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The cycle of encouraging words

The cycle of encouraging words

I stood waiting on my back doorstep as yet another October 31 came to an end—and along with it, my hopes for a brand new car.

Here in the United States, October is Pastor Appreciation Month. Over the years, I’ve received some very generous gift cards and an assortment of other thoughtful items. I’m so grateful for those. But I’m haunted by the two separate stories I’ve heard of pastors receiving new cars from their flock. I’ve tried to put those stories out of my head, but I can’t help but wonder... 

Of course, in moments of sober-minded clarity, I will gladly take those encouraging cards and conversations over any new vehicle. A new car may alleviate my budget, but encouragement from dear brothers and sisters has a more lasting and important benefit.

Words don’t stop working once said. They continue in life as someone is spurred on by them, and then in what they say back to you and to all those around. One of a pastor’s great hopes is that the truth he speaks about Christ won’t stop with you. I can assure you that the words of encouragement you write or speak don’t stop with him but continue through to many more.

Gordon Cheng’s book Encouragement hits the mark with the subtitle “How words change lives”. The words of the people from my congregation have certainly changed my life. Turns out, a word of encouragement between a member and a pastor isn’t just a two-person transaction. As that small act happens, the entire congregational encouragement quotient increases.

When I have a conversation with a man who has ceased pursuing a job promotion because it would take him away from Wednesday night Bible study, I am reminded that he really was paying attention to seminar 8 of The Course of Your Life two weeks ago. When I receive a note from a woman who read Jen Wilkin’s Women of the Word because I recommended it, I take heart that the things I say do actually matter. I’m reminded that if those words I speak are making a difference, how much more is that the case when I speak the very words of God? In Bible studies, classes and sermons, speaking God’s words really does change lives.

When God allows me to hear of his word bearing fruit in the lives of others, it starts the process in me as well. As I hear of people giving up sins, big and small, I’m encouraged to escape complacency and strive after godliness with the strength of the Spirit. As I hear of people growing in their knowledge of the Lord in ways I’ve let slip away years ago, I’m spurred on to do the same. As I hear of leaders who have reordered their busy lives so that they have ample time to prepare and pray, I am moved to do the same. These are but a few examples. 

Regularly hearing from people not only encourages me to be careful with the words I speak, but it enlivens those words. I am able to hear what the people of our church are struggling with, questioning, clinging to—and with those words I can better speak back to them and others.

Through conversations, notes, texts, emails, I am spurred on to be a better pastor. I am pushed by godly example to put off sin and put on righteousness. In other words, I am moved towards maturity as people tell me how God through my words is moving them towards maturity. 

Let me encourage you to participate in this encouragement cycle, because encouraging words are not just ones of kind praise: they push us towards maturity in Christ because they come from the very fabric of God’s words and the fruit that they bear in the lives of his people.  

Here are a few specific examples of ways to encourage your pastor:

  • Give specific feedback on the sermon or Bible study. Don’t just say “nice job!” but say something specific about a point. Even asking a question of clarification is really encouraging because a pastor knows you are really trying to listen and comprehend. Even better, wait a few days and let your pastor know via an email or text that you’ve been thinking through what he said and how it has shaped your week.
  • Tell your pastor an issue you’ve been struggling with and how God has ministered to you through the Bible.
  • Make a point to tell your friend at work about something you’ve been learning at church and then tell your pastor about that conversation. 

Richard Sweatman recently wrote a very helpful piece on how to encourage your small group leader. Just about everything he says can be applied to encouraging a pastor. I commend that article to you, not just to read but also to act upon. There are countless ways to be involved in this cycle of encouragement. Get started this week.

And for the record: I wouldn’t turn away a new car.

Marty Sweeney

Marty started Matthias Media in North America in 2006. Previously he was a full-time pastor and since then he has returned to pastoral ministry (part-time). He oversees an apprenticeship program and small groups at Old North Church. He lives in Poland, OH with his wife Abby and their four children (and a standard poodle named Theophilus). He is the co-author of The Small Group and the Vine (with Tony Payne).