Preaching, shame and connectedness

I’m a fan of partly for the content, partly to learn from effective public speakers.  I just watched a talk by Brene Brown and thought it had a great deal to offer preachers in that she dealt with a fundament  human need – deep, authentic connection.

What makes us feel connected?  What stops us from connecting with others?

Brene taught that people avoid authentic connection because they feel shame.  Shame is simply the belief that we’re not worthy of authentic connection.  Shame says, “There something about me that if other people know it or see it, they won’t want to connect with me.”

So to protect ourselves from this shame, we hide and blame.  (ok, Dr Brown didn’t teach that, I’m grabbing that from Genesis 3.)

Dr Brown taught that the antidote to shame is excruciating vulnerability.  In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be really seen.  Deeply connected people have the courage to be flawed and to show their flaws without pretense or spin.

As I watched her talk, I kept thinking about a preacher’s relationship with a congregation.  A generation ago a preacher gained permission to teach and lead from their calling or from their ability to preach well.  Authority was conferred on the preacher by duty or by role.  Today, people give permission/allocate authority to a preacher based on perceived connectedness and authenticity.  Right or wrong, today’s congregations are suspicious of authority and even more suspicious of “thus sayeth the Lord.”  They look for someone who they can relate to, someone who is vulnerable and unpretentious.  If Dr Brown’s thesis is correct, and I think it is 80% there, then a preacher’s ability to know, name and walk into his or her shame and fear is directly related to effectiveness.

80% there?  Well, Dr Brown taught that we are all fundamentally worthy of love and acceptance.  The gospel teaches that NONE of us are worthy of love and acceptance, but we’re loved and accepted anyway.  Its a similar message, but the gospel goes deeper into our fearful hearts by healing our shame with grace that says, “you’re not worthy, but you are loved unconditionally nevertheless.”    To this day, I’ve never heard a better message than grace, but I digress.

And yet I DON’T digress.  Grace is the whole point.  So many times, I look for worthiness outside of grace and I run smack into what Dr Brown is teaching – people’s perception of me, my need to hide etc.  Its insidious, this shame and hiding thing.  And it can particularly be deadly for preachers who aren’t aware of it.

So many people come into your churches fortified in their “safe zone” of shame and hiding.  As preachers, how are we appropriately expressing our vulnerability and brokenness?  How are we showing Christ’s sufficiency in our lives?  How are we first allowing God’s Spirit to apply the message to our lives – that our very identity is fully rooted in grace alone?

Because the truth is, I struggle with that.  If left unchecked, I allow my identity to find solice in something else.  I have to constantly stay in the stream of grace.  Otherwise, we  start down the deadly slope of manipulation that wants to subtly promote the gospel of me instead of the gospel of Christ.

Dr Brown’s presentation approach was exceptional.  Timing, humor, pathos, but most of all, her content was stunning.  If you want to watch the whole thing, click here



2 Replies to “Preaching, shame and connectedness”

  1. Great post…watched the clip too. Thankful you brought out the ultimate foundation for where connectivity and belonging are rooted…the Gospel of Grace. Loved what she said…agree with it… would have just added a few ‘and…’, but you did this in your post. 🙂 Would love to hear you preach sometime! Blessings on the Cuss family! Kathy Davis 🙂


  2. Thanks Kathy – all these years and we still talk about you guys a lot! An open invitation to come west and join in the adventure 🙂


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