1. Encouragement: Opening Reflection and Meanings
I’ve been reflecting on the Barnabas text for myself in my context. What if my congregation started a “Barnabas Club;” would the members be inclined to urge me to join and even give me a new nick-name to go with it?” That is, do I consistently encourage or give care to others in such a way that they are blessed and tend to take up the role of encourager to still others? Do I use my words, presence, resources and influence to meet the needs of others? Barnabas did. He cared enough to offer practical encouragement to others, principally to the poor and disadvantaged, that the 1st century family of faith nicknamed him “son of consolation” and found him trustworthy as a spiritual leader. This “Barnabas Club” is a way for me to face myself with the question, “Do I lead by caring; do I provide, support, inspiration and encouragement to others?”
Over the past three decades, I have enjoyed the opportunity as supply preacher or interim pastor in scores of churches. I have taken that responsibility seriously and tried to bring encouragement and challenge from the pulpit or in Bible study or key leadership groups. I have often become an “exhorting Elder” from this word of Paul to the Thessalonian congregation, in words such as these:
During this season when you are without a known and trusted pastor in the pulpit, against all prevailing tendencies and forces rise up to be the church of the living Christ in this place:
- Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
- Be at your very best in your place in the midst of this very special congregation.
- Give personal attention to the mission of Christ for His church, for indeed it belongs to you.
- Stand your watch on the wall; it’s your watch to protect the well-being of the congregation.
- Take care of each other, your hopes, struggles, and needs; let no one feel as an orphan.
- Do the work of Christ faithfully: sing, teach, minister, and evangelize those seeking the Lord.
- Support the congregation’s practical and spiritual life: pray, lift, love, attend, give, go, bring others.
- Pray for that good day when a pastor comes into your midst to love and lead you and finds you to be a strong, caring and faithful congregation.
So, by words and behavior, stories and example, instruction and exhortation I attempt to give encouragement, to be an “encourager” for a day or for a season.
The servant-leader is servant first—to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. . . . The best test, and difficult to administer is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived? (Servant Leadership, pp.13-14)
2. Courage and Encouragement: A Biblical Viewpoint
Please note: The following comments are adapted with permission from the Zondervan Dictionary; they introduce the central thrust of the New Testament message. Reflection and Application are offered to encourage you to pull that message into your space and ministry role. How do you respond to this central understanding of the active role of encouraging among the members of a congregation? Let’s start with a thesis text from the earliest recorded Scripture.
The NT uses other terms to present the rich meaning of the kindred words, courage and encouragement, translated as: encourage, cheer up, console; encouragement, comfort, consolation; and encouragement, consolation, alleviation. Examples include:
3. Encouragement as Caring, Trust-Building
Another way to learn how to lead through encouragement is to look at encouragement through the skin and skill of several contemporary researchers and practitioners. Reflecting on the concepts of these leaders may help you, both to understand and consistently practice encouragement:
Trust is an emotional strength that begins with a feeling of self-worth and purpose that we’re called to extend outward to others. The warm, solid gut feeling you get from trust— from counting on yourself and trusting and being trusted by others—is one of the great enablers of life. . . . We trust others when two crucial qualities are present in the relationship. First, we must feel that they understand us: that they know who we really are and what really matters to us. Second, we must feel that they care about us, and that they will weigh our true needs, interests, and concerns when they make decisions.
Clearly a leader needs courage—not just bravery of the moment but courage over time, not just willingness to risk, but to risk again and again, to function well under prolonged stress, to survive defeat and keep going. . . . “They never give up.” It is not possible to overstate the value of steadiness in leadership. Individuals and groups who wish to align themselves with a leader find it hard to do so if the leader shifts position erratically.
“Effective leaders understand and employ three components of supportiveness that build trust: acceptance, tolerance for disagreement, and constructive use of people’s openness. People trust leaders who accept them as they are.
“It’s better to know some of the questions than all the answers.” That is Pellicer’s claim in the first chapter, followed by questions, such as: what is a leader? why should leaders care about caring? what do I care about? and, can I care enough to do the little things? Although his lessons were originally developed for teachers in the classroom, they have significant weight for those of us in the congregational ministry of Christ. Through questions, stories, good humor, and illustrations, Pellicer examines what it means to be an effective, caring leader who develops meaningful bonds with staff members to establish common core values. . . . [He] demonstrates the relationship between caring leadership and moral and ethical choices and expands on the power of caring leadership to transform schools.
4. Ministry Reflections, Practices, and Trust-Building Actions:
Encouragement most often takes place in small, continuous, and consistent ways. From a review of best practices discovered and reported by students of leadership, and from my own years of experience, observation, and misadventure, I want to share selected ministry practices that make a difference in a leadership that cares. You may also want to add to the collection, assess your practices, or plan your actions toward encouragement that builds trust.
