Highest Honour

This post is excerpted from the new devotional book Highest Honour: 60 Days Toward Honouring God With Your Whole Lifeby Kenosi Molato and S. E. Freeman.

To give God the highest honour, is to give him first place. It means that there is no thing more important in your life than pleasing Him. It is to have no thing or person that is above God. To have anything above God in your life is to have another ‘god’ – an idol, and that is breaking the very first of God’s 10 commandments (Exodus 20). Nothing is more important than giving God the Highest Honour in your life.

Part of making choices which honour God, is first learning what is honourable before God. We can get busy doing ‘good things’ but if it is not what God wants us to do, then we will not be actually loving, obeying, pleasing and honouring Him in the way He wants us to.

What is it that honours God and would please Him? Our culture might tell us certain things are right to do, but we must find out what God says is right to do – what honours Him. To not do what pleases God is sinning against God. When we sin against God we dishonour Him.

When we choose to please people over God, or desire people’s approval over God’s approval, or are more concerned about what people think and how they will treat us over what God thinks, we are sinning against God.

It makes God’s heart sad when His children are not doing what pleases Him and what He knows is for our good.

When we honour God, God says He will reward us with honour. But if we don’t honour God, He says we will get shame and disgrace from Him like a curse.

God has already given us a position of great honour by being counted ‘in Christ’, as part of being born again into His family, in the position of a ‘son’. We have been saved from the greatest curse of eternal shame and separation from God, and been given the great gift of Christ living in and through us. But we all know that when we are born into our earthly family we are expected to live in such a way that is consistent with the honour of our families and our family name. How much more, when we are born again into our spiritual everlasting family – forever as God’s children, must we make every effort to be sure to live according to God’s family honour and the honour of His name.

In fact, we don’t desire to honour God to try to gain a position in His family, but because we already have been given a great position we didn’t deserve, through Christ. We want to allow Christ, who is the perfectly honourable One, who now lives within us, to live out through us. We want to enjoy the blessings and favour of that honour we have been given to the maximum, and not bring shame on God’s name and on His family and thus on ourselves, and bring sadness to God’s Heart.

The first step to always enjoying that honour and making sure we honour God and His name and family, is humility.


Posted in Bible, Missiology, Spirituality

The First Missions Book on Honor & Shame

In 1975, missions professor Lowell Noble self-published the book Naked and Not Ashamed: An Anthropological, Biblical, and Psychological Study of Shame. To my knowledge, this was the first work of evangelical missiology that addressed honor and shame. This post recounts the book’s history.

When I first started researching honor and shame about 10 years ago, someone gave me a faded photocopy of this book. I was impressed by the author’s insight and foresight. The book is more practical than academic. And even more admirable than Noble’s clear insights was his determination to self-publish. In 1975, he paid in advance to print the books, then self-mailed individual copies from his house.

Noble never lived overseas himself (obit here). However, through teaching sociology and anthropology to mission students he came to see the importance of honor and shame, in both theology and global cultures. His book recounts Scriptural verses and themes related to honor and shame. Noble noted the preponderance of shame language in the Bible, especially compared to the lack of guilt language. Then he summarized the dynamics of honor and shame in various countries. 

I suspect that Noble’s book may have passed through history unnoticed, but for a fortunate occurrence. The legendary Kenneth Pike, professor of linguistics at The University of Michigan and president of SIL, acquired the book and recognized its importance. (I suspect Noble and Pike were acquaintances, as they were teaching in Michigan 45 miles from one another.) Within a year of the book’s initial publication, Pike published a positive book review in Christianity Today (November 19, 1976), titled “On Guilt and Shame”.

My favorite line from Pike’s review: “And the Scripture? Lots of it, to show that in past ages God’s direct appeal was often to people to come to him for relief of shame—now, and forever.”

Considering the headlines of today, some 43 years later, I conclude with Pike’s own conclusion linking shame and presidential impeachment:

“The recent American scene should make it clear, I would add, that wide-spread perversion is little condemned—but that shame opens the way for dismissal even from high office. (Shades of the Watergate exit from our political Eden, with a flaming judicial sword preventing a return even to Washington!) This, in turn, allows for more open discussion about the moral will of God and his penalties—in the form of shame—for despising it.”

Posted in News, Uncategorized Tagged with: ,

Honor-Shame has Gone Global!

Dr. Chris Flanders is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University, and author of About Face: Rethinking Face for 21st-Century Mission. As an organizer for the upcoming Honor-Shame Conference, he shares some reflections on the state of honor-shame studies in this guest post.

Honor-shame has gone global! Well, actually, I’ve always believed and taught that honor and shame are universal experiences that transcend cultures. So technically, honor-shame has always been a global issue. There really is no such thing as “honor culture” or “shame culture,” for these are universal dimensions of all cultures.

The same is true in the area of Face and Facework Studies, my particular area of research. We now know that “face” is not something that Asian cultures do, but rather is something that human cultures do. Cultures simply do “face” differently. But all do face. Likewise, honor and shame are universal dimensions of all cultures, though they certainly differ from culture to culture and era to era. Though global and similar in certain respects, they have unique characteristics that arise out of specific cultures.

If you have paid attention to the honor-shame conversation in recent years, you will likely have noticed that honor and shame are showing up everywhere! Just as we now speak of  global Christianity”, so too it is time to embrace global honor and shame.

Early 20th century anthropology brought honor-shame issues to the attention of the Western world, due to the pioneering work of Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. They focused primarily on the Asian-Pacific (e.g., Japan, Oceania). Later in the 60’s and 70’s, anthropologists expanded this paradigm to the Middle East and Southern Europe. Honor-shame cultures and honor-shame cultural dynamics were generally considered to be exotic, often primitive, and definitely non-Western.

When Christians became aware of this important area, application was either in biblical studies (seeing how this shed light onto our understanding of the Bible) or in Asian and Middle Eastern contexts. Eugene Nida mentioned shame and guilt in his 1954 work Customs and Cultures; Anthropology for Christian Missions. There were sporadic mentions of shame throughout the 1960’s in the missions journal Practical Anthropology. Overall, however, there were only a few early missions writings that took honor-shame into consideration. These, however, are limited and did not provide a robust discussion on these topics. When in the 1990’s, the missions community began earnestly discussing issues involving honor and shame, it existed primarily in helping Bible readers see honor-shame issues in scripture and applying honor-shame insights to Asian and Middle Eastern contexts. With a few notable but rare exceptions, missions writers and scholars did not engage these issues as central.

That has changed. Since about 2010, there has been a growing number of books, blogs, dissertations, and conference presentations that are tackling the complex and important issues of honor and shame. And, in just the past 3-4 years, this has turned into an explosion of interest yielding entire issues of journals devoted to the topic, published books, and conferences that deal with honor and shame.

There’s a growing awareness of how honor-shame is truly a global conversation. Now, researchers and writers tackle honor-shame issues in North American, Europe, Latin and South American, and African. The breadth of the issues that missions thinkers, researchers, and practitioners are now applying the honor-shame lens is as impressive as the volume!

For example, in the upcoming Honor-Shame Conference, various workshops will deal with honor and shame from the following cultural perspectives:

  • Northern and Southern European culture
  • Native American/Inuit cultures
  • Sub-Saharan Africa cultures
  • North American cultures

Traditionally we have viewed honor-shame as a missiological issues. But, just like the geographical expansion, so too is the honor-shame conversation growing in the different types of approaches and areas of application. These include:

  • Theological perspectives
  • Hermeneutical perspectives
  • Pastoral/counseling perspectives
  • Biblical perspectives
  • Historical perspectives

And of course, plenty of people continue looking at the issue from the more traditional Middle Eastern, Asian, and Southern European contexts. But it’s not enough. We need more. We need people from every culture and corner of the globe to join this global conversation.

