Floyd Godfrey, PhD


Helping People Suffering with Shame

By Floyd Godfrey, PhD

Shame can be a crippling emotion, leading individuals to feel unworthy, rejected, and isolated. In church communities, addressing the issue of shame is vital, as it hinders spiritual growth and fellowship. Understanding the difference between guilt and shame, and recognizing how churches can both help and inadvertently discourage those suffering from shame, are essential steps for pastors and church leaders.

Understanding Guilt and Shame

Guilt and shame, while related, are distinct experiences. Guilt arises from a specific action or behavior that one regrets, such as lying or stealing. It can be constructive, prompting repentance and reconciliation. For example, King David's guilt over his sin with Bathsheba led to heartfelt repentance (Psalm 51). Shame, on the other hand, is the internalization of guilt, leading individuals to believe they are fundamentally flawed or unworthy. Instead of saying "I did something bad," shame says "I am bad."

Educational Strategies

Churches play a crucial role in educating their members about the difference between guilt and shame. By fostering an environment that encourages open communication and understanding, church leaders can help individuals separate their identity from their actions. Emphasizing scriptures like Romans 8:1, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus," can remind congregants of their worth and forgiveness in Christ.

Presentations focusing on God's unconditional love and grace can also be beneficial. Creating small groups where members can share their struggles in a safe and supportive environment helps in mitigating feelings of shame. It's essential for church leaders to be approachable and empathetic, offering counseling and support without judgment.

The Role of Therapeutic Intervention

Pastors and church leaders should recognize when professional therapeutic intervention is necessary. Collaborating with Christian counselors can provide congregants with the tools to process and overcome shame. Therapeutic techniques such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help individuals challenge and change the negative beliefs they hold about themselves.

In addition, integrating prayer and spiritual guidance into the therapeutic process can reinforce a person's sense of worth and identity in Christ. Encouraging individuals to seek professional help should be seen as a sign of strength and faith, not weakness.

Avoiding Harmful Practices

While churches aim to be places of healing, certain practices can unintentionally exacerbate shame. Legalistic approaches that emphasize sin without offering grace can reinforce feelings of unworthiness. Instead, messages should balance the acknowledgment of sin with the assurance of God's forgiveness and love.

Moreover, public confessions or overly stringent accountability measures can also lead to increased shame. It's crucial for church leaders to handle sensitive issues with discretion and compassion, ensuring that individuals feel supported rather than exposed.

Encouraging an Atmosphere of Grace

Creating an atmosphere of grace within the church community is key to helping those suffering from shame. Church leaders should model vulnerability and authenticity, sharing their own struggles and testimonies of God's grace. This can encourage others to do the same, fostering a culture where people feel safe to admit their failures and seek help.

Encouraging regular reflection on passages like 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness," can remind congregants of the ongoing process of forgiveness and redemption available through Christ.


Shame can be a significant barrier to spiritual and emotional well-being, but churches have the power to help individuals overcome it through education, compassionate support, and professional intervention. By fostering an environment of grace and understanding, church communities can ensure that every member feels valued and loved.

Floyd Godfrey, PhD is a Board Certified Christian Counselor and has facilitated groups within different churches and denominations over the past 30 years. He worked as a licensed counselor for 23 years. You can read more about Floyd Godfrey PhD at www.FloydGodfrey.com.


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