The Shame Spiral

For fourteen years Margaret from Accounts had admired Geoff from HR but felt unworthy. For the same fourteen years he felt she was out of his league. What a waste of a decade and a half! It was nothing to do with lack of attraction and everything to do with personal shame.

There’s a phrase I’ve heard a few times from people in my neighbourhood, about my church: “Oh, you wouldn’t want someone like me.” At first I took it as a polite way of turning down an invitation. Then I began reading into it, and got defensive, thinking: “What – do you think we’re a bunch of superior Pharisees looking down on everyone?”

Then finally, having heard it several times, I began to wonder about taking it at face value. What if it’s an expression of shame? What if shame is a major reason for people to avoid church and decline invitations? Then a big question: What if we hear the declining of the invitation and it brings out our own shame? Are our events not good enough? Is our music not musical enough? Is our teaching boring, our morning tea too mundane, our people too ordinary?

We redouble our efforts to put on an even better event next year, and the invitation is knocked back again. It’s frustrating. We stare across the sparsely-filled car park at the neighbourhood and silently wish we could somehow be good enough for our neighbours … who may be staring right back from behind their lace curtains, a bit bitter at the church that would surely reject them.

Where this dynamic is true, we have a different challenge in our outreach. Not to persuade people of Jesus’ magnificence or the church’s excellence, but of the enormous value of each person and how deeply wanted they are by God and us.

I remember receiving the business card of a Korean pastor. His contact details were small, but in large letters across the front was this simple sentence: “You are very important to God.” To those who say or think “You wouldn’t want someone like me” we need to find a way to respond with “Oh, if only you knew!” What a strange moment when Margaret from Accounts and Geoff from HR finally connected and discovered what had truly been going on all that time. The spiral of shame robs us all, but Christ has overcome it. As his agents, perhaps it’s time for us to be a little more shameless in reaching out? And more sensitive to the shame of others.

Posted on March 1, 2019, in Church, Culture, Evangelism, Leadership. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Frank Tucker 2

    Good reflection Andrew.

    Certainly shame is one of the issue. That would another ways of feeling inadequate.

    A number of non-western societies are predominantly shame-honour societies. I recall when there was an Asian stock market crash – Japanese investors jumped out of windows rather than deal with the shame of loss. That was a while ago now. – maybe 20yrs.

    Cross-cultural communicators have to think about that. Some missionaries have said that Japanese have no concept of sin. I think they were wrong. They understood sin in legal terms not relational terms.

    Adam and Eve were shamed before God had given the law. The Bible also speaks of Jesus taking our shame upon himself at the cross, so we are no longer shamed. Shame-honour cultures place a great emphasis on relationships – how others see them. So making an Billy Graham Association type appeal to these people exacerbates their shame.

    Recently some have observed that Australians (post moderns) are shifting towards shame more than guilt. Certainly guilt seems to have disappeared from popular culture. What do you think? I am interested.

    May you continue to be a blessing,


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