“Would you rather have wealth or honor?” a man asked his niece, a Navigator-discipled university student.
“Honor!” she answered.
“I would rather have money,” her uncle declared. “If someone has wealth, people will honor him, but the poor are always shamed.”
The student grew quiet, sad for her uncle.
My husband Travis has been reading the book, Ministry in Honor-Shame Cultures by Jayson Georges and Mark Baker. It explains that “innocence” and “guilt” are our internal feelings after having done right or wrong, but “honor” and “shame” come from others’ reaction to us.
We all experience “honor” and “shame” in social media. When we post an update, a “thumbs up” “applause” or “smiley face” reply makes us glow with pride. But a critique makes us wince.
The Bible teaches us what to honor and what to shame. Sometimes our cultures align with that well. For example, teaching youth to honor elders obeys 1 Peter 5:5…“Young men in the same way, be submissive to those who are older.” This verse, by the way, is totally foreign to my home culture in the USA, where youth are told to follow their own dreams and be independent from those who are older. But clearly, the Bible honors age and so do the African traditions which honor the elderly. It is right for children to financially support their aging parents, and for grandparents to be given a place of honor at family reunions.
However, human societies can also get honor and shame completely wrong. In some communities, a new follower of Jesus is called an “infidel.” That means “unfaithful one,” (the shame associated with them is similar to that of “marital infidelity”). Cleansing rites are undergone to purify relatives from the shame. Some people say the only way to remove the shame is to kill the “infidel.”
This is false shame. False shame is a central aspect of the persecution of Christians. In such contexts, addressing the false shame being dumped on a new believer is a key part of discipleship. Thankfully, many passages in the New Testament were written to encourage and provide accurate (True) perspective for persecuted people, experiencing shame: “God honors you!”
Ephesians 1 and Colossians 1, for example, detail the honor due to Jesus. He is above everything! He rules at the right hand of God! And Ephesians 2:6 declares to believers that, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms.”
I believe that it is time to address the false shame which many gift-supported individuals within the Kenyan context experience in the process of support raising. This is a major discipleship issue in our midst.
Perhaps the “shame” of support-raising has its roots in the way the world views money. It is a common human sin to honor the wealthy and shame the poor. The uncle who would rather have wealth than honor has noticed this trend. He believes that if he only has money, he will be honored, no matter how he acquires it. He also believes that his current poverty causes him shame.
This mentality has existed for thousands of years. That is why Solomon wrote against it in Proverbs 22:1; “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” That is, a reputation for integrity is more valuable than anything money could buy.
Even in the early Christian church, some congregations would honor the wealthy in their midst and shame their less-affluent members. This deeply angered the Apostle James. He wrote:
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor.(James 2:1-6a)
This “special attention” paid to those with a “gold ring and fine clothes” did not end in James’ day. Rather, it has been accelerated by current church teachings that emphasize prosperity as the evidence of God’s blessing.
The whole global economy, in fact, practices “favoritism” and encourages people to “discriminate among themselves.” In the language of the global economy, a person’s “net worth” is how much property and wealth he or she owns. Each time we compare ourselves to our classmates and feel “behind” them economically, we are letting ourselves believe that our “net worth” is less than theirs.
Jesus’ message on money was radically different. In Luke 12:15, he declared (and I imagine he shouted): “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” His warning is so contemporary. We could paraphrase it to say: “Watch out! Consumer messages tell you that possessions will make you happy. Don’t believe them. Don’t be greedy for what they have to sell. Your worth does not come from your possessions.”
One reason that choosing a support-raising ministry role is so difficult is that it is a choice to be “downwardly mobile.” While most of our peers will seek to be “upwardly mobile,” moving up in career advancement and increasing in net worth, a support-raising ministry role instead moves us “down” the socio-economic spectrum. If we have let ourselves half-believe the “net worth” messages of the global economy, we will not only feel “behind” our peers, we will feel that we have failed. (And, by the way, it is especially toxic when wives believe that their support-raising husbands have failed.)
This is not to say that support-raising cannot lead to financial stability. It can actually be very stable. Being supported by a whole team of loyal partners is more stable than being employed at a job, which could end at any time. And this is not to say that we do not have to work hard at raising our financial support. We must work very hard indeed!
But it is important to acknowledge that if we choose the route of living on financial support, we will never be as affluent as our educational peers. We must instead embrace God’s way of thinking about our finances: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”(Hebrews 13:5) God’s way of living reminds us to be content with, that is, to enjoy, what we already have: both our relationships and our possessions. We can declare that those gifts are enough for us, because God, who will never leave us, is the most precious gift of all.
In addition to the internal struggle with false shame for living on less money than some of their peers, support raising staff members are sometimes actually shamed verbally because they raise financial support. “What are you THINKING doing full time ministry?” say their Christian friends or family members.“Go get a REAL job! Couldn’t you do ministry on the side?”
These scornful reactions beat staff down. Some people almost feel ashamed of their calling.
We need to take a stand! We need to regularly tell the stories of how God called us into this ministry. We need to reread the “Zarephath” Bible study on support-raising and remember how God has used the gifts of his people to provide for his full-time servants since the Old Testament. We need to reread the book of Philippians, remembering that it is a long and joyful Thank You note to the most loyal donors of the Apostle Paul.
Most of all, we need to believe Psalm 34:5, “Those who look to the Lord are radiant. Their faces are never covered with shame.”
I imagine shame as a mixture of wet mud and dung. People can dump it on us. But if we are wrongly shamed, it need not stick. We can wipe that shame off our faces, climb out of it, and let Jesus lift us again with his honor. When we look to Him again, our faces are radiant. That’s amazing!
It is time to recognize that when we compare ourselves to our peers and feel “behind,” we are internalizing a false shame, a message that comes from the global economy, not from the Bible. It is time to memorize Luke 12:15 and Hebrews 13:5, to be ready to use them in warfare with our own thoughts.
It is also time to recognize that if others scorn us because of our ministry role, their scorn is a form of persecution for our faith. Being mocked for not having a “real job,” or even being misunderstood by those we love, is painful. And it is persecution. Like the believers in Ancient Rome, we have been told what to do in such cases:“Resist the devil, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (1Peter 5:9). We are not alone. Through history, and around the world, our Christian brothers and sisters have undergone persecution. In fact, Jesus’ disciples gave us a radical example when they led the early church in Jerusalem. After being insulted and beaten up by the Jewish leaders in Acts 5, they“left that place rejoicing, because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name of Jesus.” (Acts 5:41) Doubtless, we will sometimes suffer disgrace for the Name of Jesus, too.
-By Lydia Klingforth–
Travis & Lydia Klingforth lead the Nakuru Area Nav Ministry.