Friday, July 15, 2011

Guilt and Shame

In current Christian culture, I have observed quite a bit of guilt and shame used to attempt to motivate people to do more. We are constantly reminded of how blessed we are in America and how we should be doing more and giving more to help others. And that may be true, but wrapping up the truth in a package of shame is not an effective way to move toward long-term change on a heart level. Guilt and shame may temporarily motivate people to outward action, but they are not pathways to long-term inner change.

All too often, Christian culture will tell you that unless you’re giving up everything and dedicating your life to going overseas and ministering to people, you aren’t doing enough. There is this misconception that anything less than that is selfish.

For example, there are some who will criticize the act of giving money to organizations that help people. They would say that by doing something so small and “sterile,” you are really just refusing to actually get your hands dirty and help people in a hands-on way. In other words, you can walk away feeling good about yourself for “helping” without actually having to help. This attitude really bothers me. Giving financially to an organization absolutely does require real sacrifices for many people. And for some people, going to help in a more hands-on way may not be feasible, for a variety of legitimate reasons.

Unfortunately, even those who are able to help people in a more hands-on way are not immune to the guilt and shame critics will heap upon them. Short-term missions trips get their fair share of criticism. I have heard it said that people just go out of the country for a week or two to satisfy their selfish desires and to travel, and then they can come home and pat themselves on the back for all the good they’ve done. Meanwhile, the people they helped are still suffering and just have people revolving in and out with no permanency.

How is it encouraging to say that it is not enough to make sacrifices in order to give money or to help others in a hands-on way? Certainly if a person is being called to something more and is attempting to ignore it or satisfy the calling with a little money or a two-week trip, then yes, for them that is wrong. For them, it’s not enough because it’s not what they are actually being called by God to do. But to generalize that to everyone who gives money or goes on short-term trips is also wrong. It is not our place to tell others what God is calling them personally to do.

The church can encourage generosity and love without heaping pressure and shame on people. Sometimes I wonder if we start thinking that God isn’t doing a good enough job of changing people’s hearts and so we jump in and try to do that for him. Unfortunately, we often mess it up when we start trying to do that. Instead of making people feel as though they aren’t doing enough by giving money or going on short-term trips, let’s encourage people to listen to God and do whatever he is telling them to do.

1 comment:

  1. I love your encouraging heart. Yes - - praise God for the good people do in His name - - no matter what the act. It is what HE has called them to do at that time.