Growing up hockey was my sport of choice. As a teenager I was an average player with a desire to get better. During a practice I vividly remember running a play that I struggled with. After the play the head coach skated over to me and said “Braland, you have got this, you can make the play, I know you can.” We ran the play again and this time I stepped up and did what needed to be done. Little did I know but his words of encouragement helped me to overcome many obstacles throughout my life booth on the hockey rink and beyond.
Encouragement is the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope. It can motivate and persuade a person to do something or continue to do something. Encouragement matters. People need to be reminded that they are headed in the right direction, that they are making progress, that they can overcome obstacles, and that God is at work in and around them even when the work is hard. Encouragement is a skill that can be leveraged by anyone to help others reach their full potential.
Here are four practical tips to help you bring out the best in others for the glory of God.
1. Be specific. Acknowledge and celebrate a real action, attitude, our outcome. Don’t be generic or vague about the situation, it’s like getting a letter from your insurance salesperson that says “Thanks for your business.” It means nothing. You must be crystal clear about why you are encouraging them. Here are a few examples:
“By calling that person you helped them to see that they matter. Great job.”
“You made everything run smooth today, we could not have done it without you.”
“Keep going, take one more step, you are so close to the finish line.”
“The way you handled that situation reveals how much you care for them as a person.”
The more specific the better. One specific encouraging note or word can flow into other areas of a person’s life filling in cracks that you didn’t even know were there.
2. Be genuine. Fake encouragement smells like fake flowers so don’t serve up a big dish of fake. Be emotionally engaged in your comments, let them flow from your heart whether they are written or spoken. When you encourage someone, your body language speaks louder than your words so when you share with someone look them in the eye and put a smile on your face.
3. Be timely. Encourage people as soon as possible so that whatever it is you are encouraging them about is fresh on their mind. Encouragement loses its impact when you say it too late. When a person is running a race and closing in on the finish line, they need encouragement before they get to the line, not a week after the race.
4. Be generous. Don’t withhold encouragement from those who need it. Encourage others without being jealous of them and encourage often. Great encouragers don’t see the other person as competition, they see them as a team mate. Teams that encourage one another will always bring out the best in one another.
One of my favorite biblical examples of encouragement comes from the relationship between Paul and Timothy. According to Acts 16:1-3, Paul met Timothy while he was traveling through Lystra. Paul discovered that Timothy was the son of a believing Jewess and a Greek father and that people spoke highly of him. Paul valued character and saw Timothy’s potential. Acts 16:3 informs us that “Paul wanted to take him [Timothy] along on the journey.” This was the moment when the loving mentor relationship between Paul and Timothy began.
Think of two people that you can encourage today. How can you encourage them in a specific, genuine, timely, and generous way? How can you be more consistently encouraging with your leaders? Encouragement brings out the best in others, so learn to be an encourager.
You would be hard pressed to find a pastor who would tell you that making disciples isn’t a priority. After all, Jesus gave us our mission when he said: “19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
Even though almost every pastor would say that making disciples is important, very few actually do. Most pastors simply feed the flock week after week and day after day. They care for the sick, pray with the hurting, and take care of day to day operations at the church, all of which are important. But make disciples? Not really.
Barna research Group conducted a fascinating study that revealed 51% of Christians have never heard of the Great Commission. Twenty five percent of Christians have heard about the Great Commission but can’t recall what it actually means and only 17% claim to know what it means. (https://www.barna.com/research/half-churchgoers-not-heard-great-commission/, accessed 28 June 2018).
Whose fault is this? If you are a pastor like I am, it’s our fault. Since we are the primary teachers of God’s word it’s our responsibility to teach people about the Great Commission because it is the primary mission of the church. If your church isn’t obeying Jesus command to make disciples then you need to change business as usual. Here’s how.
1. Prioritize the gospel. Teach the Word of God and always draw people back to the good news that Jesus died for our sins and that salvation is found in no one else. Pastors can focus on so many other pressing matters that they actually forget to preach Christ crucified. You need to share the reason why the gospel matters to everyone. Share it often and with share it with passion and conviction.
2. Emphasize evangelism. In my opinion, the days of door to door evangelism are gone. Years ago a few people would enjoy knocking on doors to share the gospel but they were by far in the minority. What does work is friendship evangelism. In a nutshell that means be a disciple and live out your faith every day regardless of whether you are at work, home, church, or anywhere else. You need to teach your congregation to do this. Teach them how to share their personal story and what it looks like to live out their faith.
3. Model disciple making yourself. If you want to make disciples, make disciples. You should be the first one to live out your faith and talk about it with others. If everyone you know is already a believer, get some new friends. When you live out your faith it will give you something to talk about when you preach and this will inspire others to do the same.
4. Champion discipleship. Once you prioritize disciple making and start to talk about it others will follow your lead. It might not happen overnight but when you champion it, others will celebrate it.
5. Hold your church accountable. Ask your key leaders who they are trying to reach for Christ. Talk to them about who they are sharing their faith with. Ask them who they are inviting to church. Tell them to ask their ministry teams and friends the same question. As the pastor, you need to set the tone and you will only be able to do this effectively if you are making disciples yourself.
Now is the time to go all in when it comes to making disciples. I believe that we are living precariously close to the return of Christ and that Jesus will indeed return when the whole world hears the gospel. You might not be able to reach the whole world, but you can reach your family and neighbors and teach your congregation to do the same. Jesus has given us our mission, now it’s time to fulfill it. Disciple making starts with you.