What do I take away from this growing trend to broaden the honor-shame conversation? I wonder if this is a kairos moment for honor-shame and the global church? If so, we should ask the following questions: 1) What is God telling us in this moment regarding honor and shame? 2) How will we respond to this moment?

The honor-shame conversation is “growing up.” It will be exciting to see where God takes this. I pray you’ll join us and become a part of this global broadening of the honor-shame conversation.


Posted in Uncategorized

Does God Really Remove our Shame?

The Bible says that God removes our shame. “I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth” (Zeph 3:19). Both Paul and Peter quote Isaiah 28:16: “Whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Romans 10:11; 1 Peter 2:6). Christ replaces our shame with honor.

But here is the problem—this does not seem not true. My shame is not gone; I experience it every day!

I know that I have been adopted as a child of God, gifted with the Holy Spirit, seated with Christ, and endowed with God’s own glory. And, yet, the voices of inadequacy or deficiency continue to echo throughout my soul. As Job says, “But even when I am innocent, I cannot lift up my head. I am so ashamed because of all the troubles I have” (10:15).

So, then, what does it mean to say, “God removes my shame?” If Jesus takes my shame, why do I still have shame? For me, personally, this issue is exaggerated by the fact that I write and teach on the very topic. I feel shame for feeling shame because I have written so much about shame, yet still affected by shame. If my head knows so much about shame, why do I, as a believer in Jesus, continue to live under the shadow of shame? I have been wrestling with this topic, both biblically and personally, for the last year. And I suspect that I am not the only Christian who experiences shame.

Most Christian authors offer two basic answers to our problem of shame: “Just don’t worry about the opinions of others!” and “Shame can be good for moral development!” Though I agree with these points, they have become pat answers that do not resolve the issue. Christians need a fuller, more nuanced understanding of shame.

So I will address this issue in my plenary presentation at the Honor-Shame Conference, titled “Saving Ourselves from Shame.” I aim to develop a biblical view of shame for the Christian life, sharing theological reflections and practical strategies for experiencing God’s salvation as a believer.

Join us at the Honor-Shame Conference (June 2020, Wheaton College) to learn and grow together.


Posted in Uncategorized

Honor-Shame Conference—Speakers and Opportunities

The Honor-Shame Conference, June 8–10, 2020 at Wheaton College is gathering numerous practitioners and scholars to explore how honor and shame influence the gospel, the Church, and various disciplines, including theology, missiology, pastoral ministry, and counseling.

Overlapping ministry contexts and dialog between disciplines

In our globalized world we are grappling with complex ministry dynamics. The Honor-Shame Conference is designed to facilitate dialog and learning across contexts and disciplines. Are you planning to join the conversation? Download the 2-page PDF for detailed information on all the presentations.

Learn more at honorshame-conference.com. | Register here.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged with:

Shame and Transgender Issues

I live in the Middle East, so we hardly ever hear conversations about transgenderism or sexual identity. So during a recent visit to the U.S., I observed how transgenderism and sexual identity have grown more prominent in cultural conversations.

To help myself understand the issues, I read Mark Yarhouse’s Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture (IVP Academic 2015). The book had more scientific research than expected, and yet was very helpful. Yarhouse explains the transgender experience and sets forth a Christian response. The issue of shame surfaced throughout the book. Here are some of the salient insights.  

The Issue

Developing children look into the world and compare themselves to others. They try to see, “Who am I like? Who am I unlike? What group do I belong to?” But gender dysphoric people feel different on the inside. People say they are a boy, but all their internal feelings make them feel like they are not part of that group. They do not see themselves in terms of preferences and personal choices, but in terms of identity—I am not one of these people (pp. 71-72).

These involuntary feelings of gender difference create massive shame—“There is something wrong with me. I am not normal.” Naturally people hide this feeling, and feel like they have to “hide and cover themselves.”

People with gender dysphoria are mostly seeking community and identity—Who am I? Where do I belong? They are not seeking wild sexual fantasies or to ignore all social conventions. They want what all people want—a communal identity.

The Common Church Response

The churches’ response is often reductionistic—“That is sinful and you are being disobedient to feel that way. You must accept traditional gender roles of your birth sex. This will bring joy and peace. If not, you are sinning.” The message here is “you a shameful abomination.” Yarhouse says, “This is the formula for shame” and the reason why people turn away from the church (p. 46).

People then turn to the transgender community to fight that experience of shame. People accept them for who they “truly are.” People then say, “I am transgender” (identity) and “I’m part of the transgender community.” This group finally allows the gender dysphoric person to be with other similar people, often for the first time. Here they feel normal, not strange. At this point such people have little interest in Christianity. 

So, if this is the common course of events, what are other approaches?

Other Responses

Yarhouse plots three main frameworks to transgender issues, and explains how Christians need to integrate the best of each approach.

  1. Integrity Framework—The maleness and femaleness of our bodies is sacred, and we must conform to God’s designation (Gen 2:21-24). We cannot deny the integrity of our sex. This approach upholds truth and holiness.
  2. Disability Framework—Gender dysphoria is a mental health issue, like PTSD or bi-polarism. This is a result of living in a broken world after the fall. This approach provides compassion and empathy.
  3. Diversity Framework—Any gender identity is to be honored and celebrated—this is just who you are, the way you were born. People have the right to define and express themselves. This approach offers identity and community.

Christians should offer people with transgender feelings (1) sacred truth, (2) genuine compassion, and (3) communal identity. Culture wars have polarized the issue, and so people assume that any offer of community and identity (Diversity Framework) compromises sacred truth (Integrity Framework).

Yarhouse says, “Any attempt at intervention in adolescence and adulthood would benefit from reflecting a meaning-making structure that informs identity and locates the person within a broader community of support. This community would function as a kind of kinship network (family) that affirms their worth and insists on navigating the terrain together, even when decisions may be quite complex and challenging to all involved” (p 124). A sense of tangible, communal honor is essential to overcome the years of feeling shameful and help move towards wholeness.

So instead of insisting people behave according to traditional gender roles, “a missional church focuses on first being in relationship (belong) and then moves toward an opportunity to live one’s testimony to an unbelieving culture (believe)” (p 147). Then in the context of that relationship people grow in their relationship with Christ (become/behave). 


Yarhouse often repeats gender dysphoria is complex and varies person to person, so avoids offering a uniform solution or comprehensive model for pastoral care. But even so, Christians benefit from better understanding the topic and having an integrated framework that informs our Christian engagement. Towards that end, I benefited from Yarhouse’s book (though I was surprised by his degree of openness for gender reassignment surgery for Christians).

Overall, Understanding Gender Dysphoria does a good job of unpacking the human aspect of transgender issues, especially the pivotal role of shame, identity, and community. 

After writing and scheduling this post, I learned about this new book Affirming God’s Image: Addressing the Transgender Question with Science and Scripture by J. Alan Branch, so wanted to mention it as well for those interested.


Posted in Shame Tagged with: , ,

Honorable Sexuality

Guest Sean Christensen (M.Div., Columbia International University) is a missionary with World Team and serves as a Bible professor in Haiti since 2009.  His article “The Six Phases of a Man’s Life” (in English and Haitian Creole) has been accessed over 4,000 times.

