Shine – Hillsong’s latest school outreach to young women

Hillsong Church has a program to boost young women’s self esteem, called ‘Shine’, which the Sydney Morning Herald wrote about today (Saturday 26 July 2008 ) in Hillsong’s Beauty Gospel.

The stated goal of the program is to boost self esteem in young women. Naturally, most of us will expect that it is also an outreach, a means of bringing the gospel into the lives of these young women if possible, whether that is the stated goal or not.

Teachers have criticised the program for being run by unqualified people. The article states, “Most of the facilitators who deliver Shine in Sydney classrooms have no university counselling qualifications, although Hillsong says they must have some qualifications or experience.” Some of the facilitators are graduates of Hillsong’s own leadership programs.

Psychologists are quoted in the article with concerns that the teachings objectify women, with their emphasis on appearance.

As a female Christian, I am concerned about churches promoting such programs. The New Testament teaches us not to measure people by external measures, whether they be appearance, gender or race. If a church emphasises these things, or teaches them as a means of raising self esteem, then they risk encouraging people to base their sense of self worth upon their physical appearance, which is unbiblical. While we have total freedom to get our hair done, take an interest in fashion, or do our makeup, I would hope that those things have no connection to our true sense of value in Christ.

If we we are taught to associate our self worth with these things, most of us will always fall short of some external ideal. If we base our own worth upon these things, we may also start to judge others the same way. Again, not Christ’s way.

Rather than fixing the outside, to give an appearance of self esteem, how much better to work on the inside, and practice accepting people regardless or in spite of appearance. If the outside is ‘fixed’, and the young woman still feels dreadful, does she then feel even more of a failure? Is the only thing she learns ‘how to fake it’?

Why not present a course on grooming for those who are interested, and completely separate that from self esteem? Why risk the association of the two, and its potential misdirection? Self esteem may be reflected in grooming, but for many of us it may be a matter of cleanliness and hygiene, without particular concern for added extras, except where they fit in an appropriate social context.

I am not a psychologist, but if a program is claiming to raise self esteem, I would want it to have the support of respected psychologists, rather than have it arouse their concerns. Particularly if it is likely to have women with low self esteem referred to it for help.

Its hard to comment on courses like this, in a way, as the motives sound good, if true. But the concerns raised are convincing, and are ones that Christians would normally agree with, including those raised by non-Christians who are educated in the areas taught.

Is it appropriate for churches to teach ‘self esteem’ or ‘grooming’ at all? If they intend to teach self esteem through Christ, should that be made clear to all participants? Should churches use people with recognised qualifications in mental health areas, regardless of how well meaning their volunteers are?

Not all responsibility lies with Hillsong, who are not forcing the course on anyone. What kind of discernment or policies should a public school use when paying for a course to take place on their own premises for their students?



29 thoughts on “Shine – Hillsong’s latest school outreach to young women

  1. “We do want our young people to feel good about themselves, but what [they] need is help from professional counsellors.”

    Presumably at professional rates.

    What’s to stop the ‘professional counsellors’ from starting up a similar scheme to assist young girls with personal problems?

    What are ‘gender stereotypes’? On whose basis?

    “Let the older women…teach the young women to be wise, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, home-makers, good, obedient to their own husbands, so that the Word of God is not blasphemed.” Titus 2:3-5

    No, I don’t think that’s a gender stereotype anymore. That is completely the opposite to what most young girls are taught to be by the State school system, home environment, soapies, current affairs programs, Big Brother type survival of the fittest, Darwinian life-style programs, popular music, the media, intellectuals, feminists, oh and psychologists!

  2. So is it teaching the young women to be wise, loving, discreet, chaste etc, to tie self esteem to the issue of their hair and make-up?

    All the things mentioned there in Titus are to do with character, not measures of physical outward appearance.

    Speaking from personal experience, looking after my kids and husband always comes well before make-up and my own appearance, sometimes to the detriment of my appearance, particularly if I am up at night. I’d much rather be a loving mum than look good, and there are times when the choice has to be made. Thankfully, there is no need for me to base my self worth on whether I’ve had time to spend on myself that day. I certainly hope that as an ‘older woman’ I can encourage my own daughter to be wise, and have her own innate self worth, hopefully knowing how much she is loved by her heavenly Father, regardless of what hand she is dealt in the looks or grooming department. (Or the intelligence department.)