___ Courage: Living your life with courage is an essential component of encouraging others. “Encourage their hearts.” There are times to be confident, brave, outspoken. It takes courage to be steadfast, to stand the test of time. “Be a believer” in the midst of the congregation and with team leaders. “With God’s help, we can do this together.”
___ Friendship: Develop and sustain friendship with members and co-workers; to make friends, you must be a friend by affirmation, by knowing names, likes, dislikes, hopes and hurts, what matters and what is just fun. Mutual friendship is based on trustworthiness, openness, trust, respect, and understanding.
___ Storytelling: Tell your own real stories, and listen to those of others. Through storytelling, you are showing mutual openness and interest; enjoying presence by listening, laughing and crying together; nurturing and passing on shared heritage; and learning the lessons of the past and current experiences.
___ Caring: Really care for people; stand alongside to comfort and console: to share, support, help in time of need. Look out for them and their best interest; guard against destructive confrontation and competition. Create a healthy atmosphere. Make the church-place a healing place in times of disappointment, struggles, and grief.
___ Hope: “Sustain hope” in the progress, direction, and future of the congregation. Hope is a state of being lived out in consistent acts. Keep hope alive even when things are not going well in the work of the congregation.
___ Inspiration: Inspire others, by example and practices, even when things are difficult. Serve others as a “cheerleader.” Be positive, optimistic and enthusiastic about mutual goals and tasks. Attempt the difficult task, claim the opportunity.
___ Challenge: “Exhortation” is one of the biblical meanings of encouragement. It involves instruction and vision, and call to action. Announce, “This is our time to discover new horizons, improved methods, enlarged resources, and new beginnings.”
___ Empowerment: Share mutual goals and efforts toward achievement. Involve others in decisions, efforts, responsibility, and accountability. Encourage creativity for others to achieve their goals; allow for risks and failures.
___ Team-building: Practice cooperative intentions: choose the right people for your team; be explicit about assignment and expectations; build enduring connections within the congregation. Casey Stengel is quoted: “It’s easy to get good players. Gettin’ ‘em to play together, that’s the hard part.” Also, encourage by reducing destructive confrontation or competition.
___ Recognition and reward: “Make heroes of other people.” Build a positive reward system including acceptance, appreciation, award, and celebration. Communicate a positive sense of achievement and well-being. Ellen Castro writes: “Build trust by honoring others--because it is the right thing to do as well as a sound business practice; it creates a greater sense of self-worth.” --from 52 Ways, p. 42
5. “Encouragement and Trust in the Workplace”
(Adapted from SkillTrack Volume 7.2: Trust-Building: The Leadership Essential, 2003 (pp 47-48), A Study Abstract by Lloyd Elder from the Electric Library: Public Personnel Management: “Trust in Employee/Employer Relationships: A Survey of West Michigan Managers.” The benefit of this abstract is to support the thesis that encouragement and support of other people is a key and integrated component of trust-building. Acts of encouragement have their own place in trust-building; but they are also like strands of fibers in the whole of a valued fabric. The survey reported here sought to measure the place of trust in employer/employee relationships.
Reflections and Lessons: When you read the full research survey, or even this abstract, you may readily concur that the elements of trust expected in the workplace should be that much more experienced within a congregation. As Christian ministers, let your reflection wander over spiritual and practical lessons, such as:
- We minister to constituents that live most of their waking hours in the workplace, such as those surveyed, or at least in comparable roles.
- A substantial understanding of expectations and values in the workplace could make more effective our ministry to people.
- The significant findings of this survey have many valuable applications to your congregation’s ministry, structure, and relationships.
- Making your own assessment may enhance your service to current members; also inform you of more authentic and effective ways to reach out to your community.
- The congregation must give attention to receiving new members, but should also consider the essentials of satisfaction and retention of the ones now in its family of faith.
Process and Findings: Now, let’s look at the process and the findings of this survey effort; I have added reflections along the ways. A survey instrument was sent to the vice president of Human Resources of 426 companies employing more than 50 employees in six contiguous Michigan counties. Of the 426 company officers, 376 received the instrument; 143 responded, representing a statistically significant return of 38.03%. Summary of survey results:
For Your Reflection and Application: What are the major values of this survey to Christian ministers who want to know, understand, and respond to members in the congregation?
- To increase your understanding of the workplace of your members.
- To understand how your members may want to function within the congregation.
- To provide clues toward a congregational strategy for trust-building.
- To glean specific ways to nurture encouragement and support within the congregation.
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by Lloyd Elder & Associates, Inc.
For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links at www.servantleaderstoday.com
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church Leadership