Creating a culture of encouragement

James 3:5-6; 17-18

It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell…..Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.

I was tired. It was a good and excited kind of tired. We were cleaning up after a full three days of leading worship. We were a small team, so everything was always an "all hands on deck" situation. We stacked chairs, cleaned the green room, and busied ourselves with whatever it was that our college ministry had asked us to do. It was about to time to call it done and head home, so I was surprised by what happened next. My pastor called me away from the work, hugged me and began to encourage the gift of God in my life, reminding me that I had a calling for ministry and that I was created for a purpose. It was a short and sort of random moment, but something about it really impacted me.

Do you have a moment when someone said something uplifting at a time when you didn’t expect it? Isn’t it amazing how sticky and powerful words like that can be? Proverbs says that our tongues contain “the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21), which is no exaggeration considering that God’s words were the tools by which life and the universe were created. Words literally have the power of life in them. As people created in the image of God, think of the power contained in our words.. James 3 says, “by our words we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos...” On the other hand, we can use words to build others up and “treat each other with dignity and honor.” I don’t want to tear others down with my words; I want build other up. I want to be an encourager.

Encouragement drives us to be better pastors and leaders because choosing to encourage is choosing to notice. It forces me to shift how I perceive things and actively look for the things that I can build up in others instead of being distracted by mistakes or negative traits a person may be associated with. It forces me to look at people through grace’s lense and see people the way God sees them. Learning to encourage means learning to listen and watch. It makes me sensitive to recognize God’s activity in the lives of those around me and teaches me to be attentive to the individuals serving alongside me on ministry teams.

Here are a couple of ways I’ve been able to practice being an encourager to those who serve each weekend on our ministry teams at NCC:

1. Create intentional space where you can encourage.

In our team's mid week rehearsal I usually take time for people to share wins and prayer requests. This space allows us to speak into one another’s lives in front of the whole team, which can be truly affirming. An example might be "I've noticed you continue to serve diligently even though your role seems like it's non-essential, and I just want thank you for you serving faithfully and bringing your best each time you do."

2. Old fashioned pen and paper.

This can be a powerful way to encourage others. I’ve personally kept personal notes that others have written to me and look at them when I feel discouraged. At the start of each year, I think of a few influential people that have helped me grow in my faith and leadership and write them a note thanking them and encouraging the gift of God in their lives. Other times, I'll write someone a note when I feel like they might feel unseen or overlooked.

3. Build other people up behind their backs.

Here’s the sort of “talking behind your back” you want to actually hear about. I don’t want to be known as someone who talks badly about people behind their back. When people hear that I’ve been talking about them, I want them to hear about how big of a fan I am of them! It’s one of those small things that has big relational pay off down the road. It’s also a great way to lead other people in encouragement.

4. Unsolicited texts and emails

This an easy one that only takes two minutes out of your day to accomplish. They don’t have to be long or detailed. A short message that says something like “Grateful for you and how you use your gifts for the kingdom of God,” goes a long way. You can never send too many of these! I try to send one or two encouraging texts or emails a day.

If you need a room demolished, give anyone a sledgehammer and they can get it done. But the same isn’t true if you need that room remodeled. You can’t simply hand someone tools and blueprints expecting a construction job to happen. Tearing down is easy; it’s the construction work that takes expertise and training. Perhaps the same is true with our words. It’s easy to be destructive. Choosing to build and encourage others demands character and faith. Let’s choose to be encouragers.

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