Support Raising for ethnic minorities usually conjures up words like shame and honor. But no longer are these terms relegated to ethnic minorities. Honor and shame categories are more relevant than ever and apply to all missionaries regardless of ethnic or cultural background. Consider the shame dynamics brought on by the onslaught of social media, articles like Christianity Today’s “The Return of Shame” and the popularity of best-selling author and shame researcher Brené Brown. Smartphones and Facebook have put honor-shame dynamics into everyone’s pocket, especially Gen Z, the first digitally native generation and the incoming missionary force. This current pandemic is exasperating the shame of Gen Z by increasing depression and loss of face. I see these dynamics in Gen Z’s initial MPD (Ministry Partner Development, aka support raising) as I write. The better our MPD can navigate these honor-shame waters (and this pandemic), the better off your MPD will be for the long-haul.
Thankfully, the pathway to navigate today’s honor-shame world was revealed in God’s story long before Facebook and Brené Brown. The concept of “face” and the idea of shame was not birthed from Asians nor from modern psychology. It came from God’s Word, when “Adam and his wife hid themselves from the face (or presence) of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” Additionally, honor-shame categories are deeply woven into biblical culture and they are central to the cross of Christ where our shame was reversed into honor. Shame is not just a psychological term; it is a real, relational, objective biblical reality. Jackson Wu writes in a Gospel Coalition journal that “Shame is the cause and consequence of sin. Simultaneously, shame is both sin’s root and its fruit.” MPD that incorporates this honor-shame pathway is a necessity today. And…
Learning to minister in this honor-shame space presents a goldmine of untapped biblical principles and practices that apply to MPD. It should not be limited to ethnic minorities because face, shame, honor are found in EVERY culture!
“There really is no such thing as “honor culture” or “shame culture,” for these are universal dimensions of all cultures…We now know that “face” is not something that only Asian cultures do, but rather is something that human cultures do. Cultures simply do “face” differently. But all do face.”
Unfortunately, Western-dominated teaching and missionary training have not realized the potential blessing of teaching and training from a biblical honor-shame paradigm. With MPD playing such a formative role in the life of missionaries, the time is ripe for you to consider how your MPD and coaching can benefit from this honor-shame space typically limited to ethnic minority MPD. Following are a few suggestions:
Boost the engagement level of your MPD appointments by digging into how God restores honor throughout the Bible. Ministry partners better engage with stories than ideas. The grander the story and the more a potential partner finds their unique story in this Grand Story, the more they will be engaged. You may not be sharing this Grand Story explicitly, but it certainly provides the narrative backbone for your personal testimony, vision, and calling. Embodying this narrative in your appointments will boost the relevancy, vulnerability and engagement of your appointments.
Therefore, root this honor-shame Grand Storyline in your head. Start with the most familiar examples as a base. For example, think about all the times Jesus met people in their shame and restored their honor: the Samaritan woman, the prodigal son, all the despised, foreigners, and untouchable peoples. Notice how Jesus often used the ideas of parties and banquets to give honor (e.g. the Father throwing a party for the prodigal son.) If one of these stories is a part of your MPD presentation in conjunction with your testimony (which I’ll cover next), your listeners will hear it afresh because an honor-shame perspective goes beyond the cognitive to say, “Jesus not only forgives what you do, but accepts and invites you to a place of honor.” And, this acceptance creates the discipleship space where God can truly transform us (and not just change our behavior). This is the Grand Story from Genesis to Revelation – God meeting people in their low place and moving them into a place of honor (see diagram). This is the Story that will boost the engagement level of your appointments.
Next, identify ways God set you free from your shame and write these into your testimonies. I.e., move the Grand Story from your head to your heart. Where did you attempt to find honor outside of Christ? Name your old fig leaves and your go-tos that defined your identity. Very likely, these were shaped by your family or culture of origin. Once you’ve identified your own go-tos, articulate how you felt when God met you there. The result? Potential MPD partners will hear how you embody the very Gospel that will engage hearts in your field.
Name your fears, false theologies and ideas, and pray for greater humility and vulnerability. Many missionaries deal with fear and other negative emotions and feelings during MPD. It’s really important to name these. That’s why it’s important to identify your go-tos and disclose them to close friends and coach for prayer support. Ask God to reveal what’s driving these emotions. Perhaps your view of self is predicated upon performance. Perhaps your actions and newsletters reveal a scarcity mentality. Read past SRS blog posts on scarcity and MPD health. As I write this, I’m praying for you, that the exercise of writing some honor-shame testimonies will surface false beliefs about yourself, God, and others. Then by faith, you can claim the honor God’s already given you as adopted sons and daughters. Because of its unique stresses, MPD seasons are a great time to build and fortify these practices.
Make space for yourself and those you coach to pay attention to God’s whispers during MPD. When I was Epic’s MPD Director, I noticed there wasn’t much space to talk about obstacles, family expectations and shame and how God met me in those places. I wanted to dismantle the idea that these things were taboo topics so that those I coached could talk about them and begin dismantling their own false beliefs. So, I created a video to share the family pressure I faced leaving engineering to start “begging others for money (as my family of origin saw it).” I am encouraging you to name what you need to dismantle in your life. They might be personal, systemic, theological, or all of the above.
MPD is one of the most formative times in a missionary’s life. Let it be a time to further a rhythm of God meeting us in times of shame…which happens a lot during MPD! As we pursue a lifestyle of honor-shame as revealed in His Word, may people in our field, people we invite to be partners, and people we coach see God shine through our jars of clay like never before! Don’t be a stranger; please do comment with any inquiries or reach out to me directly.
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This article is submitted by Jessica Wood of Support Raising Solutions. Support Raising Solutions is a Missio Nexus member. Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.