“You should go to church–and like it, whether you like it or not.”
Some responders to my articles on the Dones (people who’ve left the organized church) have assigned total blame to the Dones themselves. “They’re backsliders,” they say. “It’s their duty to obey God and get their backsides back to church.”
I’ve seen a similar tone among some who’ve responded to my article on the demise of congregational singing. “Regardless of the sound or anything else, you are commanded to sing and make a joyful noise,” they say. Some refer to their own personal example: “I don’t make excuses. Every week I worship God with a humble heart.”
My friend Rick Lawrence, project leader for the new Jesus-Centered Bible, cites a Christmastime Facebook post from a pastor:
“We had a wonderful celebration of Jesus’ birth last evening, with almost 100 of us gathered together. It was, however, disappointing that some excused themselves from being there for secular and family celebrations that in reality had nothing to do with Christmas. If we are followers of Jesus we need to celebrate God coming among us in the faith community. The only legitimate excuse to be absent is if we are either in intensive care or the morgue. Folks, it always comes down to our priorities and our level of commitment to living out our baptismal promises. If you made the wrong choice this Christmas, reflect deeply on how you can change it, and why you should. Jesus is God’s love in the flesh, and the only response he seeks from us is for us to return that love!”
Rick wrote: “This pastor has just shoveled a steaming pile of should into the lap of his congregation.”
What is the ultimate effect of this kind of admonishment and attempted behavior modification? Is shame a fruitful ministry tool? I see several problems.
- Shaming usually involves the shamer’s negative judgment of a person’s heart and motives. That’s dangerous and destructive.
- Shaming doesn’t work. Few people increase their authentic love and devotion to God (or anyone) because someone shames them into loving.
- Shamers inevitably come off as self-righteous. That’s not the reputation God desires for his followers.
- Shaming distracts the shamers from improving their own ministry effectiveness.
- Shaming forgets that God doesn’t want a “shotgun” relationship with us.
As a loving Father, God wants us to draw near to him–not out of duty, obligation or shame, but out of genuine love. He’s not looking for indentured servants. He’s looking for true friends. So is his Son, who told his followers: “I no longer call you servants. Instead, I call you friends.” (John 15:15)
The truth is, Jesus is wildly in love with you. He not only loves you; he likes you. He’s not looking to be one more item on your “to do” list. He’s looking for a real relationship.
When Rick Lawrence writes about the Jesus-centered life, he describes it like a gravitational pull–toward the loving, welcoming arms of Jesus.
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus-Centered Bible)
Jesus surely lived and died on the cross to release us, not only from sin, but from shame. Try Gen. 1-3 and the Gospels…
I’ve wrestled with guilt vs. grace. Sometimes it seems the biblical authors use guilt to motivate, especially the prophets. I want to be totally grace-based in my motivation but I often default to guilt. Is guilt always bad? I feel it is a powerful motivator for me at times, though I also know I don’t like how it feels. I’m torn a bit, I guess.
Thanks, Joel. Guilt may be a natural feeling before we repent and accept forgiveness. But shame and guilt are not a solid foundation on which to build a loving, personal relationship.
Sounds like a great sermon message to describe the struggle we have in the body of Christ over this topic.
Normally shame is very subtle and it’s not easy to see the manipulation. For the most part manipulators know that the people who show up care about God and pleasing God and in that alone, they have leverage.
For example of more blatant manipulation is the leader saying things like, “You have a whole week of time for yourself. How do you think God FEELS if you can’t even give Him one hour on Sunday morning?” Then it’s, “How would you FEEL if you were Jesus and the person standing in front of you that you died for couldn’t do a simple service such as [name the church duty].” Once the manipulative church leader gets people FEELING obligated to be in church and serve in some capacity which is a divisive way to chain members into being at church every week, then comes the subject of ‘tithing’ or to put a little nicer, ‘generosity’… the new term for tithing that doesn’t sound so bad.
Again, the same tactic of playing off peoples desire and emotion to please God and how Jesus gave His life for them. What is 10% of your income compared to a the life of the Man who died for you? Some leaders go as far as to say everything belongs to God to even belittle the 10% as a way to get people to give more. It’s a play on emotion and conscience.
Much of this manipulation starts with continual repetitive preaching, setting up an emotional tie between the person and God so they have leverage with the church members for subtle manipulation to ensure the people are there to willfully give free labor to and financial support the business.
Here’s the dirty little secret about shame: It works.
Sort of. And only briefly.
You can use guilt and shame to manipulate people to do something, but there’s often a huge backlash…at least from people who are emotionally healthy.
Think of it as the stereotypical Italian Mama Syndrome: “I carry you for nine long months, I get up every time you gotta nightmare, I wipe your butt, and YOU WON’T COME OVER ON SUNDAY FOR DINNER? What kinda boy did I raise?” That sort of guilt/shame language might work for a week or two of resentful dinners, but long term? Toxic.
