Shame Off You - An Interview with Rev. Alan Wright
Rev. Alan Wright, senior pastor of Reynolda Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem, recently launched Sharing the Light Ministries. “Sharing the Light’s mission is to set people free of the binding effects of emotional wounds through the love of God.”
I understand your view of the impact/distortion of shame comes from a personal experience. Is there something that you can share briefly about how this realization/journey came to be?
“Though I had been to seminary, practiced clinical pastoral education and studied family and marriage therapy, I didn’t imagine that I had issues of shame in my own life until ten years ago. ACC counselor Kim Whitehurst was the first person to ever explain the dynamics of shame to me. When he did, a light bulb turned on in my consciousness and I instantly knew that I would begin a journey of learning, growing and healing from the root of toxic shame in my life. As soon as I read the literature about shame, my soul reveled in the sheer anticipation of freedom. I began to see the roots and consequences of shame throughout the stories of Scripture and my spirit rejoiced in seeing the power of grace to heal shame. I eagerly undertook a self-inventory and discovered that my tendencies toward perfectionism, negative thinking and brooding angst were all rooted in shame and all could be healed by grace.
What led you from a personal experience to writing the book and beginning the ministry?
“I preached a message one Sunday called “Shame Off You.” People poured out of the pews to receive ministry. People shared scars and traumas and hidden addictions in ways I’d never seen. Fifteen weeks later, I was still preaching “Shame Off You.” I decided that creating a shame-free environment was a huge key to reaching the world for Christ and we began taking steps to insure that our church climate had no shame – a place where people could be open about their struggles, feel free to try and fail and try again, and where grace would saturate every message and program. I had written three books at that time and knew that I would write Shame Off You eventually. But, for a variety of reasons, I waited four years to write the book. I was so glad the Lord had me wait – I had much to learn. As part of a burning desire to help others receive healing, I developed a Shame Off You workbook and a Shame Off You conference ministry.
As a pastor how do you see shame impacting believers on their faith journey?
“Shame based families stress performance and appearance in such a way that the children grow up believing that their worth is somehow related to how well they do. When those grown children come into relationship with Christ through the ministry of the local church, they carry that shame-based belief system into their Christian life. Often, we just swap one arena of performance for another. We know we are saved by grace, but, in our Christian walk we often start living as though it’s once again about performance. How good are my quiet times? How well do I know the Bible? How many people have I witnessed to? Of course, those things are good and pleasing to the Lord, but they can become a religious trap that suffocates the very liberty that the gospel announces. In our efforts to be “good Christians” we often just ramp up our oaths to God about how much harder we’re going to try. But, in doing so, we put ourselves under the law again. The law causes fear. Fear causes us to sin all the more. I want to help Christians let go of the performance trap and allow the love and blessing of God to transform their hearts. When we need victory over sin, we don’t need to try harder – we need more of the gospel to overtake us.
Finally, when would you recommend professional help in undoing the baggage of shame a person may carry?
Anyone who is depressed, addicted or who has been abused should get professional help and specifically ask the therapist about the role shame may be playing in their lives. However, I wouldn’t wait to get help for issues of shame until there is some full blown addiction, major depression, or a broken relationship. It’s much wiser to take a good, long, honest self-inventory asking the questions: “Do I tend to anxiously strive in life as if the pressure’s always on? Do I have a hard time saying ‘no’? Do I tend to be a perfectionist? Am I critical of others? Do I often feel like an imposter? Do I tend to think negatively about myself and others? Do I fear failure and feel doomed by my failures?” If someone answers ‘yes’ to those sorts of questions, I highly recommend that they get professional help before the root of shame leads to more painful consequences.
For more information on Sharing the Light Ministries,
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