By its nature, encouragement is usually an unseen and uncelebrated ministry. Yet it is so essential. We wanted to take some time to highlight this necessary work and so we asked three people to share examples and ideas to inspire us.
Learning from our communities
The pinnacle of God’s creation wasn’t the glorious mountain ranges, the oceans with all its amazing creatures or the billions upon billions of stars! No, the apex of God’s creation was humanity. We are the ones made in God’s image. That is, we are made to reflect something of God’s character to one another. That instantly gives every human being rich dignity and deep value. What an honour! Sadly we now live in a fallen world and we are all now broken reflections of the image of God. As Francis Schaeffer put it – we are glorious ruins.
Deep down everyone knows God is true and real, as Romans 1 points out. Romans 2:14-15 tells us that all of us know justice, love, honesty – God’s law is written on our hearts. This is talking about unbelievers. As God’s image bearers we show something of God’s character. So, we shouldn’t be surprised when we meet unbelievers who are more generous, loving, kind and sacrificial than Christians that we know. If we want to encourage our community, we must grasp this first!
We live in an area with big social problems and see the devastating effects of sin all around. But, at the same time we see wonderful love and sacrifice for one another. One of the ways we get to see this in real clarity is through the food-bank that is run from the church. We sought to encourage and serve our community, but we have been blown away by the encouragement they are to us! We have many volunteers from gospel churches in our area, but also many volunteers come from the community. They are loyal, sacrificial and care about the valley.
Over the first lockdown period, we needed a few new volunteers for the Foodbank as many of our usual volunteers were shielding. I contacted some of the men I play ‘5-a side’ with, and my wife asked some of her choir. People were very ready and happy to help. One graphic designer who was on furlough even put together a book of friends’ recipes and managed to raise nearly £2000 for the Foodbank! We see wonderful generosity through this means throughout the year. As well as this, many of our church are deeply indebted to neighbours who care, help and support in very practical ways. We have witnessed real sacrificial love.
We thank God for what we can learn and be encouraged about through our valley, but we also plead with him that he would save and rescue them so that they would experience the care, generosity and sacrifice of our glorious saviour Jesus.
Andrew Norbury is Pastor of Peniel Evangelical Church, Maesteg.
Your pastor needs encouragement too
‘I wish I knew what to do or say to encourage him.’ How many times have you thought that as you listened in church or just watched your pastor being pastoral? So often, the creative moment passes and you give up on any half formed ideas you have had. What can we ‘ordinary’ church members do to lighten their load by encouraging them?
I received anonymous responses from pastors about what might encourage them and have included them here in italics.
The number one answer, by a long way, was prayer.
‘It encourages me knowing that members pray for me.’
‘Hearing members praying for me and my children.’
‘It is encouraging when people pray in a way that demonstrates that they appreciate something of the challenges and struggles we face week by week, in the long hours of sermon preparation during the week rather than simply praying for the delivery of the sermon on the Sunday.’
It doesn’t take much imagination to think through what may be their tasks for the day. Is it their day off? Then pray for refreshment. Saturday? Then pray for family time. Is it a Sunday? Then pray for stamina and spiritual enlivening. Pray for their wives with all the support they need to put into family life.
The second thing that encouraged pastors was a response from the congregation.
‘When believers verbalise that God has spoken to them through the preaching – either through challenge, or edification, or specific guidance – this is greatly encouraging.’
‘Attending regularly at Sunday services and prayer meeting.’
‘People remembering something from a sermon I have preached.’
‘Seeing people make progress, growing, forgiving, serving, giving.’
If a sermon encourages or rebukes you then tell your pastor. He can’t guess, he needs you to tell him. When sending a text or email, remember written words don’t smile, so make sure your message is clear, helpful and encouraging.
‘The thing that encourages me most is hearing about the church just being the church. For example, when I hear that members are inviting their friends over to get to know them with a view to telling them the gospel, or people are caring for one another, phoning the elderly, etc with no input from me. They’re just taking the initiative to do what we are called to do.’
‘People noticing and acknowledging that I’ve been working hard or that I’ve had a lot on my plate.’
‘It was such an encouragement during lockdown to get a pastoral visit from an 85 year old church member wanting to encourage me and the family while we were all in our house!’
‘For me and my family to be invited for a meal.’
‘Care and support of the pastor’s wife is always a way to encourage the man himself.’
Think creatively about ways of being a Barnabas to your pastor. I heard of a widower in his 90’s who sent ‘fish and chip money’ to his pastor as lockdown was finishing. He thought the pastor’s wife would like a meal brought into the house as she had been doing all the meals for four months for their family of six. A kind and thoughtful gesture. Is there anything you could do for your pastor and his family to ease their load?
So here is the challenge. What are you going to do this week to make your pastor feel that his labour is all worth it?
Christine Owens is a member of the Bay Church and is on the Editorial Board of the Evangelical Magazine.
Caring with cards
When Irene first joined Carey Baptist church, she wondered how she could contribute to the fellowship. Her first husband, Frank, was very unwell, so participating in activities during the week was ruled out as her eyesight prohibited her from driving. Decades before, one of her former ministers used to encourage his members to ‘drop them a card’ for all sorts of reasons. Prayerfully looking for what she could do, Irene started writing cards to folks. Maybe just one or two each week but word got around and other folks would ask if she could write to them too.
Despite Frank’s home call in 1998, the cards were still sent. I had the joy of becoming Irene’s second husband – and the cards continued to be sent! Irene was now back at our Sunday services and would walk around the chapel talking to various folks. Often a hand would be waved to me to collect a new person’s address so that we could write.
We started making our own cards seeking to include two portions from Scripture on each card. The portion inside aimed to encourage whilst the portion on the back was focussed on glorifying our great God. Before Irene was called home in 2018, she asked me to continue to send the cards out. I approached the Carey eldership and they agreed that they would also sign the cards with a different husband and wife taking turns each week to sign and to pray specifically for the same folks.
I have lost count of the number of folks who have said, ‘How did you know? That was exactly the right word for me, and it arrived on the very day I needed it!’ Others have said, ‘I’ve just been feeling down and then your card arrived and was a real tonic.’ I recall another lady, who could not read, saying, ‘Please keep sending the cards. My daughter isn’t a Christian, but I get her to read and re-read the cards you send!’ The reality is that we simply don’t know the need, but we have a truly amazing God who does know and comforts and encourages his children.
Peter Wells is a member of Carey Baptist Church in Reading