  3. FL, in case you are truly unaware, the gender stereotypes referred to are those where women’s worth is measured by their value as objects, typically sex objects, pleasing to men. Many women measure themselves much more harshly against these ideals than most men would. Hence the emphasis on appearance and its effect upon self esteem.

    Look at all the young women’s magazines out there, the unhealthy obsession with weight and the disorders which result for some. Look at the history of women’s fashion. Much has been written about this. We are not talking about issues of submission here, but how women are valued. Conforming to a physical ideal does not address issues of character, of love, or of significance. Jesus does. Jesus put no value on physical appearance. It may not be appropriate for a church to appear to do so. I guess it depends on the way in which it is taught. That is why it might be better to separate the self esteem from the grooming, and teach both but separately.

    There’s nothing wrong with teaching women or men grooming skills. They are useful to have, and advantageous in many circumstances. Its the connection with a sense of self worth that is the questionable link. A woman of low self esteem may not bother to groom herself. But there are many of low self esteem who address the issue with an unhealthy obsession about appearance, something they can control (to a point). The latter is not to be encouraged.

  4. Well said RP. I would like to say that I really value your opinions on this matter.

  5. I’d just point out that you can’t just quote the SMH article and decide what the Shine program is about – go check out the hillsong material that is available and you may see that the SMH is once again trying to pursue their own anti-church agenda by misrepresenting Hillsong…

  6. Fair call, Dave. I will check out the material available. It would be nice if any program re self esteem had been vetted by qualified people though. Mercy Ministries set a bad precedent in this area.

  7. Hey Dave.
    Consider the options:
    SMH’s view on Hillsong’s Shine program- it is possible that they may have an anti-church slant. Or
    Hillsong’s view on Hillsong’s Shine program- where all programs are perfect, life-changing, new, exciting, revolutionary.

    There information is very vague. Very vague in what they do. They have given us a very nice and ideal portrayal in who they are and what they believe. SMH have actually given us a bit of insight as to what they do.

    If Hillsong have not dealt with MercyMinistries accordingly, I am concerned for individuals well being in a program like this too. I think their statement of beliefs is slightly askew. Very mamby-pamby and shallow. Maybe that’s their target market audience.

  8. Its interesting having a brief read about the program.

    There is absolutely no mention of evangelism or outreach. There are several happy testimonies of girls who feel a new love for themselves. It seems to be teaching that girls have innate worth just as they are. It gives the impression that it combines lots of positive attitudes about oneself with instruction in grooming and encouraging girls to believe in themselves enough to try and actually live out their dreams, or at least have a go.

    All of it sounds very palatable.

    It still raises questions to me.

    I find it strange that a church teaches positive thinking and grooming. But perhaps that is because I have a traditional view of churches as places that teach gospel based values, rather than humanistic. I find it strange that a church with an emphasis on outreach would send a program out and not intend to talk about Jesus. In this case, as a Christian, our sense of worth is surely based on understanding our relationship with our Father, so I find it strange that a church could teach on self esteem without going in that direction, which is surely evangelistic. Unless that is not what they teach – yet again, how strange for a church.

    It could be that I just completely misunderstand Hillsong, because I still think of it in a traditional church way. Perhaps this is a business program for them, with a positive impact on young women, that acts as a fund raiser, rather than an outreach program.

    Perhaps Hillsong believe that positive thinking is actually the gospel message and therefore that is what they preach. Positive thinking can undoubtedly help people, but it still falls short of the message about Jesus, which is fundamental to the value of human beings for a Christian. If they were not Christian, I would not question what they were doing except to see if they’d had anyone qualified vet the program before it was distributed. Perhaps I am wrong to expect a Christian base for self esteem from a church run program, or perhaps Hillsong aren’t too fussed as long as its all positive.

  9. “Perhaps Hillsong believe that positive thinking is actually the gospel message”

    This is typical HS in a way. HS to my mind major on externals, on keeping the outside of the cup squeaky clean:
    1. Church services are about great music and presentation not preaching the word (cf Lance the bloggernaut)
    2. Ministering to eating disorders is about controlling sufferer’s external behaviours (cf mercy ministries)
    3. Being right with God is about right external behaviours (BH’s statements about needing to tithe to be right with God)
    4. and now self-esteem is about good grooming.

    Keep up the great whitewashing guys 🙂

  10. “There is absolutely no mention of evangelism or outreach. There are several happy testimonies of girls who feel a new love for themselves.”