In today’s post-Christian West, as in first century Graeco-Roman society, Christians find themselves swimming upstream and pastors and parents struggle to guide their flock against an ever-increasing current that embraces unbiblical sexual practices.  How do you teach that something society has made legal remains shameful in God’s eyes?  Additionally, in many cultures where Western missionaries work, the sexual mores of the society have not yet been significantly impacted by biblical values.  Missionaries become disillusioned when yet another young Christian disciple engages in premarital sex and still another church leader commits adultery.  In both contexts, merely reciting God’s prohibitions is not very convincing; rather focusing on God’s honor codes that define honorable sexuality could be a missing and highly persuasive element in our discipleship efforts.*

Paul does this when he admonishes the Thessalonian church: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1Th. 4.3-5).  The moral contrast between honorable self-control and shameful passionate lust is built upon the presence or absence of a relationship with God.  Those who don’t know God live by lustful passions, but those who know God also know how to possess their vessels in sanctification and honor (KJV).  What makes sexual purity honorable?

Sexual purity honors God

The intimacy of sex is compared to the intimate presence of the Holy Spirit.  There is an order to the Gospel:  accept the offer of an exclusive covenant relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ and God will fill you with His own Spirit as a guarantee of complete salvation and the inheritance of an eternal home in heaven (1Cor. 6.15-19; Eph. 1.14).  In the same way, sexual intimacy follows, never precedes, the covenant of marriage.  Also, in this relationship with God, our bodies belong to him.  “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body…You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1Cor. 6.13, 19-20).

Sexual purity honors others

Paul continues, “that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter” (1Th. 4.6). Obviously, sexual exploitation produces shame (see 2 Samuel 13), but even mutually consensual sexual immorality is shameful because all disobedience to God is inherently shameful (Philippians 3.19).  Instead, believers are to honor others in every way, just as Paul instructed Timothy: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1Tim. 5.1-2).

Sexual purity honors your own body

“Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1Cor. 6.18).  King Solomon honored his bride for her self-respecting virginity: “You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain” (SS 4.12).  He also gave his sons the wise counsel his father, David, had given him: “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public square? …For a man’s ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all his paths” (Prov. 5.15-16, 21).

Christians honor God through honorable sexual practices. God esteems Christians by giving them an honorable identity in Christ.  One way that Christians express their identity is by keeping God’s honorable sexual code.  When believers grasp this facet of the Gospel, then their minds are renewed, their consciences are sensitized and the social pressures to commit sexual sin are minimized.

* In many societies, people engage in premarital sex for reasons besides mere passion—girls proving their attractiveness or fertility; men proving their conquest or their virility; pressures from friends, even from parents; boasting about the number of women a man has lain with and the number of children he has produced; women who want children but not a husband.  Here, the biblical teaching to trust God and to find your esteem in Christ can also help the believer to mature.



Posted in ethics Tagged with:

On Becoming “Like Jesus”

Shame is feeling different, being unlike others (as explained in previous post).

But there is good news—God makes us like himself, in his own image, conformed to the image of his son. This erases the shame of difference.

In the Beginning . . .

In the beginning, God made people like himself.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; . . . So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them” (Gen 1:28).

We are like God. We reflect his image. So others are to see God in us. The exact nature of image Dei  has been debated, but the basic truth is we are, in some amazing way, “like” God—the Creator, Savior, the embodiment of Glory. For people who always feel different, we must remember that in our core we are “like God.” This common likeness allows for connection and relationship. We belong in the same group as God.

We are like God in that we co-rule over creation and reflect his glory. We are not the same in essence but in purpose and function, so we therefore share a common identity as “rulers of the world.” Humans display the glory of God, just like God himself. We share a mission with God—to make his glory known in the entire world. We “image” God by bearing and displaying his glory in all of creation. The glory of God makes us “like God.” When we reflect God’s glory, we are like God. People are to look at us and see God. We represent God and bear his image.

Humans then turned from this vocation of imaging God’s glory and sought out another glory. (This is called “sin” in the biblical story.) Our ability to image and manifest God’s glory became warped. We were no longer fully “like God.” As we redefined our purpose, we came different than God. We now have a different purpose and different identity. Instead of ruling creation like God, we are ruled by sin.

The sin of the fall is highly ironic in this regard. “When you eat of it the fruit, you will be like God.” Humans were already like God! And eating the fruit was actually how they become unlike God (not in essence, but in function and identity).

Becoming Like Jesus

But God has restored his likeness in humanity through Jesus—the face of God’s glory.  Jesus is the image of God, the person with divine power and authority to rule. God is making a new creation and beginning with a New Adam. Jesus is the image of God (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15), the form of God (Phil 2:6), an exact representation that radiates his glory (Heb 1:3). Jesus truly images God because he radiates divine glory and defeats God’s foes.

So now we can be “like God” by becoming “like Jesus.” Our vocation/identity is to be like Jesus.

The baseline source for our experience of shame is not difference from other people, but difference from Jesus. Jesus becomes our yardstick. He is the standard by which we measure all differences. We are not to be like other people; we are to be like Jesus.

This then affects our social identity in profound ways. Humans always group with similar people. But what makes us like others? What is the unifying characteristic between me and someone else? Is it ethnicity, gender, social class, professional interests? Or, do I observe how someone looks like Jesus because they share a common identity/vocation of reflecting God’s glory? The church is people who look “like us,” not physically or socially, but spiritually. We Christians look alike because we all look like Jesus. We are conformed to his image. We have a family resemblance because Jesus is the source for our entire family; we share Jesus’ resurrection DNA. Our “Jesus-likeness” overrides all socio-cultural similarities (Gal 3:28). We are of the same group as other Christians because we all look like Jesus. This is the beauty and glory of the Church.

In simple terms—as we like Jesus, he likes us, and we become more like him. Our core identity resides in how we reflect God’s image (by ruling over sin, death and Satan) and how we conform to Jesus (by sacrificially loving others).

Dying with Jesus

A key aspect of New Testament salvation is our transformation into Jesus’ glory. We are starting to become like the resurrected, glorified Jesus. Our bodies get conformed to his eschatological glory. This is not some mere beautiful physical appearance, but the spiritual right to gloriously rule over God’s creation (especially the foes of sin and death).

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Rom 8:29)

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:18)

He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. (Phil 3:21)

How do we become “like Jesus”? Paul talks about imitating and conforming to Jesus. In these passages he is referring specifically to Jesus’ life-giving self-sacrifice—the very facet of his life that makes him the face of God’s glory. The cross was the moment when God’s glory was fully revealed. People become like Jesus in death (Phil 3:10). This takes two forms—enduring persecution and self-sacrificial giving.

Likeness Through Endurance

We become like Jesus as we endure persecution for Jesus’ sake (1 Thess 1:6; 1 Thess 2:14; 1 Pet 2:21). Trials and sufferings make us like Jesus. Notice the irony. Persecution is the violent force oppressors use to differentiate, exclude, and disgrace. But this very persecution is the cruciform means of becoming “like Jesus” and united with his family. Social difference (persecution) leads to spiritual likeness (Christ-conformity). Human shame becomes divine glory (cf. Matt 5:3-11). The differences we experience in this world become proof of Christ-likeness. 

We look like Jesus and bear God’s glorious image most when we bear a cross. This is a radical subversion of shame. God does not erase difference and disgrace for believers, but makes it the very means of becoming like God as victors over sin and death.

Likeness Through Sacrificial Love

In a similar way, we imitate Christ when we sacrifice personal interests for the edification of the church. Paul’s admonition, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” ( 1 Cor 11:1) refers not to seeking one’s advantage, but it refers to the salvation of others and God’s glory (1 Cor 10:14-33).

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Eph 5:1)

Paul’s instruction to imitate God is not general, but specifically refers to the cruciform life. We imitate Jesus by taking up our cross and giving ourselves up for others. Here is another irony—we become like Jesus in his resurrection glory only as we voluntarily lower ourselves before others.  


