The Ministry of Helping People Save Face

shame1Brene Brown continues to be The Patron Saint of Vulnerability, polishing the lens through which I see things. Consider all the Bible stories that have a connection to shame and face-saving (Zacchaeus, Ruth, Leah & Rachel, Peter, etc. etc. etc.

Oh, and Jesus. There are those stories.

We Church People are called to help people save face – and God knows we have ample opportunities:

  • The most judgmental couple in the congregation – who regularly condemn people for various reasons – learn that their own daughter is getting divorced. We can secretly embrace schadenfreude. Or we can comfort them as if they never mentioned how spiritually bankrupt we must be for being divorced ourselves.
  • A church staff member is caught stealing money. We can openly share this with everybody. Or we can quietly let this staffer go “for family reasons” or “health reasons” or some other face-saving reason.
  • A 80-something church member’s son commits suicide and she doesn’t want anyone to know how he died. We can whisper the truth in the church parking lot, or we can protect this confidentiality and sit with her for as long as she needs.
  • There’s conflict between the pastor and other leaders, and it’s clear that a change in leadership is needed. We can shame and blame each other. Or we can prayerfully consider what’s honestly best for the church and move accordingly.

Church should be the last place where people are shamed.

We should be The Go-To Place to share our failures, our mistakes, our disappointments, our anxieties, our weaknesses. I see a slow (very slow) shift in how we are the church together in terms of helping people save face. We are slowly moving from a Mad Men Church (“Appearances are everything“) to a Real Life Church (“I am a screw-up and so are you. But there’s grace.“)

What face-saving efforts have you seen in your church lately?

4 responses to “The Ministry of Helping People Save Face

  1. I saw what Emily wrote on FB, and wonder about covering up for a breach of conduct/breaking the law, versus a pastoral confidence and loving neighbor as self. In our presbytery, a congregation had to terminate and chose to file charges against a staffer who stole funds. Personnel matters are sticky as you WELL know . Should be MYOB. The whisperers will still whisper. I favor being honest but not overly descriptive in the congregation – staff person let go for job performance. End of discussion. If charges are filed – that’s another story.


  2. I deal with these things too – infractions that call for justice (paying the stolen $ back or sending an abuser to jail) but we also need to treat even people who hurt us as we wish they had treated others.

    Church people seem to love the whispering campaign more than most. I wonder if it’s at least partially because we gather as a faith community to make meaning out of life. This also goes for church personnel matters: But why was she let go? Why did he leave so suddenly. We want to understand. (But we also love to gossip.)


  3. So sad: “A church staff member is caught stealing money.” And the “correct” response is: Lie! Especially, lie to the people who paid the staff member.

    And we wonder why people have problems with the church?

    No, we really don’t wonder.


    • David – You have an excellent point. There is a difference between lying and helping someone save face, though, in my opinion.

      When we are trying to help someone move on after a mistake was made (e.g. stealing money), after making recompense, after making the decision to let that person go, it’s important, then, not to further humiliate that person. Often the truest thing to say is “This was no longer a good match.”

      It’s also true that people who make serious mistakes are not themselves. I’ve dealt with situations in which the core issue might have been bullying, stealing money, or insubordination but it’s also true that there are mental health issues and so saying that someone is not well is true.

      I don’t believe in coming up with a blatant lie to explain something. But I do believe in helping people move on so that their lives are not completely ruined after what was clearly not a good match. Does this make sense?


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