    I was going to mention about how their was no mention of outreach, but I held my tongue. From my experience with evangelism, it’s important to show that we love first. Then when people don’t understand why you’re showing this genuine care for them, they are more open to receive the gospel message. This program, I believe, would prepare these young women to receive the gospel message.

    “This is typical HS in a way. HS to my mind major on externals, on keeping the outside of the cup squeaky clean:”
    To be in the world, you have to speak the world’s language and understand their views. It doesn’t mean you agree with them though. Same thing with Hillsong (possibly), in this regard. If the world loves the exterior, is caught up in the exterior yet fails in the exterior, what a good place for Christian’s to start addressing non-believers with. Both believer and non-believer are united in addressing an issue based on commonalities. Through strengthening the non-believer in becoming well-mannered, respected, loved, the non-believer will still be open to receive new teachings in how to become a better person. Being wise and delicate, the gospel can be shared any time when the helper think the young woman is ready and open to hear it. I think this is an awesome way to share the gospel message.

    And I’m sure I read somewhere about “Shine”, how once they got in trouble for being unwise with the gospel message and using prayer in their school ministry. If parents from a different religion wanted to see what this “Shine” course was about, they’d be freaked to know from this program’s intentions that their kids are trying to be converted. The program needs to be school friendly and community friendly. Not divisive. They need do need to be careful with their approach and tactics when it comes to outreaching and loving young women. I would love to see young women become less vulgar in this day and age.

    As much as I am cautious about this, I wish the best for Hillsong and their chance to influence young womens lives for the Kingdom. I suppose I am cautious for their sake more this time. But I really hope that nothing happens like it did with MM.

  11. “Being wise and delicate, the gospel can be shared any time when the helper think the young woman is ready and open to hear it. I think this is an awesome way to share the gospel message.”

    Good point in that if the people on the ground are going out and loving people they impact lives. If they are going in with agendas then maybe not so much as people see through agendas pretty easily – young people too.

    The problem is kind of as you put it on the covering issue “But when people are crying out because they’re getting hurt, we need to make sure that we are ‘good’ intentions aren’t actually blinding us in committing atrocities or apostasies in the name of ‘God’”. If HS are really loving people and really helping them in terms of self-worth then that is a great thing. But are they?

    What qualifications do they have in this area? Do they know better about psycology matters than others simply because they are Christian? I think not. Or are they going to do something half-baked and arrogant like mercy ministries seemed to be – great intentions but with no real clue and ending up damaging the people they think they are helping.

    I would think twice about putting my kids formative minds in the hands of unqualified people who think they know best but sound like shallow agenda-based thinkers with a record of teaching whatever seems right in there own eyes. It can’t be as bad as MM and probably won’t damage anyone but my point is that HS’ record of building on rock-solid fact is not good.

  12. Hello. I have heard about the debate and controversy in Sydney everytime Hillsongs makes a move, and I have to admit, I don’t think that everything there is perfect and suits everyone (I have been there) but what church or organisation is perfect?

    I am a Christian, but was not brought up as one and my family is not, so I think I have a good understanding of both believe systems and logic. I currently work in the social system in England (I am Australian). I work with the most vulnerable people in society and almost every woman I have come across have been the victim of low self-esteem as a minimum. They have been through drug addictions, eating disorters, abuse, suicide attempts and/or a victim of child sexual abuse. Two ladies I am working with now have been through all of the above…. ow, and prostitution. So what would you do to help one of these girls or ladies to give them a will to even live let alone better their lives?

    Do you know what psychologists do? They listen. and listen…….and listen. I have been to Mercy Ministries and I have also been to a program here in England which is quite similar to MM. I was trying to get more information about the programs. Have any of you talked to some of the girls in one of the programs? Yes, I’m sure it’s not for everyone, but the stories of girl’s lives beening turned around is absolutely breath taking. The success rate is far higher than any rehabilitation centre or support organisation I know of that address these particular issues. The girls have been through counselling and the state ‘system’. The issues they have can not be solved with psychologists prescribing and diagnosing, these girls have never been loved by their parents, these girls have been raped and their soul ripped away from them, these girls have been told that they are ugly and worthless from the day they are born, these girls have been abandoned by the individual ‘state’ and Politically Correct society we live in. Therefore, who cares if they have a Christian agenda, in a lot of cases they physically save girl’s lives because they make them realise that they are loved, they are special and they are not at fault for what the world had done to their soul. Ask any of these girls if they’d like to work with a psychologists or one of the workers on the MM or Shine programs. I am willing to bet that 9/10 girls would not choose psychologists.

