The cowardly will not inherit the Kingdom of God. The cowardly are listed among those who go to the lake of fire, the second death, in Revelation 21:8. The positive spin on that is that Kingdom Christians are called to be courageous. If we are discouraged, we lack courage. If we encourage, we promote courage. Encouragement is a noble activity. Barnabas, “The Son of Encouragement," modeled encouragement well in the early church. What if a spirit of encouragement would sweep through our churches, and we would cultivate an earnest, Spirit-led desire to encourage one another?
Last year, I read in several articles and heard anecdotally from others that as many as 30% of the current church leaders in the US were trying to just keep their churches together and maintain church life, but that once everything kind of leveled out with Covid and the other racial tensions and protests, they were planning to resign. 30% sounds like a high number, but there are pastors out there who are tired, discouraged, and some are resigning. Today is a good day to encourage a spiritual leader in your life.
In the spring of the year I turned 18, the lead pastor who had been serving our church for 8 years or more stood up on a Sunday morning and announced that he was resigning. Effective immediately, he was stepping down. The church was going in a direction he did not support, but rather than make it hard for the church he would just leave.
Wham! What just happened? I never saw that one coming.
The summer I turned 18, I was involved in a ministry assignment in Quebec. Over that time period, I discovered from talking to my parents on the phone that our church of about 80 persons was involved in a split, with about half staying and half leaving to form another fellowship. The pastor was moving to another state. The pain and confusion found in a vacuum of spiritual leadership and then the recurrent pain from the splits had the capacity to make me walk away from church altogether. I thank God that there was enough faith in me and enough people who loved me that I never left church over that time. I’ll bet our pastor, the one who resigned, had been discouraged over that time.
We attended a BMA (Biblical Mennonite Alliance) summer convention in late July 2021 held in Indiana. A missionary brother and his wife who had served many years in Spain were being acknowledged for their years of service, and he was asked to share a few words with the gathered assembly. Do you know what he said? He told us that in all of his years in the church, he has never encountered so many tired, worn out, and discouraged pastors as he has in the past six months, since they arrived back from Spain on a home assignment. This missionary brother spent those few minutes blessing the pastors who were there. “Keep going,” he said slowly and clearly, along with statements like “God loves you,” “We need you,” and “I pray that you will sense and know and feel God’s blessing.” I’m a sucker for those speeches, so it was no surprise that my eyes dampened. I glanced over at a pastor friend sitting beside me. He (my friend seated beside me) has served as a pastor and then an overseer, with probably over 35 years of combined service. My eyes were wet; his eyes were rivers. The missionary spoke to our hearts. Today is a good day to encourage a spiritual leader in your life.
I’m reading Philip Yancey’s book entitled Prayer. In a chapter on prayer and the Psalms, Yancey attributes Martin Loyd-Jones with this statement: “The central cause of spiritual depression happens when you listen to yourself instead of talk to yourself.” He based his analysis on his study of the Psalms. For example: “O my God, my soul is cast down within me, there I will remember You.” “I will say to God my Rock, Why have you forgotten me?” “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.” Negative emotions have their own “voices” that influence our feelings and thoughts, which often comes out in our facial features, our tone, our speech, our actions, and sometimes even our direction. Many of the Psalms provide language that talks back to those negative emotions and speaks truth to trouble. Last year I heard a lot about speaking truth to power. In this season, I'm thinking I could cultivate more solid practice in using the Psalms to speak truth to trouble.
We have no shortage of bad news. I’d rather not attempt here to outline any of the mind-numbing, heart-breaking, beat-your-head-against-the-wall-stupid news exposing the cultural, political, economic, environmental, and moral malaise of our local, state, and national condition. If we look at global news, does it get any better? Not really. The deluge of bad news around us is one reason why I peddle the gospel any chance I get. The good news of Jesus Christ is real, and it brings freedom and courage, among many other positive side effects. When we become strong and courageous with the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, we rise up and become sons and daughters of encouragement. Yeah! I'm about stamping my feet and clapping my heads as I write this, but it's late and the keyboard only wants taps, not claps.
Today is a good day to encourage a spiritual leader in your life. Even if he is on top of the world, take time to encourage him. He may be wrestling with thoughts of discouragement that you don’t even know about. “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.”
Son of the Father, husband to Sandy, father of six amazing gifts, Bronx brother, active participant in Believers in Jesus Church, insurance adjuster, occasional runner