“...honoring those who labor among us.” (I Thessalonians 5:12) “...but encouraging one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25)
For over a decade, this nation, along with a growing number of others, has officially recognized October as Clergy Appreciation Month. Sunday, October 9th (for this year), will be observed by churches across the nation as Clergy Appreciation Sunday. On this day, or on other Sundays in October, churches will pause and give recognition to the pastors, ministers, church staff members, and lay leaders who serve them. This is as it should be! It is a much-needed recognition whose time has come. In your efforts to encourage, please, don’t overlook the lay leaders who serve among you. Oftentimes they get the least encouragement for “watching after your souls” and “doing the work of ministry.”
In keeping with this special emphasis on “God’s ministering servants,” we must not neglect the need for encouragement and appreciation being shown toward ALL of God’s children, regardless of their role or position. We all have need of encouragement, all of the time.
There are at least three foundational principles I would like to establish from the beginning:
First, the need for appreciation and encouragement is not limited to the clergy or full-time staff. All have need of it! Anyone who tries can give it. It takes no special training, just a commitment to do what we know needs to be done.
Second, encouragement is not flattery or putting anyone, including the pastor, on a pedestal. There is an idolatry of clergy in many churches. Only one is qualified to sit on the Throne, and His name is Jesus. He is Lord and Savior of the church, and no one else.
Thirdly, real encouragement is a missing jewel and a rare commodity in the contemporary church. Some churches feel the best way to make their ministers more spiritual is to pay them as little as possible and give them very little, if any, affirmation for a job well done. This is heresy!
The Connection Between the Two...
To encourage, comfort, and show appreciation is to recognize one’s worth and value, to impart renewed courage and comfort, and to constantly live in the zone of encouragement. Our churches should be known as having a “culture of honor and culture.” Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Encouragement is the tangible expression of one’s appreciation for another. Literally, the word encouragement (comfort) means “to come along side of” or “to put courage into someone.” The word encouragement, or some form of it, occurs sixty two times in the Bible and thirteen times in the Book of Acts. It is evident from even a casual reading of Scripture that encouragement is a concept highly valued by God for His people.
Three Other Points to Consider...
Upon studying “appreciation, encouragement, and comfort” in Scripture, one would conclude that:
God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirt are all encouragers. (2 Corinthians 1:3)
The Early Church was a fellowship of encouragement. (Hebrews 10:25)
Although there seems to be a gift of encouragement (I Peter 4:11), all of God’s people are expected to be encouragers. (Hebrews 10:25).
Appreciation and Encouragement are not directives that should be practiced only on special days or in October. Like Thanksgiving, encouragement should be a part of the Christian’s lifestyle.
Becoming An Encourager...
Committing one’s self to be an ambassador of encouragement seems to be the starting place. If we will commit ourselves, and keep our eyes open, we will not lack for opportunities. Disciples of Jesus are not the only ones needing encouragement. Encouragement is a wonderful way to bless anyone regardless of whether they are believer or unbeliever. If you look closely enough, you can find something to affirm in any person.
From my experience, passing on encouraging, loving words never turns anyone off. It usually opens a door and turns them on. A listening ear is absolutely essential if we are to be encouragers. If you really listen, even behind the words spoken, you will have many opportunities to encourage and respond with the love of God. These kinds of words, fitly spoken, will break every barrier down.
More than once, Jesus and His followers encouraged the people to “watch and pray.” Stay “open-eyed” as to what God is doing when you speak words of life.
A working knowledge of the Scripture is helpful and important to those who would be ministers of encouragement. Remember we can only promise what God’s Word promises, and that is more than enough.
Who Needs Encouragement and When...
Certainly pastors, ministers, missionaries, church staff, support staff, and lay leaders ALL need encouragement on a consistent basis. But that’s not the whole story. Maybe we should say, “Who doesn’t need encouragement and appreciation in regular doses?”
Pastors, ministers, and others need added encouragement and expressions of appreciation during these special seasons of their lives:
• When they seem to have lost sight of their vision, their purpose, their value, and potential.
• When they seem to have “lost heart,” resulting in discouragement, depression, and defeat. Often times, God’s ministering servants “crash and burn” before anyone recognizes the need. “Burnout” is a major challenge facing most clergy in this nation.
• When they are at risk or taking risky steps in their lives or ministry.
• When they have just had the “wind knocked out of them,” spiritually or otherwise. This often happens during or after leader’s meetings or congregational meetings. “Stand by to pick up the pieces.”
• When they are tempted to give less than their best.
How Do We Express Appreciation and Encouragement?
Here are a few specific suggestions as to how you can show your love and appreciation for your ministers, lay leaders, and their families:
We can encourage by speaking kind words and words of blessings.
A personal, handwritten note is a wonderful way to show that you care.
A timely phone call can be an effective way to encourage.
An appropriate touch can be used by God to encourage.
A thoughtful deed can show love.
Closely akin, a small, inexpensive gift can lift one’s spirit.
Your presence at a time of need is often most effective. Presence and understanding are often more effective than spiritual words or advice.
Decide today, that you are going to become a son or daughter of encouragement, as was Barnabas and many others in the early church. We will never outgrow the need for a culture of honor and encouragement in the Body of Christ. Neither technology, robotics, nor digital communication will ever replace the need for disciples of Jesus who will “encourage one another to love and good works.”