Difference creates a sense of shame. Our hearts yearn to be “like” others. So create social groups based on commonality and likeness. Such a group identity functions to mask shame and to bequeath honor (albeit temporarily).

For the sake of his glory, God creates us “like him” and “in his image.” We can now become like Jesus, the very image of God. The cross erases and redefines all social differences, giving us a new likeness, and thus a connection to his united body.


Posted in Jesus, Jesus Christ, Sin, Spirituality, Theology, Uncategorized Tagged with: ,

Shame is “Difference”

Shame is being different. We feel ashamed when we feel unlike others.

I know it sounds simple and even trite, but this insight summarizes our experience of shame in some profound ways.

Feeling Different, Being Unlike

Our differences make us feel displaced. I am not “normal,” so I do not belong.  Something differentiates me (or “us”) from other people. This difference becomes a barrier distancing us from other people. We should remain distinct from others.

Commonality is the essence of any group. The members of any group are defined by a similar characteristic. For example, cars are vehicles with four wheels and a motor. But defining social groups is more complicated. “Americans” are _______. “Men” are ________. “Smart people” are ___________. People fill the blanks in differently, but there is always some notion that all the people in such a group are “alike” in some measure. Groups are defined by commonality. So if we are not “like” the group, then we are not part of that group. That is shame—feeling different, being unlike, and so not a member of the group.  

The reality is that everyone feels different in some capacity. We’re all little strange in our unique ways. We feel different for some reason. Those differences make us “unlike others,” so we assume we are “unliked by others.”

Our difference can be external. You feel different because, for example, your skin not the regular color tone, your height is shorter, you speech has a lisp, or your arm has a disability. Other people can easily recognize these visible differences. External differences cannot be hidden, so learn to live with and accept them.

But we also feel shame for internal differences. These traits are not readily apparent. Perhaps you have a reading problem, can’t remember peoples’ names, struggle with anxiety, or feel sexually abnormal. Something on the inside, which only you know about, makes you feel different. In my estimation, these internal differences create the most shame. They become consuming. We expend great effort to hide these issues from other people, pushing ourselves into a world of isolation. Our social energies focus on hiding these differences from other people. We don’t want other people to see how we are different, because then our internal anxieties of shame will be public realties of disgrace.

Take a moment to reflect—what “differences” cause you shame?

We feel the shame of difference and search for people who are “like” us. We want some sort of group identity and the corresponding status. We identify with people who have the same blood as us, root for the same sports team, possess the same passport, and have the same physical appearance. We find (many, many) ways to be “like” other people. This is a core aspect of group identity and honor.

Schizophrenia of Western Culture

Western culture is utterly schizophrenic on this issue of likeness and difference. On the one hand, everyone is encouraged to be “different.” You are supposed to define yourself, pursue your dreams, and follow your heart. This is individualism to the extreme. The modern identity discards the shackles of all expectations. Not only do we now pick our own gender to define ourselves, but we can create an entirely new category of gender. We should not be like anyone else, and we should never conform to any external expectation of uniformity. We define ourselves by our differences. Everyone wants to be and feel unique.

But at the same time, the greatest sin in this cultural moment is making people “feel different.” We should never other-ize people or make them feel unique. Don’t ask someone, “Where are you from?” because that suggests they are not from here, not one of “us.” A microaggression makes people feel different, which is the new definition of oppression and abuse.

In a nutshell, the Western person wants to “be different,” but never “feel different.” No wonder there is a crisis of identity.


Shame says, “You are different. You don’t conform. So shame on you!” The solution in modern counseling and recent Christian books about shame is basically, “to turn off that voice, ignore it, and just be yourself.”

However, I believe there is a deeper, more biblical solution to shame. If shame is feeling unlike others, we overcome shame by becoming “like Jesus.” We must conform to his image, as the next post will explain.


Posted in Culture, Spirituality Tagged with: ,

Workshops for the 2020 Honor-Shame Conference

A highlight of the first Honor-Shame Conference (2017) was the many diverse and insightful workshops. And yet, the workshops slated for the 2020 Honor-Shame Conference (June, Wheaton College) looks even more promising. I’ve already got “choice anxiety”! The full list of 40+ presenters and their topics is below. Which ones seem interesting to you?

Visit HonorShame-Conference.com to learn more. Register early to qualify for the all-inclusive early-bird rate of just $339!

