The Fruit Grown in a Flock by Pastoral Encouragement
To start a recent sermon, I said, “He is risen!”
And the congregation shouted back: “He is risen, indeed!” To which I replied, “I knew you would say that.”
We all laughed.
Then I added, “I love being your pastor.”
Several members shouted some affirming things; a few others clapped. It was a sweet way to begin a sermon, but certainly not the way I once related to my congregation. It took me a long time to understand the necessity and power of encouragement.
Encouraging my people encourages them! In their reminder of my delight in them, they taste the delight Christ has in them. Encouraging shepherds also model for their flock how to encourage one another, and over time, create a culture of encouragement that’s part of the Velcro of the gospel. It has been said that humility is the pastor’s super-power. To which I would add: “And encouragement is our superglue.”
Encouragement is incredibly attractive. It’s a godly grace that reinforces gospel fruit. Younger pastors may not realize how important it is.
THE ROOT OF ENCOURAGEMENT
Have you ever marveled at Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthian believers (1 Cor. 1:4–9)? Is he just buttering them up before he drops the hammer, or does he really believe they’re worth thanking God for? Since all Scripture is God-breathed, clearly Paul is being genuine.
Encouragement is a regular part of Paul’s ministry (Phil. 1:3–8; Col. 1:3–8; 1 Thess. 1:2–10; 2 Thess. 1:2–4; Philem. 4–7). He is constantly overjoyed that he has come to faith in Christ and that others have too, particularly through his ministry. It’s as if he anticipates heaven by looking around at other believers and saying, “Can you believe this? Look at what Christ has done for us!”
Paul’s ministry of encouragement is driven by his joy in our union with Christ. Examine those encouragement passages. See that true pastoral encouragement is not flattery (1 Thess. 2:5). Pastoral encouragement grows out of gospel ministry and deep relationship. It points out evidences of gospel fruit in others that have been grown by Christ himself.
THE FRUIT OF ENCOURAGEMENT
Encouragement gives someone courage to do the right thing in the face of adversity. What makes encouragement so powerful?
You do not need to love someone to admonish them. You can point out all the ways someone does not measure up without caring for them at all. But in order to encourage someone, you need to care for them. You must take time to notice the good they do and take time to tell them.
One word of encouragement can stick with a person for a long time, and if in their mind your voice is one of consistent encouragement, the door of their heart will open wider.
A young pastor will be tempted to be frustrated with the lack of observable commitment; he’ll be tempted to complain about the spiritual immaturity in his church. He’ll be tempted to see the many things that need to change, and he’ll want to change them immediately.
But if he looks for and celebrates evidences of grace, then at least two things will happen. People will know more of what to value in a church, and the relational affection between the pastor and congregation will sweeten their fellowship. His love for this people will become kindling for their love for Christ and for their pastor. Over time, it may even help them see some of the necessary changes.
WHAT NOT TO DO:
- Fill your sermons with imperatives that only admonish, challenge, and push your people.
- Keep public leadership from others because they can’t do it as well as you.
- Make a list of all the changes you want to see and hand it out at leaders’ meetings.
- Try to convince your leaders of the need for changes by pointing out how embarrassing, outdated, and ineffective their practices are.
- Act like everything that took place before you came was terrible or worth ignoring.
- Let the congregation know they can get behind you or run over by you.
WHAT TO DO:
- Make a list of all of the leaders in your church. Think of questions you would like to ask them. When did you first hear the gospel? How did the Lord draw you to himself? What are your favorite memories of the church? What have been some of her dark days? Who has the Lord used to encourage you?
- Learn the congregation’s stories. You may have never known the husband of the widow in your church, and while his death five years ago may seem like a long time ago to you, it’s not to her.
- Look for examples of faithfulness in the lives of your people and the history of the church. Consider ways to thank them personally, and use them for sermon illustrations.
- Tell your church that you love them.
- Tell the Lord in your public prayers how much you love your church, while thanking God that he loves them so much more!
- Ask God to help you not take for granted any of his graces given to you through the lives of his people.
Jared is a new pastor near me who was frustrated when one of his deacons wasn’t on board with all of the changes he wanted to make. I encouraged Jared to care more about the deacon than the changes: “Take him to lunch. Listen to his story. Spend time with him.”
A few weeks ago, Jared came to our local pastors’ lunch and guess what? He brought the deacon! In fact, this deacon was so encouraged by his recent lunch with his pastor that I could tell his trust and affection for Jared would grow. By Jared loving and encouraging the deacon, he will be able to more effectively lead him.
There are times when we need to admonish, and we cannot neglect that. But admonishment will be received better when people have been consistently cared for by their shepherd’s gospel-driven encouragement.