Dear Church Family
Human beings thrive on encouragement. Psychologists tell us that encouragement is crucial to child development and is a key foundation enabling us to live confidently and securely. Encouragement is good for us. It originates in the Great Encourager - God himself - who in Jesus Christ loves us, affirms us and delights in building us up.
This weekend I'm taking a team up to Middlesborough, to St Barnabas Church where Sam Tyndall is Curate (Sam and Becky were sent out from The Belfrey a few years ago) to lead a renewal weekend for them. We'll be leading seminars, teaching and prayer ministry with the aim of encouraging them as much as we possibly can! Please pray for us, and for the people of St Barnabas Church.
It's interesting that we're going to encourage a church named after the most famous encourager in the bible - Barnabas. His very name means 'son of encouragement'! The Bible says that he was a generous person, was 'glad' and 'encouraged others', partly by telling stories of encouragement, building love and faith. He's also described as 'a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith'. His desire was to be used by God to help others become disciples and to see the church built up in love and to impact the world. What a great example of an encourager he is!
In this season when we're preparing for a General Election, much campaigning is being done not through encouragement, but by doing the very opposite - through discouraging, criticising, tearing down and being negative. Such is the way of much of the world. But in the church we're told to live in the opposite spirit/Spirit. As I say in my book (about to be published) on discipleship:
'We live in a world with much discouragement and disappointment ... We can so easily embrace the negativity that's in much of our culture and translate it into our lives our workplaces, our families and churches. But disciples are called to something different. To encourage. To build up. To speak well. To praise. To affirm. To be positive. We need to do this in every area of life, creating a culture of honour in our homes and churches. Instead of being cynical, sceptical and pessimistic, disciples are called to honour one another, encouraging children, friends, works colleagues, church and political leaders, and everyone we come in contact with. That's why the Bible says, "encourage one another and build each other up."'
This doesn't mean there's no place to call people to account when they do something wrong. God the Encourager does that to us and we need to do that in our families, workplaces and elsewhere. But it does mean that we do so kindly and politely, 'speaking the truth in love' and wanting to build up the person we're challenging rather than tearing them down. Such challenge normally happens not publicly, but privately. Not on social media, but in person. Not gossiping behind people's backs, but face to face.
I think we modelled encouragement pretty well at our church's Annual Meeting last week. There was much to give thanks for over the year, and we enjoyed celebrating. There were some helpful questions, asking for clarification on a number of matters and a few asking if some things could be done differently or be worked on. The atmosphere was friendly, prayerful and positive. I have had good feedback on what an encouraging meeting it was!
As we seek to be people of encouragement, we need to pray for the Lord to continually help us in this. He will, for he is good and longs to fill us with his Spirit, equipping us with all we need to be agents of transformation in the world. Encouragement is key to all this. Nicky Gumbel, Vicar of HTB in London and pioneer of the Alpha course knows this to be true, which is why he says that 'encouragement is like verbal sunshine. It warms people's lives.'
As God's people, we're called to change the world through love. That's why I think we're called to be the most encouraging people on planet earth. What a calling! What a challenge! What an honour!