What Shame Can Do to a Minister

Wall-of-Shame

Brene Brown is a best selling author whom I have found helpful.  In particular, I have found her work regarding shame and vulnerability to be helpful.  Basically, she distinguishes shame and guilt like this:

“I did something bad.” — Guilt (focus on behavior)

“I am a bad.”  — Shame (focus on self)

Shame tells us that we are never good enough.  Shame basically says, “Who do you think you are?”

I can’t begin to tell you the number of ministers whom I’ve met who are full of shame.  These ministers believe they are just not good enough.  They live with the constant internal message that in some way, they just don’t measure up to what a Christian minister should be.  They believe they are lacking in so many areas that they are not the “real deal.”  In fact, they may feel like frauds. Listen to shame speak:

  • Something is wrong with me.  My congregation has never grown.  (Meanwhile, some of the popular preachers seem to be serving larger congregations that are growing.)
  • Something is wrong with me.  I experienced sexual temptation.  (Not only should I not sin, I shouldn’t even be tempted by sin. Really?)
  • Something is wrong with me.  My wife and I don’t have the marriage we should have.  (I just don’t measure up to what my spouse needs.)
  • Something is wrong with me.  My preaching isn’t good enough.  (I’ve seen people yawn and even go to sleep.  I know I’m not as good as other preachers.)
  • Something is wrong with me.  Very few people talk to me about their problems.  (Surely if was a better person and a better preacher, they would come to me for counsel.)
  • Something is wrong with me.  I don’t pray enough or read my Bible enough.  (Surely if I was really godly, I would be reading my Bible more.)
  • Something is wrong with me.  Others are invited to speak at lectureships but not me.  (I’m probably just not good enough.)
  • Something is wrong with me.  People in the church seem to prefer to listen to other preachers’ podcasts rather than my sermons.  (I’m sure I must be a real disappointment to all of these people.)
  • Something is wrong with me.  I have only preached for very small congregations.  (I have friends who have been invited to serve as the preach for large congregations.  What’s wrong with me?)

Such ministers may feel inept, inadequate, and “less than”.  They may feel as if they have lost all joy in their ministry. Some actually expect very little from their own ministries.  They just don’t feel like they are good enough.

Such ministers may feel very alone and isolated.  They may even resort to most any means that might make them feel good even if it is temporary.  For some, pornography, an affair, alcohol/drugs, or a combination of these may seem like a way to “medicate” the pain.  Others continue to withdraw inward and may experience depression.

Some feel as if they are losing any sense of connection with either God and others.

Getting unstuck may not be easy.  A good Christian counselor can be very helpful.  Many ministers who live with such shame were living with this long before they began to serve a congregation. Having the right person to help you unpack the baggage of the past can be extraordinarily helpful. God never meant for us to live with the burden of shame.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “What Shame Can Do to a Minister

  1. I have been fascinated by the subject of shame for many years. Shame is a major contributor of addictive behavior. Dr. Claudia Black has written eloquently about that. Shame is very formative in terms of self-regard. Dr. John Bradshaw has written eloquently about that. And shame actually leads a number of people into ministry. Dr. Nancy Thurston has spoken eloquently about that. These three people have had a profound impact on my life and ministry. I appreciate your mentioning Brene Brown. More reading for me, and more insight.
    Just as there is healthy guilt and toxic guilt, there is healthy shame and toxic shame. We utilize shame because it is powerful. But it can also be deadly. Thank you for this post. Many of those you write are helpful to me in my Safety Net ministry. God bless you.

  2. Sadly, very little is ever taught to potential or regular ministers about this subject. They may preach on the subject of guilt or shame but always from the third party context. It is hardly ever done from a deep personal sense of their own struggles. The result is that the very lesson they preach just undermines them even more. I Love the Lord and I love being able to teach, but my own personal weaknesses made me leave preaching and use my God given talent to reach only myself. This was not a teal loss as I started to see my own personal struggles as the same ones other also had. My personal life really became the bible that many see.