    I am afraid for the Australian youth to tell you the truth. After coming to England, it’s like looking into the future for Australia. Girls from the age of 12 have their face Full of make up, sex under 14 is normal, drinking at the age of 14 to an addictive level is normal. These are issues that the girls are living through whether they come from a good home or not, the schools and government are not telling girls they are loved or creating a communtiy of respect or morals, so who do you want to do it? Why not let the church have a go at it.

    Sorry, last thing. Every time I have tried to get information about such programs, the organisers have been completely open and helpful (I have never gone in as a christian). They are open about their program structure and any agendas they have, so I strongly advise that if you want to know the true effects of the program, try to talk to a girl that has been through the Shine program, or through Mercy Ministries, see how the program has effected them, because at the end of the day, that’s all that matters isn’t it?

  13. I’ve heard of the Shine program, and talked to people who’ve run it. I actually couldn’t believe it when they told me about half the sessions being on make-up, skin care, nail care and etiquette – and this was meant to be linked to self esteem and value… I have friends doing another program by Scripture Union called CHIC, which is the same set up, but they cover topics like global justice and conflict resolution instead of all the make-up stuff. I know which one I’d choose, and which one seems to lead more to Christian ideals…
    Surely girls don’t need more than they already get from the media about what to wear and what to look like…

  14. Faraway, it doesn’t seem like you know much about mercy ministries and what went on in there. I’ve been through MM. Feel free to take your own advice and ask me all about it!

  15. “…try to talk to a girl that has been through the Shine program, or through Mercy Ministries, see how the program has effected them…” – Faraway

    Faraway’s comment is very well intentioned, and she may have some valid points about the short comings of only using psychologists, but she may not realise that the issues with MM were raised by ex-participants in the program. And of course, since that time, the directors of the program have were found to have engaged in misleading practices regarding advertising what the program offered.

    I also agree with RealChange that focussing on external things like make-up, nail care and etiquette is not going to address internal issues of self esteem. There is nothing wrong with those things, and they can make women feel good on one level, but they do not address the deeper concerns that self esteem derives from. They can make it easier to keep self esteem issues private, but Jesus is about real internal transformation, so that those kinds of outer things are just not seen as defining the person any more.

  16. I’m all for teaching on etiquette. Don’t stop with the girls – teach the boys too!

    I’m all for girls looking pretty!! But, isn’t there enough emphasis on nails, makeup, hair, clothes etc. I may be wrong, but I wonder if there won’t be some girls who will have even less self-esteem doing the grooming sessions if they aren’t as pretty as the rest.

    In the old days, church and even fairy tales used to talk a lot about looking on the inside and being a person of character.
    I suppose Mother Theresa needed a makeover.

    I’m biased in that I love my mum to bits and she doesn’t use any makeup except the occasional lipstick. And I know some other super wonderful ladies who were old-school and thought makeup was “worldly”. An extreme position, but beautiful women to me.

    Not everyone has to be cool and beautiful.
    There’s a pentecostal mega church in Asia that even ran a bikini contest. Times are a changin

  17. I agree with you strongly here churchman. I just feel so strongly that women ought to be valued without those external things. I know that people will always make judgements based on the way people look, even unconciously. I’m not against make-up etc, and wouldn’t want to get legalistic about using it or not either way. I wear it some times and not other times. I look better with it. But our culture is already so visually focused. Look at our politicians – even Julia Gillard has had a bit of a makeover since she rose to a more pubic spotlight. It’s so pervasive that we hardly need churches supporting the view that it defines people. I’d love to see churches emphasising character rather than ‘adornment’ and programmes that encouraged women (and men) to be confident in who they are in Christ, whatever their choice regarding makeup and dress. Those things are useful side skills, but shouldn’t be elevated as being of high importance in a Christian context.

  18. Now someone will probably come on and say that they do emphasise the inner person, and that the makeup etc is just an add on.

    However I read a comment recently about Bobbie Houston’s book:

    So Bobbie Houston wrote a book called I’ll Have What She’s Having, and the idea is that it’s really a religious obligation on a Christian woman to live a fashion-magazine lifestyle really, to be beautiful, to be groomed, to be well made-up, to even do pelvic floor exercises and have a great sex life, so that you can brag about it to your non-Christian friends and then when they see your beautiful home and hear about your wonderful sex life, they’ll ask you ‘How did you get like that?’ and you’ll be able say, ‘Oh well actually, it’s all Jesus’, and then they’ll say, ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ and be converted by the power of envy.