Workshops for 2020 Honor-Shame Conference

  1. Erik Aasland, missionary, trainer, professor: “Understanding Honor-Shame in Cultural Context”
  2. Cameron D. Armstrong, IMB missionary; teacher at Bucharest Baptist Theological Institute; author, Listening Between the Lines: Thinking Missiologically about Romanian Culture: “Shame is Mightier than the Sword”
  3. Gerry Breshears, Professor of Systematic Theology and Chair of the Division of Biblical and Theological Studies at Western Seminary: “Abrahamic Aspects of Righteousness: Seven Cultural Dimensions”
  4. Yi-Sang Patrick Chan, Langham Scholar; PhD candidate at Fuller Seminary: “Guilt and Shame: Chinese Indigenous Psychology and Empirical Hermeneutics”
  5. David Dicken, crisis counselor, Crisis Text Line, and certified teacher at National Alliance on Mental Illness: “Honor, Shame, and Suicide”
  6. Duane Elmer, director of the PhD program in educational studies and the G. W. Aldeen Chair of International Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School: [workshop title to be announced]
  7. John Ferch, Associate Pastor, Hope Church, St. Louis, Missouri: “Honor-Shame in Relational Leadership Development Among the Inuit”
  8. Audrey Frank, fellow at The Truth Collective; author, The Face of Honor and Shame in the Muslim World: [workshop title to be announced]
  9. Sam George, Director of Global Diaspora Institute at Wheaton College and global catalyst for Diasporas for the Lausanne Movement: “Gospel for Hybrid Diaspora Cultures: How Children of Immigrants Handle Guilt and Shame”
  10. Nijay Gupta, Associate Professor of New Testament at Portland Seminary, “From Victims and Pariahs to Warriors and Heroes: Paul’s Use of Warfare Metaphors to Shape Christian Social Identity”
  11. Robert E. Haynes, Director, Education & Leadership at World Methodist Evangelism: “Why Simply ‘Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin’ Doesn’t Work Anymore: Evangelism in Western Honor-Shame Contexts”
  12. Cathy Hine, mission practitioner, co-founder of When Women Speak: “Writing My Own Ending: The Power of Story to Overcome Shame”
  13. Sunny Hong, intercultural consultant with SIL International and Wycliffe Bible Translators: “Honor and Shame in the Book of Ruth in Light of Diaspora Ministry”
  14. Alan Howell, Visiting Professor of Missions at Harding University: “Honor-Shame in an African Folk Islamic Context: Mozambique”
  15. Mary James, Pioneers church planter in Arabian Peninsula ’92–’18; conference organizer, trainer: “Ostracized not Rotten”
  16. Philip Jamieson, President, United Methodist Foundation for the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences: “‘Have You No Shame?’ Western Theology and the Rediscovery of our Biblical Heritage”
  17. Joshua Jipp, Associate Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; author, Christ Is King: Paul’s Royal Ideology: “Pauline Economics and the Transformation of Value”
  18. Jukka Kääriäinen, Mission Theologian, Office for Global Mission, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland: “Luther’s Anthropology of Simul Justus et Peccator as Pastoral Care for the Shamed”
  19. Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, author of the five-volume systematic theology, A Constructive Christian Theology for the Pluralistic World; Professor of Systematic Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary: “Honor and Shame in a Theological Perspective” 
  20. Sam Kim, Assistant Professor of E. Stanley Jones School of World Mission and Evangelism, Asbury Theological Seminary: “The Concept of Shame in World Religions: Eastern Asia and the Middle East”
  21. Te-Li Lau, Associate Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, author, Defending Shame: Its Formative Power in Paul’s Letters: “Defending Shame: Its Formative Power in Paul’s Letters”
  22. David Liles, career missionary in Peru with Bible Baptist Fellowship Int’l (BBFI): “Communication of Honor in New Testament Church Discipline Mandate Passages”
  23. Arley Loewen, Director of Pamir Ministries, author and subject matter expert on Afghanistan: “Honor and Sharia Law”
  24. Michael Matthews, author, A Novel Approach: The Significance of Story in Interpreting and Communicating Reality: “Shame on Jesus: The True Path to Honor in the Book of Hebrews”
  25. Samuel Melvin, founder of The Church and Race Ministries: “Honor-Shame’s Impact on the Quest For Racial Unity”
  26. David Mough, career missionary; trainer in cross-cultural church planting, Ethnos360: “Preparing for Honor-Shame Peoples: The Story of Ethnos360 in H-S Training and Ministry”
  27. Grace Sangalang Ng, PhD student, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University: “The Holy Spirit’s Transformation of Shame into Honor in Romans 8”
  28. Juliet November, author and cross-cultural worker in Thailand: “Honor-Shame in Ethnic Partnerships for Christian Movies”
  29. Stan Nussbaum, missionary, researcher, or trainer in 20+ countries; founder of SYNCx.org; author, A Reader’s Guide to Transforming Mission: “Having What it Takes: The Biblical Panorama Story from an Honor/Shame Perspective”
  30. E. Randolph Richards, co-author, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible; Professor of Biblical Studies and Provost at Palm Beach Atlantic University:  “Shaming as a Virtuous Action”
  31. Ken Roberts serves with Pioneers Int’l, and has walked alongside Hindus in India and America for over 10 years: “Honor, Shame, and Good News in the Hindu Context”
  32. Narry F. Santos, co-editor, Mission and Evangelism in a Secularizing World: Academy, Agency, and Assembly Perspectives from Canada; Assistant Professor of Christian Ministry and Intercultural Leadership at Tyndale Seminary, Toronto: “Jesus’ Honor-Shame Engagement with Gentiles in the Gospel of Mark: Missiological Implications for the Church in a Multicultural City”
  33. William H. Senyard, President, Gospel App Ministries (church revitalization and transformation): “Are You a Guilt-Innocence or Honor-Shame Church?”
  34. Chris Sneller, Director of Innovation, Bridges International (a division of Cru): “Honor Restored: The Compelling Story of Creating an Honor-Shame Gospel App”
  35. Benjamin Straub, Dean of Bible at Central Africa Baptist College and Seminary in Zambia: “Honor, Shame, and Martyrdom in the Early African Church: An Examination of Tertullian’s African Worldview and Context”
  36. Syed Ibn Syed, Muslim background believer from India; author, Try Me, I am Jesus, and owner-manager of isaformuslims.com: “The Key to Reaching Muslims Effectively Employing Honor-Shame Concepts in Sharing the Gospel”
  37. Gregg Ten Elshof, Professor of Philosophy, Biola University; author, Confucius for Christians: “For Shame”
  38. Trey Thomas, cross-cultural trainer, East Asia: “How Honor-Shame Has Shaped My Personal Life & Ministry”
  39. Patricia Toland, missionary with WEC since 1990: “Identifying Characteristics of Leaders who Honor Biblically”
  40. Rod Van Schooten, leader with C&MA in Hong Kong, ministry focus of ‘Soul Care’ among church leaders in China: “Soul Formation in an Honor-Shame Context”
  41. Edwin Roy Zehner, author, Unavoidably Hybrid: Thai Buddhist Conversions to Evangelical Christianity: “Reconfiguring Honor-Shame Discourses: Making Missiology and Anthropology Better ‘Friends’”

Visit https://honorshame-conference.com/sessions/workshops/ for an updated list of presentations. The conference is not a function of Wheaton College

Posted in Uncategorized

Why Honor Matters

Guest Audrey Frank is an author and speaker who has lived in the Muslim World. This post is from her new book Covered Glory: The Face of Honor and Shame in the Muslim World (2019, Harvest House Publishers).

Babies were snugly tucked into colorful slings on their backs as the women gracefully balanced handwoven baskets with food and cookware atop their heads. They had walked for days to hear the Christian teach from the Bible. Under sprawling acacia trees, they sat and settled on the dusty African ground, leaning in to hear the words of life.  

Hours later, as the sun began its quiet descent toward late afternoon, the drums and singing began. With simple words and exquisite harmonies, the worshippers poured out praise to the Messiah. The celebration was rare and priceless.

Afterward, as nightfall settled over the landscape, the fire burned low, its embers glowing a soft orange under the starry sky. Soft rustling and murmurs could be heard as women settled down for sleep on their thin lessos, the vast sheet-like cloths they wore over their skirts.

A wizened old lady slowly made her way to the teacher still sitting by the fire. “Thank you.” Her words were quiet, barely above a whisper. The teacher waited. The old lady’s face, already lined with years of hard work, labored to form more words. “I always knew I could be forgiven. But I never knew I could be clean.” Her eyes shone with a new light, the light of revelation and freedom.

Sin has soiled the soul of mankind since the first dirty lie in Eden. It flung its filth on the clean, pure soul of man and woman and stole their sense of value. Man and woman would never again, on their own, be able to make their hearts completely clean. Honor matters because everyone, deep inside, needs to know he or she can be made clean

Behind the drama of humankind’s downfall was One who preserved the value of life. He never forgot. With His own life, God protected the value of the life He had created. He rose that moment and began His longest journey: the quest to restore worth to the human soul, to make hearts clean again. Clean is merely a common word for holy. The holy Creator God chased after mankind. His heart was consumed with purpose and longing to make them holy again so that they might be reunited with Him.

The honor God gives is paramount because it promises restored relationship with Him. The universal human desire to have a heart clean, restored and holy, can help us understand the compulsion that drives entire cultures to see the world through the lenses of honor and shame.

Honor goes by many ordinary names: clean, accepted, loved, good. And around the world, humankind made in God’s image longs to be called by those honorable names. A little girl who feels alone in a prison of abuse, as I once was, longs to be loved. The young woman trafficked for her body wonders if she will ever be clean again. The man who wrestles with his addiction to pornography wonders if he can ever be the good husband and father he wants to be.

The alcoholic fights with all his might to be clean, knowing down deep that his problem is more than liquor. The young jihadist straps a bomb to his chest, hoping with all his might that with his sacrifice Allah will finally call him accepted. The Muslim woman in the workplace, marching for her rights, cries for acceptance and value. The desire for honor is a cry for all of these things, and it rises from the depths of the human soul. This is why honor matters.


Posted in Uncategorized

How to Make Patronage “Biblical”

Let’s start with the obvious—patronage has a P.R. problem. For many people, patronage seems like nepotism, corruption, colonialism, and the mafia! The phrase “biblical patronage” sounds like an oxymoron.

Although patron-client relationships are often corrupted and broken, I propose that “asymmetrical, reciprocal relationships” can be redeemed and leveraged for kingdom purposes. The question is how can that be done?

My recent book Ministering in Patronage Cultures presents a biblical framework for transforming patronage relationships. 

For two reasons, I think patronage can indeed be a viable, biblical paradigm for our relationships. Biblically, many people, included Yahweh and Jesus themselves, functioned as patrons. And socially, in many cultures patronage is the defacto socio-economic system, so it’s nearby impossible to have relationships without becoming a patron or client in some way. So then, what is “biblical patronage”? And what are practical strategies for moving relationships in that direction?