There’s truth in the tactic–just like there’s truth in an assertion that we “should” keep Christ central in Christmas–but it’s twisted truth. It’s truth administered as a cudgel.
So let’s check shame at the door when it comes to church. Yes, we’re sinners. Yes, we need to be saved by grace. Yes, it’s true that we continue to sin. All of that is true…but it doesn’t have to be twisted truth.
Another one of Satan’s mighty traps. ALL leaders/ leadership have probably been guilty of this one. If we haven’t acted upon saying it, we might even thought it at one time or another. Love; true love covers a multitude of sins….even our own.
Shaming happens more often when congregations are shrinking and the leaders are panicking. My observation is that growing congregations tend to focus on spreading God’s love – with leaders relating to their members in a more of an “adult to adult” way. In a shrinking congregation, the leaders are tempted to focus on God’s judgement and relate to their members in more of a “parent to child” way by using shaming to boost attendance in Sunday school and worship.
Although I shouldn’t be surprised by any of this anymore, the comments from the pastor about not attending a Christmas service were really bad.
Shame is not a motivator! We use it to turn people to our way of thinking. As a preacher, I have done it many times – I thank the Lord for showing me my error. In western society the church building has become the “church’, therefore if you do not come to the building, you do not come to God. GOD FORBID! The Bible does tell us to meet together, but to share and encourage each other. WE ARE TO WORSHIP GOD ALL THE TIME IN ALL THAT WE DO!!
I engaged in this briefly near the beginning of my ministry. It doesn’t work, since it does two things (and I confessed it to the Lord, btw):
1. It sets you at odds with the people to whom you minister;
2. It sets you over them in judgment.
We are called to minister. I wonder how many folks realize that the root idea of that word is “serve.” In other words, we meet their needs, not our own when we do church. Church is not about me as minister. It’s about them. Sometimes it’s time for honest conversation when a congregation dwindles, as hard as that is–conversation with the people who leave, and not in a judgmental way. It’s a very difficult thing, but the minister can learn a lot, if he can get his people to tell him what’s wrong. It’s way worse to read about your church in a book of failing church statistics than it is to sit down over coffee and talk with your friends (i. e., church members) and take the words they tell you to heart. Almost every pastor I’ve met has a good heart, but many of them are unidirectional, and have the “success of the church” as their goal. “It’s the people, silly!”
It’s also wise to remember that sometimes when people go, they do so for reasons that are their own, and they won’t tell you, not because it’s you, but because they either have a problem they feel they can’t discuss with you (then it IS you…), or an issue they feel they can’t deal with in a church context, or someone who was mean to them (I’ve seen more of the last than anything else).
Let’s all be helpers, encouragers, kindhearted, as far as possible.
Nobody is REQUIRED to come to “our” church, or to any church. We go voluntarily. Therefore, if we are there, we are saying, “help me worship;” “help me pray;” “help me do;” “Strengthen me;” “Prop me up in my sorrow;” and so on. Church, we are fond of saying, is where we go because God commands it, and because it’s for the glory of God. Nonsense. People go to church because the ministry helps and blesses them. If it becomes a strain to go, then they won’t go.
Let’s work to make the church a place that truly IS the “body of Christ”–in every possible way.
Pastors will often use shaming as a knee jerk reaction to their own insecurities. They view people who leave as a rejection of themselves and their leadership.
It often is a rejection of themselves and their leadership. It can often work out that the people who join in under a Pastor are not there because of their love of God, but their love of the Pastor and his . . . (style, preaching, charisma, etc.). Attendance does not assure worship of the Lord.
” are not there because of their love of God, but their love of the Pastor ” Yes very true. However many Pastors are there just to get that love and have their egos stroked by the people. The use of ” we are here to worship the Lord” and similar phrases like it can be one of the most subtle, clever and deceitful tools within the human Psyche, when one doesn’t want to reveal the true condition of ones heart.
If Christians are coming to church, perhaps church isn’t presenting the Gospel in a compelling way.
Oops. Please don’t shame me. I messed up. That’s supposed to read:
“If Christians aren’t coming to church, perhaps church isn’t presenting the Gospel in a compelling way.”
–Sometimes typos and mistakes are good because they show you don’t have to be a super-intelligent professional to share the Gospel.
I really wish more clergy would apply this same principle to stewardship / tithing. I’ve sat through so many sermons where we were told we are not giving enough. It’s the proverbial we are going to keep passing the plate around until you have given what we need. This sermons usually includes threats about what will be cut and who will be laid off if we don’t give more. People have to want to give because they are convinced of the merit of it. Admittedly many have an unhealthy relationship with money but shaming does not fix it.