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No Shame On You

Laycie Costigan

Words Leave Their Mark
It's vitally important for us to examine our language in our ministries. The most harmful thing we can do is use language as a weapon-subtly or blatantly. Language becomes a weapon when we use it to…

  • Make kids feel unworthy. "You should know better than to act that way." "You should think of God first in everything you do." "You shouldn't pray with your eyes open." Translation: You should be doing (insert random faithful activity)-but you're probably not. Should is an especially shaming term because it means someone is duty-bound to do something, yet he or she is almost certainly failing in that duty out of ignorance or laziness.
  • Bully or scare kids into a faith commitment. "What's wrong with you that you don't want to follow Jesus?" "This is your opportunity, right here and now, to save your soul." "How can you turn your back on God?" Translation: You're horribly offensive to God, you aren't worthy of his love, and you'll never have another chance to win his forgiveness.
  • Manipulate kids into behaviors, attitudes, or actions. "Jesus loves you when you're good." "You make Jesus sad when you act that way." "God doesn't like it when you don't bring an offering." Translation: God's love and grace is conditional. Jesus won't like you when you're not good or perfect-so you'll never be good enough.
  • Elicit negative emotions as a way to verbally overpower kids. "I don't know why I bother trying to teach you kids this." "God loves everyone, even someone like you." "This is a waste of my time; you'll never figure it out." "What's wrong with you?" Translation: I don't like you, and I can't imagine that God likes you either.

When we use language like this, often the damage is irreparable. Shaming language breeds shame and guilt in kids. And kids will check out mentally (and maybe even physically) to defend against feeling this way. They'll develop unhealthy and distorted views of God and their faith, too.
Quite simply, a surefire formula for dismantling faith in kids is to use your words to shame and guilt them into action.
The volunteer who wanted kids to share meant no harm by what she said. Likewise, at some point, all of us are going to have our best intentions go awry. Maybe we don't understand the age group well enough or we're not aware of the impact our speech or delivery has on kids. To find yourself in error this way is to find yourself human. The bright spot we can rely on is that God is here to take every mishap and help us make it into a ministry opportunity. Whether it's changing a pattern that promotes shame or correcting an isolated incident where you sent the wrong message to kids, you can redirect your communication. There are practical and simple steps you can take to guard against some of the more common mistakes.

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