Patronage can be an appropriate model of biblical stewardship. Patronage obviously conflicts with Western cultural values and gets corrupted for sinful purposes, but that does not mean it can not serve as a biblical model to bless and love people in hierarchical societies in a way that is intuitive and genuine to them.

The two principles that characterize healthy, biblical patron-client relationships are: “God-centered” and “life-giving,” as described below. 

Principle #1: God-Centered

In corrupted patronage, parties seek their own benefit—what can I get?, how does my group gain? But biblical patronage is God-centered. This means that our patron-clients relationships are a sub-component of God’s cosmic benevolence. Redeemed patronage reflects a fundamental biblical truth: all gifts come from God, and so all glory goes to God.

Jesus-followers transform the aim of patronage, from human glory to divine glory. Biblical patronage stewards God’s resources for God’s purposes. Instead of receiving the praise for themselves, Christian patrons direct loyalties to God so that his name gets honored. The gospel transforms patronage to make God all-in-all, the ultimate Patron who gives gifts and gets the glory. Human patronage, when set within this cosmic context, thus becomes an act of honoring and worshiping God. Biblical patronage transforms idolatrous patronage (and idolatrous clientage) by situating our reciprocal relationships in the broader, cosmic context of God’s divine patronage.

Principle # 2: Life-Giving

Patronage brings God’s life. We must clarify that patronage is not just a matter of “giving money.” True patronage is a relationship, which is multidimensional. Patrons are not Santa Clauses who just hand out toys, but people who fill many roles. Consider the many ways Boaz benefacted kindness upon Ruth and Naomi: he offers protection and food (2:8–9), invites Ruth to the table (2:14), pronounces a blessing (3:10–11), assumes responsibility for a problem (3:12–13), gives an abundance of food (3:15–17), convenes a village meeting (4:1–3), and restores ancestral land (4:9). Boaz shows how patronage is multidimensional and involves using social clout to help solve problems. A relationship based solely on material exchange is distorted. Biblical patronage is a multidimensional relationship including spiritual instruction and guidance. Such patronage is more prone to be life-giving, so seek ways to give or receive more than just money.

Corrupted patronage is life-sucking. Patrons and clients manipulate to maximize their gain. As social distance increases, patrons become more than human, and clients become less than human. This exacerbated social distance perpetuates brokenness and exploitation

Biblical patronage works against the tendency of increasing social distance. Christians should intentionally limit (not eliminated, but limit) the asymmetrical social gap. One way to counteract the social distancing is to reverse the exchange process; patrons give honor and receive help. This reversal enhances the reciprocity and depth of the relationship


Patron-client relationships are tricky and often manipulative. But for many cultures they are the primary, if not only paradigm for relationships. As believers we can enter and transform these reciprocal relationships, by seeking to make them more God-centered and life-giving.

Of course this is difficult, but the Bible presents many examples of biblical patronage in both testaments, such as Yahweh’s relationships with Israel or Jesus’ relationship with the crowds. Plus the Spirit provides supernatural wisdom for us to navigate and redeem such relationships.

This post is adapted from my book Ministering in Patronage Cultures, Chapters 11 and 12. Copyright (c) 2019 by Jayson Georges. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, www.ivpress.com. For more resources about patronage, visit http://honorshame.com/patronage/.


Posted in leadership, Ministry, Missiology, patronage, Relationships Tagged with: , ,

$$ Infographic: 7 Differences in Global Cultures

Patronage frustrates many people, especially Westerners. Why is patronage so frustrating? Fundamental cultural differences between patronage and Western economics create an inevitable cultural clash.

Each cultural system is like a rulebook for playing a board game. Each player assumes others will “play by the rules.” But once the game starts, it becomes evident the players have different, even contradicting, rulebooks for the relationship. This metaphor explains the nature of cultural tensions—cultures assume differing “rules” for how life should function. To get at the root of the cultural tensions, this section contrasts seven key differences between the cultural rulebooks of Western and Majority World socioeconomic systems. Remember, these seven contrasts describe the end points of a broad continuum. They are general social patterns, not absolute rules.

The infographic below explains the 7 core differences regarding money and relationships between Western and Majority World cultures. The general category is in the middle in white, and on each side are the assumed rules/values of each culture.


I created this infographic myself for others to freely download, print, use, and share. No permission is needed. Click these links to download hi-resolution JPG’s of the infographic in color and grayscale version.

For a complete explanation of these cultural differences, see Chapter 3, “Misperceptions of Patronage,” in my book Ministering in Patronage Cultures (IVP Academic, 2019). For more resources about patronage, visit http://honorshame.com/patronage/.


Posted in Culture, patronage, Resources Tagged with: , ,

The Gospel According to Patronage: A Summary

Here is a gospel narrative of salvation-history from a patron-client framework. This short summary summarizes Chapters 7–9 of my book Ministering in Patronage Cultures, where I develop a biblical theology of God, sin, and salvation in light of patronage. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, www.ivpress.com. Copyright (c) 2019. For more resources about patronage, visit http://honorshame.com/patronage/.

In the beginning, God created all things to display his power and glory. He is a patron-king whose benevolence and glory graces the entire earth. God pro- vides and protects the entire human family, and he expects their loyal obedience.

But the serpent tempted Adam and Eve to rebel against their patron. Satan promised they could become independent rulers instead of dependent clients. Humans disobeyed God, severing the patronage relationship. They dishonored the king and so faced the wrath of a slighted benefactor. The rebellion left the human family dis-graced, living without God’s benevolence and under Satan’s bondage.

Then God initiates a new relationship with Abraham’s family to mediate his glorious benefactions to the world. During the Exodus, God forms a special patronage relationship with Israel. According to the covenant, God would provide and protect Israel, and they should be loyal and obedient. God stays faithful to his special people, but Israel seeks patronage from human kings and false idols. They break covenant and dishonor God. Like Adam, Israel is dis-graced into exile. However, Israel’s unfaithfulness does not nullify God’s faithfulness. As a loyal patron, God keeps his promises of salvation.

The gift of God’s own Son is the greatest act of divine beneficence. Jesus leaves his glorious throne to lavish God’s favors upon disloyal rebels. He gives many benefactions—great feasts, liberation from dark forces, release from sins, protection from danger. In Jesus, the honorable patron is the perfect client. Jesus’ complete obedience glorifies the Father. He repays the honor debt of Adam, Israel, and all humanity. This satisfies the just requirement for divine honor and remakes the covenant relationship. Jesus’ death fulfills all of God’s promises. In Jesus, God is a faithful and true patron to his people. Jesus rises from death and becomes the Supreme Broker of divine benefits. On our behalf, Jesus intercedes to the Father and mediates divine favors from the Father.

People who pledge their allegiance to Jesus’ new kingdom receive God’s benefactions—spiritual power, liberation from bondage, and release from sin. The beneficiaries of God’s gift are not deserving clients; they are ungrateful sinners and rebellious enemies. To become God’s favored clients, people must renounce false patrons and be loyal to Jesus. God gifts us his very Spirit, which transforms us into loyal clients who, rightly and finally, do honor God. God’s new client-community embodies and mediates his radical generosity to the world. In the final day, God will gift complete life to those who glorify him and avenge all insults to his honor.


Posted in patronage, Resources Tagged with: , , , ,

Training Video: “Patronage 101: How Relationships Work”

Patronage 101: How Relationships Work” is a new, 5-minute explainer video about patronage in the Bible and ministry relationships. The video is available for free on YouTube.

This whiteboard video is a short introduction to the topic. If you want to go deeper, see the resources at http://honorshame.com/patronage or get the book Ministering in Patronage Cultures.

The video can be helpful in many contexts: team development, organizational equipping, pre-field training. Please feel free to share the video (no need to get permission). Other videos are available at http://honorshame.com/videos/.

