“Encouragement is oxygen for the soul” (Rick Godwin)
Recently I read a sign in big bold letters that was posted on Facebook: “Wanted: Encouragers.” At the bottom of the sign in very small print: “We have a surplus of critics already and do not need anymore.” (The World)
The people that you and I minister to are continually bombarded by a barrage of negative remarks and hurtful words whether at work, in the family or sometime even at church.
Let’s be honest, there is nothing more enjoyable and satisfying than hearing positive uplifting words spoken to us or written in an email by those expressing gratitude, having been blessed and encouraged through our lives and ministry.
I am convinced that being an intentional encourager is one of the key elements of fruitful local church ministry. This may not come naturally to those of us who tend to be more introverted or reserved, but still God wants to use us to accomplish his will by building others up.
Thinking about the ministry of encouragement always brings to mind Barnabas, referred to as the “son of comfort.” Interestingly enough, Barnabas is not remembered as a visionary leader or a spellbinding preacher. However, everywhere he went, Barnabas encouraged those who were facing discouragement and disappointment. Here are a few attributes of an encourager.
- An encourager has a giving heart.
Our first encounter with Barnabas in Acts finds him selling some property and giving the proceeds to the apostles. (Acts 4,37b NIV) It is more blessed to give than receive. True joy in life comes as we give of ourselves by making someone’s load a little lighter.
- An Encourager is willing to take a risk.
Our second encounter with Barnabas finds him recommending the ministry of a new convert by the name of Saul to the Apostles in Jerusalem. It is quite understandable, that the church leaders in Jerusalem were a bit skeptical and somewhat fearful, not knowing for sure if the famous persecutor of Christians was a truly a follower of Jesus. “But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him…” (Acts 9,27a NIV) An encourager is always ready to risk his or her own reputation on behalf for those whom God’s call is on. An encourager facilitates the ministry of others.
- An encourager is a courage-maker
Barnabas visits the young church in Antioch: “When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” (Acts 11: 23 NIV) Thomas Jefferson once stated: “One man with courage makes a majority.”
More often than not, we do not have a quick easy answers nor a pat solution for the extenuating difficulties that many in which our church family find themselves. Still, we can speak courage into their lives just as the Lord spoke to Joshua when he stood before one his greatest life challenges. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1,9b NIV)
4. An encourager is a team player
In Acts chapters 11-15, Barnabas actively ministers along side of Paul, preaching the Gospel and planting churches in Asia Minor. Today we need far fewer Lone Rangers in ministry and more brothers and sisters who truly exemplify the African saying: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.“
5 An encourager gives a second chance.
The last time we encounter Barnabas is during a very unpleasant episode that the Bible does not attempt to smooth over. Barnabas and Paulus are making plans once again to visit the churches in Asia Minor. Paul is vehemently opposed to taking Mark along with them because he left them hanging in Pamphylia. “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. (Acts 13: 39-40 NIV)
A word of encouragement during a failure is worth more than an hour of praise after success.
Interestingly enough a few years later Paul requests Timothy to bring Mark to him. “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” (2 Timothy 4: 11 NIV)
Barnabas had a positive influence upon the life of Mark simply because he accepted him in spite of some limiting issues in his life. Duane Elmer writes: “As we welcome people just as they are and invite them to join us just as we are, it becomes a sacred event reflecting what Jesus did for us – providing us with a healing relationship.”
- An encourager does not have to be in the limelight.
In Luke’s account in Acts in the first mission journeys, he speaks of Barnabas and Paul but later we read him only mentioning Paul first and then Barnabas. Barnabas moves to the background and Paul becomes the recognized leader. After Acts 15 we no longer read anything about Barnabas but only read about the ministry of Paul.
A true encourager allows others to take the lead in leadership without finding it necessary to be recognized or patted on the back. Seeing potential in others and encouraging them to move forward, without jealously and envy, is the mark of a Barnabas heart. Where would a Paul be without a Barnabas? Nine-tenths of education is encouragement. Without a doubt the Apostle Paul gleaned so much through the life message that Barnabas portrayed.
Dan Darling rightfully assesses that there is no alternative to encouraging the people around us:
“I’ve observed that people will often value an affirming environment over other, more tangible rewards like higher wages, time off or company perks. I’ve noticed that my kids are more desirous of my time and my approval than the neatly wrapped gifts I might put under the Christmas tree every year. Encouragement is vital. It’s the oil of human relationships. Some are better at this than others, but all of us should seek the Spirit’s help in becoming a beacon of encouragement to those around us.”
Who can you encourage today in your youth group, home group or elsewhere in the church? I am not talking about superficial hollow words that are like the morning dew that quickly disappear but truly demonstrating genuine concern through our word and deed. Everyone has a deep-seated need for affirmation and acceptance.
The wise Solomon of old reflects: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11 ESV)
My prayer is that God will help us encourage others as never before. Let’s not procrastinate today but speak courage to those we meet. “He who gives the most hope has the greatest influence.” (Kris Valleton)
May God grant you and me a generous Barnabas heart as we intentionally encourage our family and those who have been entrusted to us in the ministry.
Paul and his wife Mechthild have planted churches in Rhineland Palatinate, Saarland and Thuringia. Paul is actively involved in teaching ministry as well as assisting and coaching other churches being planted in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Paul initiated and administers the website http://www.forumgemeindebau.de/ which provides resources and inspiration for German speaking pastors and church leaders.
Paul is author of the book: German Pentecostal Church Planting 1945–2005: Implications for Intentional Mission in the 21st Century. Paul’s personal missions’ statement: “I intentionally encourage those who encourage others.”