The Ministry of Encouragement

By Russ Whitfield
Grace Mosaic, Washington D. C.
April 22, 2024

If you think back on your life, you will see that your story has been significantly shaped by words.

Maybe your trajectory has been most deeply marked by that parent or mentor who spoke words of encouragement to you. Maybe the direction of your life shifted when a teacher affirmed your gifts or skills, guiding you into a course of study or a career. Or maybe your ears were filled with mean and abusive speech instead, words that shredded your sense of personal worth and value, words that scarred you or made you consider giving up. Maybe it was the ridicule of classmates who bullied you or the broken promises of someone who betrayed you. Maybe your life was shaped by words of rejection or of cold criticism by a someone you looked up to. It could also be that your own words are plaguing you most as they run through your head on repeat. Perhaps the barrage of words that has come at you through media and marketing may have had the deepest influence over you.

Regardless of how your life has been shaped, the words of others have left some of the deepest, formative impressions on your life. Given the pervasive teaching on the ethics of speech in Scripture, we should all ask ourselves how our words are shaping the lives of the people around us.

As I’ve observed what is happening in our society right now, I’ve noticed some socio-cultural trends that warrant the reflection of every believer. First, we are continuing to experience collective exhaustion and discouragement in our cultural moment. People feel beaten down by life and even small tasks can seem overwhelming for many. Relationships are strained to the point of breaking and many can see no end in sight.

Secondly, instead of meeting discouragement with encouragement and exhaustion with support, we are more prone to pile on criticism and kick people while they are down. The weary and needy are met with untimely and inappropriately harsh words, callousness, and contempt. Gentleness, kindness, and self-control seem to have escaped our moral lexicon as our society opts for living in attack mode. Fault-finding, condemnation, and negative filtering are pervasive—and many seem to have foreclosed on the possibility of cultivating a different social dynamic.

Lastly, more and more there is no discernable difference between Christians and non-Christians in this regard. This is surely a point of needed repentance and opportunity for Christ’s church. How can we begin to turn our attention to becoming a counter-cultural community of encouragement in a world filled with discouragement? What might it look like for our churches and our denomination to practice a new way of being, to demonstrate a new way of speaking?

When we notice good and praiseworthy things in our communities, we can say so. When we are encouraged, we can provide that same encouragement for others and multiply that goodness in the world. We can be specific with our words of edification, we can build one another up, and we can spur one another on to love and good deeds. We can tell our friends and neighbors what we appreciate about them and what they mean to us. We can be mindful to be on the lookout for praiseworthy things to celebrate in our culture, in our neighborhoods, and in our ministries. We can also be aware of the discouragement that our friends and neighbors are feeling. We can acknowledge it, we can empathize, we can care, we can listen, and in these ways, we might even prove to be a rung on the ladder out of that hole of despair for them.

The Lord often accomplishes great acts of recovery through small acts of care.

Communities of encouragement are “sticky” communities because every person appreciates and longs for the recognition and celebration of their humanity, their dignity, their efforts, and their contributions. Is this not what we see in the life and ministry of Jesus? If we reflect on this theme of encouragement long enough, the picture that forms in our minds looks a whole lot like Jesus.

Of course, there are times when constructive criticism is needed (in appropriate doses). There are times when hard words can produce soft hearts, but let us budget those words wisely. If we are over-spending our criticisms and saving our encouragements for a rainy day (that never actually comes) we need to reevaluate our lives, our practices, and our formation. Parents, this is particularly important when it comes to the formation of our children. Do our children know us to be exclusively focused on where they have gone wrong and how they need to change their behavior? Or do they receive daily doses of strong affection, affirmation, value, and celebration? If we look to the Father as our guide, we will remember that his love and celebration over his beloved is the driving force of our transformation and his prohibitions simply create the boundaries within which the life of love is fully realized.

Perhaps more than ever, our communities, our neighbors, our leaders, our spouses, our brothers, our sisters, and our children need encouragement. The Lord has created us as social creatures and your encouragement may be the very means by which your friends, neighbors, and children find their way home to the love and grace of the Father. Let us remember the wisdom of the Scriptures, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad” (Prov. 12:25).

May the “good word” be on our lips as we work together for the advancement of God’s Kingdom and the redemption of the world.

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