Posted in Resources

What is “Patronage”? A Definition

What actually is “patronage?” This is a common, and good, question. Patronage is hard to define because it is an abstract concept. “Patronage,” as well as “patron-client relationships,” is an etic term that social scientists use for describing relationships in collectivistic, honor-shame societies.

The short summary describes how patronage works. This is from my recent book Ministering in Patronage Cultures, pp 9–11. Copyright (c) 2019. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, www.ivpress.com.


Patronage, simply put, is a reciprocal relationship between a patron and a client. Patrons are the superior party with resources and power to help other people. Their favors and benefits take many forms, such as covering the hospital expenses for a sick person, hosting a feast, procuring the documents for a friend’s business, allowing farmers to cultivate their fields, building a new road, etc. Patrons use their influence and wealth to ensure other people’s security and survival. Their generosity protects and provides for the people under their care.

Clients, on the other hand, are social inferiors who attach themselves to a patron in order to secure protection and resources. To maintain the patronage relationship, clients must reciprocate when they receive help from the patron. But the client is not as wealthy as the patron, so instead of re- paying financially, they repay by honoring the patron. A client offers obedience, gratitude, allegiance, and solidarity to the patron. Clients demonstrate their loyalty in a variety of ways—they vote for the patron running for public office, fight on the patron’s behalf, offer public praise at any opportunity, offer token gifts, and do symbolic acts of service. These actions honor the patron. The client seeks to enhance the patron’s reputation, often at great personal cost, hoping such loyalty will be rewarded by the generous patron.

Patrons are the “haves,” clients are the “have-nots,” and patronage is when the “haves” solve the problems for the “have-nots.” The patron provides for the client’s material needs, and the client meets the patron’s desires for social status.

Paul Hiebert explains,

“The patron, like a parent, is totally responsible for the welfare of his clients. . . . Clients in fact can ask a patron for whatever they think he may grant, but this is not considered begging—no more than Christians think they are begging when they ask God for help. Clients for their part, must be totally loyal to their patron. . . . The patron gains power and prestige within the society, and the client gains security.” (Anthropological Insights for Missionaries , 124)

The 3 Parts

Patronage is generally defined as a “reciprocal, asymmetrical relationship.” Each word in this definition denotes a crucial aspect of patronage. First, patronage is a relationship, not some legal arrangement. Patronage involves an enduring parent and child type of commitment, not a one-time financial contribution or business deal. The exchange of resources creates and cultivates an ongoing relationship. But to their own peril, Westerners mistakenly think of patron-client relationships as contractual, like a business, rather than familial.

Also, the relationship of patronage is reciprocal. There is a mutual exchange of resources. Each side in the relationship gives something, whether material (e.g., money, protection) or social (e.g., loyalty, praise). There is an expectation, perhaps even a moral obligation, that the receiver will repay the debt. Each side benefits because the other side gives, and this creates an ongoing reciprocity that deepens the relationship.

Finally, these reciprocal relationships are asymmetrical, or unequal. The patron has a higher social status than the client. They are not peers. The difference in status is an inherit aspect of the patron-client relationship. Patronage allows unequals to interact and exchange resources in a mutually beneficial manner, but without jeopardizing their social distinction. These are the core features of patronage: relationship, reciprocity, and asymmetry.

Does this picture of relationships describe the culture you live in? Where do you see these dynamics appear in the Bible?

For more resources about patronage, visit http://honorshame.com/patronage/.

Posted in Culture, patronage Tagged with:

New Book: Ministering in Patronage Cultures

My latest book Ministering in Patronage Cultures: Biblical Models and Missional Implications is now available at Amazon and IVPress.com. This book develops a biblical and missional view of patron-client relationships.

As I discuss honor-shame cultures with other Christians, their questions often relate to patronage. People want to know how to navigate the thorny dynamics of these “financial friendships.” In honor-shame cultures, patronage is how society and business operate, so this is a significant issue. Much like my previous book with IVP Academic, Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures, I weave together biblical theology, anthropology, and many years of cultural experiences into a clear, practical guide from mission practioners today.

The book is 175 pages with discussion and application questions, so would be great for pre-field training, ministry team development, classroom assignments, and personal enrichment. 

Below is more information on the book. Over the next two months I will post more resources related to patronage.

Cover Description

Patronage governs many relationships in Majority World cultures. But regrettably, Western theologians and missionaries rarely notice this prominent cultural reality. Patronage—a reciprocal relationship between social unequals—is a central part of global cultures and the biblical story of God’s mission.

Misunderstanding patronage creates problems not only for Westerners ministering in other cultures, but also for contemporary people reading the Bible. If we ignore the concepts of patronage in biblical cultures, we will misinterpret Yahweh’s relationship with Israel and miss some of the meaning in Jesus’ parables and Paul’s letters. Understanding patronage will illumine theological concepts such as faith, grace, and salvation.

Jayson Georges, coauthor of Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures, now brings his ministry experience and biblical insights to bear on the topic of patronage. With sections on cultural issues, biblical models, theological concepts, and missional implications, this resource will not only serve ministry practitioners but anyone who studies Scripture and worships God.


Introduction: The Problems of Patronage

Part I: Cultural Issues
Chapter 1: The Meaning of Patronage
Chapter 2: Expressions of Patronage
Chapter 3: Misperceptions of Patronage

Part II: Biblical Models
Chapter 4: Yahweh and Israel
Chapter 5: Jesus and the Kingdom
Chapter 6: Paul and the Church

Part III: Theological Truths
Chapter 7: God as Patron
Chapter 8: Sin as Ingratitude
Chapter 9: Salvation as Patronage

Part IV: Missional Implications
Chapter 10: Engaging Patronage
Chapter 11: Transforming Relationships
Chapter 12: The Christian Life

Appendix 1: Further Resources
Scripture Index


“Jayson Georges has established himself as an important interdisciplinary and crosscultural thinker. In this new book, he draws upon classical studies, biblical studies, modern cultural anthropology, Christian theology, and his own (and others’) first-hand missionary experience, offering a comprehensive introduction to patronage in ancient and modern contexts and its implications for biblical theology and missionary practice. He does this in engagingly accessible and clear prose—and with winsome vulnerability as he recounts his own journey. This is an important contribution to articulating a global gospel and to formulating effective strategies for serving and partnering with the global Christian community.”

David A. deSilva, professor of New Testament at Ashland Theological Seminary and author of Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity

“Looking at patron-client relationships through a biblical lens Georges challenges us to practice transformed patronage. Read it and grow in knowledge of God and gain tools for God’s mission.”

Mark D. Baker, professor of mission and theology, Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary

“Few subjects are as significant yet overlooked as patronage is. Many Westerners are suspicious of patronage, assuming it leads only to corruption. In Ministering in Patronage Cultures, Jayson Georges removes the cloud of confusion that surrounds the topic.

Jackson Wu, author of Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes

I enthusiastically commend this book to anyone wanting to serve those who come from the Majority World. While we may be blind to the patronage elephant in the room, it seems painfully evident to them. We overlook it at our own peril. Georges is an experienced and skilled guide, patiently tutoring us individualists on how to minister in a collectivist world.”

Randolph Richards, Palm Beach Atlantic University, coauthor of Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes

“With careful documentation from ancient writing, contemporary scholarship, and his own research, Jayson Georges reveals how the patronage system prevailed as the cultural tapestry in which biblical authors lived and out of which they wrote. … The case studies in the closing chapters provide helpful insights for doing ministry in patronage cultures. I highly recommend Jayson’s book as a worthy contribution to expand our understanding of the Scripture.”

