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Leading with Shame vs. Leading with Empathy

Leading with Shame vs. Leading with Empathy

Rich Kirkpatrick

By Rich Kirkpatrick

“However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” 1 Peter 4:16 (NIV)

Teamwork requires trusting our teammates. In worship ministry, we rely on the production team, our musicians, our pastor, and many others in the chain. When something during service breaks down, it can be devastating to people on your team. No one feels good about being the link in the chain that breaks. It’s even worse when people on your team begin to question their beliefs or their place in the church. Today, many worship leaders have been put in a tough spot, as worship services are the visible loss of the church’s face during the pandemic. Pastors suffer the stress of church members with differing viewpoints. Either they call their pastor names because the pastor shut down worship services or because they are not doing enough.

Such is the environment of leading a team in 2021. When there are the everyday challenges to attend to compounded with a pandemic and social unrest, the formula is ripe for shame to walk on the scene. Shame is that feeling that we are wrong, not the issues. We are to blame. Shame is present. Either we feel shame, or we project it onto others. Even worse, we lead unaware of it.

Shame is the enemy of teamwork and can lead to abuse.

All team members can be made to feel the painful emotion of shame. For instance, when things are not going well, leaders often use shame to put others into place. If a team member is late to rehearsal, shaming makes it more about a person being bad versus an issue to address. We, as leaders, are tempted to offend and leverage shame to get

our way. But, shame is an enemy of community and a hindrance to healthy teamwork. Stop shame at the gate. For one, by definition, shame is an attack on a person’s sense of worth. The more we blame and shame, the more we wound. This is why ultimately, shame is the enemy of teamwork.

Empathy is the antidote to shame and friend to accountability.

Empathy defeats shame. The key is to seek to think outside of ourselves. For instance, shame and guilt are two different things. In an article in Scientific American, psychologist Annette Kämmerer said, “When we feel guilty, we turn our gaze outward and seek strategies to reverse the harm we have done. When we feel ashamed, we turn our attention inward, focusing mainly on the emotions roiling within us and attending less to what is going on around us.” It is one thing to feel bad for things we can fix–such as the issue of showing up late. It is another to impose shame, which aims to create scapegoats. Empathy, then, is our antidote to shame and a friend to accountability. We can make things about things, not about the worth or value of people.

Our identity in Christ is hidden by shame, but praise reawakens us to who we are.

Shame masks our true identity. When Peter talks about not being ashamed, it isn’t because things look pretty. Peter leads us to worship Jesus because we bear His name! It is no surprise that we suffer as Christians. What is surprising is that we would allow the difficulties we face, whether from the world or our people, to diminish the worth we have. And, when leading others, we know that even in the middle of our bad behavior, 

“Love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8, NIV

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