Years ago when a student in school acted out or forgot to do something, the acceptable way to bring correction into that student’s life was to wear a dunce cap or to have them sit in the corner. While that treatment might have gotten the students attention, the treatment had a cost and the cost was alienating the student by using shame to single them out.

Using shame-based methods to discipline and correct is not acceptable today and it shouldn’t have been in the past, but it hit me a few months back that our youth ministries quite often are playing catch-up with so many things and the use of shame-based correction might just be one of those things.

Here’s how I came to this realization. A friend of mine started texting me a series of questions related to our upcoming youth convention and while I broadcast the details, I try to simply get the details and let HQ speak to specific questions. And, my friend was asking really specific questions along with questions related to stuff I had digitally broadcasted. At that moment I was juggling a few other things, and I was wishing he had read the information I digitally broadcasted rather than ignoring it and asking me for it again, so instead of answering his question I texted him and a few other people and directed him to talk to them and to read his email.

At the same time I texted with one of the other persons independent of the larger group, and gave them a heads up that if they could help answer some questions via text because I was unsure of the answers and because I wanted to teach the first person to read their email. In the course of trading texts I realized that I was shaming my first friend into reading their email.

So, what’s the point? I realized through all of this that I was using “shame” to get someone’s attention and then it dawned on me that I might just do that in other ways in my ministry.

Do you single out the student who doesn’t listen in front of others in order to get their attention?

Consider these scriptures

  • –  Mark 15:19 and Hebrews 12:2 paint a picture of Jesus taking on Himself shame
  • –  Consider the scriptures that deal with the arrest of Jesus and the events leading up through the cross as shame was one of the tactics used to demean Jesus
  • –  Romans 9:33 and 10:11 paint a picture that when your hope is in Christ, you become free from shame
  • –  Consider 1st Corinthians 1:27-28 as it teaches that God’s ways are counter to man’s ways

In my case, I know I’m tempted to use shame when I’m short on time or when I’m juggling too many other things, but that doesn’t justify the use of “shame.”

So, if we have been using shame as a corrective how else can we offer correction without using “shame” in the process?

In my case I know I need to not immediately react but to give a needed pause and to then look for the best way to approach a student and sometimes in that moment of pause I find myself willing to overlook the whole

Consider the wisdom of Proverbs 19:11 which says “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense”

What insights or helps would you give to the youth workers who come to realize that they have used shame as a corrective?


Rev. Mark Johannesen is pastor at Word of Life Lutheran Brethren Church in LeSueur, Minnesota.

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