Duane Elmer, G. W. Aldeen Professor of International Studies, retired, Trinity International University, author of Cross-Cultural Connections

“If you see the world and the Gospel as I do, through the lens of an egalitarian, democratic, individualistic worldview, and you desire to communicate crossculturally to people from the Majority World, then Jayson Georges is a voice you must hear. Ministering in Patronage Cultures will expand your understanding of the Scriptures, intensify your crosscultural understanding, and enlarge your capacity to worship responsively as a redeemed servant of Jesus Christ.”

Paul Borthwick, senior consultant for Development Associates International, author of Western Christians in Global Mission

Get the book  Ministering in Patronage Cultures and visit http://honorshame.com/patronage for more ministry resources. 

Posted in Resources, Uncategorized Tagged with:

The Meaning of “Sodomy”

You know the definition of the English word sodomy? The word derives from the ancient city of Sodom, which was famously destroyed for their wickedness (Genesis 19).

So what made Sodom so wicked and worthy of destruction? The standard answer has been “sexual immorality,” specifically homosexuality. Sodom was destroyed because they sought sex with Lot’s two male guests. In Genesis 19:5, the people of Sodom called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, John Martin, 1852

Yes, the people of Sodom sought same-sex relations, a practice that Bible denounces (cf. Lev 18:22; 20:13; Rom 1:26-27; 1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10). But homosexuality was not the core reason that God judged Sodom. Contemporary debates about sexuality, along with unawareness of honor-shame cultures, have misinterpreted Genesis 19.

The Sin of Sodom

The sin of Sodom was their lack of hospitality. They failed to properly honor their guests.

The story opens:

The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”

“No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.”

But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate.

The opening scene recounts Lot’s extreme generosity and hospitality. When he sees the foreigners he offers to wash their feet and house them for the evening. They offer the mandatory, “No, thanks!”, but Lot insists a second time, “But you must come to my house!” The guests accept Lot’s offer, and enjoy a meal with fresh bread. If you have visited the Middle East (or any non-Western country), you can probably imagine this scene. This is a standard social interaction (cf. Acts 16:15).

The first three verses are about Lot’s generous hospitality and gracious welcome. Lot’s hospitality mirrors Abraham’s hospitality of the (same?) angels in 18:1-5. The parallels are unmistakable:

The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.” “Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.” (Gen 18:1-5, NIV)

So Abraham and Lot are portrayed as welcoming hosts who extend a generous welcome to the divine guests. Then, in both stories, Genesis contrasts these righteous actions with the wickedness of Sodom (cf. Gen 18:16-22).

While Lot is hosting the divine guests, the story takes a dramatic turn.

Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

The people of Sodom come to gang rape the two foreigners in Lot’s house. They are not seeking sexual relationships for physical pleasure, but they want to assert their power and domination over the outsiders. They wanted to send a message—“This is our territory! We are the masters here!” The atrocity of rape, especially gang rape, is worthy of heavens fire, regardless of the guests gender. The vicious act is one of domination and humiliation, not sexual pleasure (cf. Gen 34; Jud 19).

The scene switches back to Lot and his sacrificial hospitality.

Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”

Lot’s offer of his daughters is obviously absurd and baffling. Rather than guessing Lot’s intentions or morality here, let’s focus on the narrator’s rhetorical purpose. Lot is so hospitable he is willing to sacrifice everything—not just all the food in his pantry, but even his own daughters! Lot takes full responsibility for his guests, regardless of the cost. This admirable quality is the narrator’s main point. Lot is an honorable host.

But in contrast, the people of Sodom are so wicked, they threaten to rape Lot too.

“Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door.

Their words highlight their intentions—they wanted to treat foreigners terribly. They sought to project power over the outsiders. For the people of Sodom, gang rape was the path to authority and status.

In the end, the guests save Lot, and God’s judgment of fire destroys the entire city.

Ezekiel and Sodom

Despite modern meanings of “Sodom,” the Bible actually equates Sodom with stinginess, and never homosexuality. Ezekiel 16:49-50 explicitly defines the sin of Sodom.

“‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. 

The people of Sodom had resources to welcome the foreign guests, but they were arrogant. Instead of helping and serving their guests with honor (like Abraham and Lot), they sought to attack and humiliate the guests. They wanted to exalt themselves by demeaning and shaming others.

Sodom was known for being wicked long before this incident. Genesis 13:13 says, “Now the people of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.” Some therefore assume the sin must have been because of sexual perversion, and not “simply because of inhospitality.” But this reveals more about one’s cultural assumptions than the text of Genesis.

Jesus and Sodom

Jesus likewise assumes the sin of Sodom was the failure to honor outside guests. Jesus portrays Sodom as an archetype for inhospitality and destruction. He tells his disciples:

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. (Mt 10:14-15; cf. Lk 10:10-12)

In Matthew 11:18-24 Jesus denounces Capernaum because they have not welcomed and followed him despite the miracles they had seen. They will be destroyed like Sodom because they have denounced Jesus (much like Sodom rejected their divinely-sent guests).


The people of Sodom refused to welcome their guests, so they were judged and destroyed. Such behavior is the antithesis of Abraham and Lot, whose righteous hospitality brought deliverance and blessing. And in Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus warns that all such unwelcoming “sodomites” will face an eternal destruction. 


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Confronting Theft

A babysitter took $20 from your dresser. The pastor “borrowed” $500 from the church account for a new roof. An elder was skimming tithe money for years. How do you respond when someone steals money?

A common Western response is to tell people that stealing is wrong, and then expect people to feel convicted and change their behavior. But this rarely works out. So, in such situations, how might we appeal to shame to address the issue?

But first a few qualifications based on my experiences in Central Asia and conversations with Christians around the world. One, people often steal because they are desperate. They feel cornered, and taking money is seemingly the only way out.. Two, people sometimes really think they are “borrowing” the money. They genuinely intend to repay the money, even though their intentions may not be realistic. So before addressing the situation, seek first to understand the person.

Here are some ways you may appeal to shame to shape such behavior.

1. Social Shame

People who steal are disgraced by the community. Such people cannot be trusted by the group, so they are scorned and banished. Eventually people who steal money are caught. This brings shame upon them and their family. Speak forthrightly with the person about the social consequences of such behavior. 

2. Theological Shame

Stealing also shames God. Proverbs 30:9 says it “dishonors the name of God.” So not only does the behavior bring shame upon oneself, but also upon one’s God.

How does stealing dishonor God? One, stealing breaks God’s command, thus disrespecting the Lawgiver. Two, stealing smears God’s reputation. Unbelievers look and scoff when Christians are immoral. Three, and perhaps most deeply, stealing impugns the character and goodness of God. The action declares that God is unable to provide for his children. This is how David dishonored and despised God when he “stole” Bathsheba. David was not trusting in God to provide as promised. (See post, “How David Sinned with Bathsheba.”)

3. Relational Shame.

Depending on the circumstances, you may also appeal to the shame you feel. If you have a close relationship with the person, you can say, “You have shamed and disgraced me. I thought you could come to me for help. But by taking money behind my back, that seems like I’m not a reliable friend to you.”

You can play off of the language and concepts of shame in a variety of ways. This approach is not foolproof, but appealing to shame helps reframe the issue.


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Group Discount for Honor-Shame Conference

You can get a free registration for the 2020 Honor-Shame Conference. Register with 5 persons and the 6th person 
is FREE. This is a great way for your group to learn and explore together. You can get the discount with any 6 people—colleagues, classmates, teammates, neighbors, friends, family.

 Here’s how to get the discount in 2 steps:

  1. Go to the conference website: honorshame-conference.com and register six people.
  2. Write to brian@mission1.org and request for a complete refund for one of the registrants.

Note: This conference is not a function of Wheaton College.


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