Preachers and pastors, knowingly or unknowingly, sometimes appeal to shame in sermons, convinced if someone feels bad enough, then they might change for the better.

In other circumstances, church members might use shame due to someone’s identity or a special “sin” that has been committed by the person.

However, what spiritual leaders and church members probably do not know is the harmful effects of shame. Listeners can unconsciously internalize messages that they are not worthy, loved or good.

It can also create the opposite effect of not wanting to be a part of the community. The shamed person feels ostracized, not embraced by the other Christians.

In her book I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), Brené Brown focuses on the emotion of shame. She has spent decades of her life and wrote countless books based off her research on this topic.

From her interviews, she defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”

Shame might create thoughts and beliefs of someone not having a place among fellow believers. Alongside feeling shame, it often includes the emotion of fear.

People will feel like they need to hide, pushing God and others further away. Due to shame, someone might not connect to Christians around them. A person can start associating with the identities of worthlessness, alone and “other.” Shame blinds people from knowing their divine worth.

Some Christians might point to the benefits of shame. What people often think of shame is confused with guilt.

In her book, Brené Brown further explains the differences between guilt and shame. Shame is connected with who you are, she explains, while guilt is connected to behavior.

A person might feel guilty about something they have done. Guilt allows someone to know it is not okay to do this. On the other hand, when shame is felt or used, the behavior is correlated to who someone is. Instead of a behavior being bad, a person learns that they are bad.

Brown concludes: “There is nothing positive about shame. In any form, in any context and through any delivery system, shame is destructive. The idea that there are two types, healthy shame and toxic shame, did not bear out in my research.”

In other words, no matter how much you shame someone into doing something, they will not change or grow.

Instead of offering a gospel of shame, the church can encourage, teach and guide people to recognize the power shame has on others and to choose another path.

Shame is not only in the church; it is everywhere in society. From advertisements to relationships, shame grows uncontrollably.

To encourage shame resilience and growth, churches need to teach Christians about their divine worth. They need to be consistently reminded that they are loved, worthy and good.

We must become aware of what shame is and how it works in our own communities. It is silent. Shame teaches people that they are alone in their struggles. People do not want to speak of it. Naming shame allows it to no longer have power over others.

By offering a place of belonging, people can learn about the unconditional love of God that does not shame them for their identities. True connection and belonging allows people to be their true selves, not captives to shame.

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing series focused on engaging the emerging generations of faith leaders. If you know anyone who might be interested, encourage them to submit an article for consideration to submissions@goodfaithmedia.org.

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