy Spirit that allows us to love the offender even when we don’t feel like it. It is an ‘act as if’ kind of love.
- Guard your tongue.
- When someone hurts us it’s easy to lose control over what we say in return. Jesus says in Luke 6.28 that we must bless those who curse us. To bless is the opposite of cursing. It is using our words in a God honoring way rather than in a vindictive or a ‘tit-for-tat’ way.
- Wish the best for your offender.
- Again in Luke 6 Jesus makes some astounding statements about how we should treat those who have hurt us: turn the other cheek, bless them, pray for them. When Jesus makes these statements he’s not prohibiting self defense. Neither does He imply that we should pray that our offender would continue in his or her hurtful ways or that they should necessarily get their way. Rather, He’s saying that as we pray we pray for God’s best for that person. Often their greatest need is for true repentance so that they can experience God’s forgiveness. John Piper aptly explains what it means to pray for and wish the best for our offenders.
Prayer for your enemies is one of the deepest forms of love, because it means that you have to really want that something good happen to them. You might do nice things for your enemy without any genuine desire that things go well with them. But prayer for them is in the presence of God who knows your heart, and prayer is interceding with God on their behalf. It may be for their conversion. It may be for their repentance. It may be that they would be awakened to the enmity in their hearts. It may be that they will be stopped in their downward spiral of sin, even if it takes disease or calamity to do it. But the prayer Jesus has in mind here is always for their good.
- Lean into Jesus.
- Jesus commands in Luke 6 may seem like nonsense statements. If you’ve been deeply hurt, these first four choices are impossible on willpower alone. It takes supernatural strength to respond in a godly way to those who hurt us deeply. When we lean into Jesus and respond appropriately to such hurt, we act most like God. When we lean into Him, the Holy Spirit will give us the strength we need to not yield to our default responses. Rather, He will give us the wisdom, stamina, and strength to respond to our offender in a God honoring way.
What has helped you deal with hurts in ministry?
Rejection. The sound of the word itself even sounds ominous. If you’ve been a pastor or church leader for any length of time, chances are you’ve felt the dagger of rejection. It may have come intentionally through a serious conflict with a leader who didn’t like or support you. It may have come more subtly when someone quietly leaves your church and the scuttlebutt was that they left because they “weren’t getting fed.” The source doesn’t matter. It still hurts. When it inevitable does come, what can we do? In this post I suggest 7 ways to navigate the pain of rejection.
How Leaders Can Navigate the Pain of Rejection…
- Recognize that you’ve not sinned because you feel hurt. Our brain registers physical pain primarily in two areas of the brain, the insula, which lies deep in our brain, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which lies between our brain’s thinking center and our emotional center. And guess what? Social pain such as rejection registers in the same places. So, rejection actually physically hurts. It’s an automatic response to rejection that God wired into our bodies. So, the bad feelings you experience from rejection don’t mean you’re a weak leader or a sinful person.
- When rejected, admit the pain you feel. Don’t ignore or stuff your emotions. The phrase, “Grown men don’t cry,” implies that a guy should not allow himself to show his ‘soft’ emotions. The problem is, it’s self-defeating. When we stuff or suppress our emotions, it actually makes our painful emotions more intense internally. However, it’s scientifically proven that when we name our painful emotions, we actually lessen their intensity.
- Journal your feelings. Many counselors recommend something called ‘writing therapy,’ a fancy term for journaling. When we feel rejected, journaling our painful feelings can take the sting out of them. Akin to writing therapy is something called ‘talk therapy.’ Again, it’s a fancy term for sharing you pain with others. It’s helpful to find a safe friend to process your feelings when rejected. In this post I share several qualities to look for in a safe friend.
- Refuse to base your identity on your ability to make 100% of the people happy 100% of the time. A temptation every ministry leader faces is to keep people happy 100% of the time. Trying to do that will kill you. We certainly don’t want to intentionally make people mad. But some people will never be pleased, no matter what you do. Jesus, the perfect leader, didn’t please everyone. In fact, John records this uber rejection of Jesus. From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (John 6.66, NIV)
- Don’t magnify the pain by rejecting the rejector in return. It’s tempting to cut your rejectors off by rejecting them. When we do, we only exacerbate our pain. I once had a guy who did his best to convince the board that I was not the right pastor for the church. The board fully backed me. He left. A few months later I saw him in a store and had a choice. Would I walk down another aisle to avoid him, or would I walk toward him and try to shake his hand? I made the latter choice. I walked over, reached out my hand, and said, “Hi.” He glared at me and walked by without shaking my hand. Poor guy. He was a bitter dude. In such cases, apply the words Peter gave us about Jesus’ response to rejection. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (I Pt 2.23, NIV)
- Step back to keep or regain perspective. When rejection stings, our perspective can quickly become cloudy. We can easily extrapolate the rejection in our minds and assume that many other people feel the same way or will do the same thing (i.e., I wonder who else is leaving the church?). Remember, a rejection by one person is…rejection by one person. Such rejection seldom reflects the viewpoints of others. So, guard against the proverbial, “blowing things out of proportion.”
- If it’s a serious rejection, get professional help. Sometimes rejection is such a deep blow that we can’t navigate it on our own with a good cry or coffee with a friend. You may need professional help. Losing a job, losing a vote of confidence from your board, or significant numbers of people leaving your ministry probably qualify as significant rejections. Don’t feel ashamed to seek professional help. If you break an arm, you’ll see a doctor. If your heart gets broken, find a wise counselor to help bring healing.
Sometimes we’d rather experience physical pain that social pain, for good reason. Our brains are wired to recall the emotional pain of past rejection, but not past physical pain. So, rejection potentially carries a long lasting impact on our souls. Don’t take it lightly. Deal with it sooner that later.
What has helped you deal with rejection in ministry?
Some time back I read an incredible book – Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Dr. Brene Brown. I highly recommend it. Her TED talk on this subject has garnered over 30,000,000 views. She strikes a chord for leaders about risking vulnerability. As a pastor vulnerability is scary and carries risks with which we must practice care when being vulnerable. As risky as it is, Dr. Brown says it’s a key to what she calls wholehearted living, what I’d called a Spirit-filled life. She says we live in a culture of scarcity and poses 14 questions in her book (p. 27) in three categories that caused me to reflect deeply about my family, my ministry, and my world. I’ve quoted some here and paraphrased others.
14 really scary questions about vulnerability…
As you read them, what is God saying to you about your family, your life, and your ministry?
- Is my self worth tied to achievement, productivity, or compliance?
- Do I use the threat of belittling or ridicule to keep people in line?
- Are put-downs and name-calling rampant?
- Are blaming and finger pointing norms?
- Am I guilty of favoritism?
- Am I a perfectionist?
- Has my creativity been suffocated?
- Do I constantly compare and rank myself against others?
- Are people in my family or church held to one narrow standard rather than acknowledged for their unique gifts and contributions?
- Is there an ideal way of being or one form of talent that is used to measure everyone else’s worth?
- Is everyone struggling to be seen and heard?
- Are people afraid to take risks or try new things?
- Does it feel as if no one is really paying attention or listening?
- Is it easier to stay quiet than share stories, experiences, and ideas?
As you read these, what question really resonated with you?
What question would you add to this list?