    It just sounds like there is more to the emphasis on hair, makeup and looking good than self esteem. Though I suppose some people may well base their self-worth on these things. That would be sad though. It is building a house on sand. These things don’t last.

  19. I guess my point is this. I’m a guy so I don’t have to worry about it so much. But, I feel for a girl who doesn’t feel as glamorous as the beautiful people at school or whatever, and go to church thinking they won’t have to worry about externals so much. Then they get to church and they get the makeup and the color coordination etc etc.

    ((I’m not anti-makeup).
    All for wives being encourage to do pelvic exercises etc though…

    Oh, Ravingpente, that reminds me about bragging though. I think too many times Christians are encourage to be able to always give glowing wonderful testimonies. We always have to be blessed in everything so we can be good advertisements, but is everyone being truthful?

    Case in point. There was a TV show about the pastor of a megachurch in the US who also taught his people how to prosper financially, in their work, in their families, and in the bedroom! So, he asks two male church members in front of the camera, “So how often do you make love with your wife?” The first one says “everyday”. Reporter says wow! Next guy too. “Everyday, sometimes twice a day”, Next question from Pastor. “And how often does your wife orgasm?” Both men say “Everytime!”, Then Megachurch Pastor goes on to boast about how Christians have better sex than anyone. And of course, he’s the Pastor who writes all the spiritual books and marriage books so he is no doubt happier than anyone.
    So the impression given is that the whole church is just in this continual rich, healthy, successful, orgasmic state of blessedness.

    Later of course we find out that the Pastor was visiting gay prostitutes, tempted with drugs, and had relationships with other men. And couldn’t talk with his wife about any of it. You probably know who I’m talking about.

    So, was everything really as rosy as was projected to the world?
    No, it wasn’t. Maybe there was some stretching of the truth? Just a little?
    Seems like a lot of pressure is put on us all to maintain the perfect testimony.

    Maybe our message doesn’t have to be that “you can be as wonderful as me” so much as it can be that “your sins can be forgiven like mine were”. And then love people.

    Jesus never said that the world would know that God sent the Son because of our cars, houses, bank balances and sexual satisfaction scores.

  20. I am baffled by this thing about building up young womens self-esteem.

    Did Jesus come to save us from Hell or from Hang-ups?

    Did Jesus come to deliver us from sin or from our hurts and remove all pain?

  21. Bull, And I am baffled by how everyone needs to have their self-esteem built up even though the western world and the churches seem to talk about self-esteem all the time.

    Seems to be an inverse relationship.

    Maybe we think about ourselves too much?? (Wow, now there’s a thought).

  22. “But, I feel for a girl who doesn’t feel as glamorous as the beautiful people at school or whatever, and go to church thinking they won’t have to worry about externals so much.” – churchman

    Yes, that’s the kind of compassion that would keep these things in their rightful place. I’m not against women learning about these things, but ideally (scared to use that word!) at church it wouldn’t matter, and you could go with or without makeup, and have no concern that you’d be judged either way.

    I was relieved when I went to a Pente church for the first time that make-up was OK, since in my Anglican church, no one ever seemed to wear it, and I was a little concerned about being judged if I did. Doesn’t mean its good to swing in the opposite direction where you are supposed to have great skills in that area if it doesn’t even interest you. One of the most amazing Christian women I know is overweight, grey haired, wears no makeup, can’t afford to be fashion conscious, but – whole families have met Christ through her witness and through her compassion. Jesus just shines through her. That sounds like Pente talk, but I can’t think of another way to describe it. When He is there, you just don’t need the other stuff. We should be encouraging focus on growing in Christ, and the other stuff will take care of itself.

    I agree very much with this as well:

    “Jesus never said that the world would know that God sent the Son because of our cars, houses, bank balances and sexual satisfaction scores.”

    He said the world would know us by our love for one another. I think that helping someone with hair and makeup etc can be an expression of love. If it goes to the point where people are supposed to aspire to those externals to send a message though, it has lost the plot.

  23. On the other hand, as a program targeted at women, to introduce them to Christ, it sounds OK on the surface. Still if its purpose is to introduce them to Christ, this should be openly stated, and the grooming stuff shouldn’t conflict with Christ’s message where externals aren’t how we value people.

  24. The bragging issue is a good topic that would make a good post. Will see if I can fit it in at some point.

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