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encouragement, sincerity and love – jonathan robinson

One of the criticisms I sometimes received during my last stint as a pastor, was that I wasn’t encouraging enough. Ouch! I certainly wanted to be an encourager. I thought I was. I tried to be, but from time to time the criticism came up

This criticism often went alongside the more positive observation that people appreciated my sincerity and lack of hype. They trusted me to tell them the truth. So perhaps the two things were different sides of the same coin? Is this just my no-nonsense personality?

As preachers we should not be in the habit of saying things we do not mean. I often felt the desire for “encouragement” was an expectation I would be enthusiastic and unrelentingly positive at all times, regardless of reality! However, as I write this, I remember Charles Hewlett’s (former principal of Carey Baptist College) advice to me when I left college for a pastorate: “always find ways to tell the church you love them.” Was the perceived lack of encouragement really a feeling that I didn’t love them?

At present I am not a pastor, and only an occasional preacher. But one thing I have been trying to do, whenever and wherever I preach, is to say something encouraging to the church. The idea is not to say something enthusiastic just for effect, but to reflect on the scripture’s message and the congregation and find something encouraging to say to them as a church. That is, not just speaking to them as individual Christians but also as a body, to recognise the corporate life of the church and affirm something good in it.

This can be simple, “this church has done a great job supporting so-and-so through the recent problem, what a loving church you are,” to something a bit more theological, “do you know you are God’s chosen people to bring his love to this community?”

For me this doesn’t come naturally. I’m wary of the way I’ve seen some people in some churches hype up and promote the church as if it is a brand to be marketed. Blurgh! Instead, I have to change my paradigm of encouragement.

I know as a parent that I have to affirm and tell my kids I love them no matter what they have done or said that day. As a pastor you can spend much of your time focusing on, praying for and trying to deal with the things that are wrong in the church. It can make it hard to be sincerely enthusiastic about the church when the church is the cause of 90% of the stress in your life! But the preacher, like the parent, has a duty, not to express their personal feelings in the given moment, but to affirm and build up the life of the church. That encouragement shouldn’t be superficial but rooted in a deeper love for God’s people that sees the beauty even through the mess.

I hope in the future people will experience my preaching as sincere AND encouraging.

What ways have you sought to encourage the church in your preaching?

Have you ever noticed a preacher who is good at encouragement? How did they do it?

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