“Encouraging one another and all the more, as you see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).
“They have refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore, acknowledge such men” (I Corinthians 16:18).
My journal records a painful episode in the most difficult of my six pastorates.
Because of internal dissension that was directed at me and undermined everything we were trying to do in that church, I had asked the deacon leadership to step up and get involved in dealing with the dissenters. They met, talked it out, then tossed the ball back into my lap.
“We want you to visit in the homes of every deacon (all 24 of them!). Find out what’s going on in their lives. Ask them for their personal goals, their hopes and dreams.” Then, at some point I was to ask, “Have I ever failed you in any way?” The idea was to give the disgruntled the opportunity to tell me to my face what they had against me. Thereafter, the leadership felt, when anyone start stirring up trouble, it could be dealt with more easily.
So, even though it felt like I was being punished for the sins of the troublemakers, I made the visits, usually three a night.
Most of the deacons and their wives were good people, even though they stood by passively while a few were destroying their church. In the visits, they said they could not think of any way I had let them down. One deacon’s wife said she was in the hospital and I did not come to see her. Another said I had not attended the senior recital of their daughter. I had no memory of either of these events, but asked for their forgiveness.
Not exactly big stuff, matters worth tearing the church over.
During the eighth visit, however, my journal records a conversation with one of the deacons and his wife. I remarked to them that throughout all these visits, I was yet to hear the first word of encouragement. Not one word of encouragement. My journal says: “He sat there staring, as though he had not heard a word I had said or was speaking some language unknown to him.”
The concept of encouraging a pastor was foreign to them.
I wish I could say this was not typical. But for those people during that period, it was the norm. It seemed as though they feared encouraging me. Maybe they thought if they encouraged me, I might get the impression they thought I was doing a good job, Lord forbid. Or, might even decide to remain at the church. It was no secret that several wanted me gone. And if you had asked them why they opposed the pastor, they would have been hard pressed to answer. You would have heard nothing more than “He’s not a good fit for our church” (meaning them personally) or “We don’t like his style.” (One deacon’s wife actually said that. I replied, “You might as well say you don’t like the way I part my hair. This is who I am.” Before long, they joined the church down the street. Within another year, they had relocated to a third church.)
Do people know how seriously the Heavenly Father takes this matter?
Scripture is saturated with instances of the carnal discouraging the spiritual.
“Why are you discouraging the sons of Israel from crossing over into the land which the Lord has given them” (Numbers 32:7)?
“Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and frightened them from building…” (Ezra 4:4). (The “am-ha-aritz” were the heathen leftovers from the days of the Chaldeans. They were constant pains in the side of the Lord’s people. To this day, it’s the work of the devil to discourage the faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus.)
See discouragement in Deuteronomy 1:28. Referring to the incident recorded in Numbers 13-14, Moses tells the Lord’s people, “After the spies brought their report on Canaan, you were not willing to go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. You grumbled in your tents and said, ‘Because the Lord hates us, He has brought us out of the land of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us. Where can we go up? Our brethren have made our hearts melt…’”
That’s discouragement: making the heart melt. The result of discouragement is to disable a warrior, and give a victory to the enemy.
History provides a number of stories of discouragers being treated as the traitors they were and executed for treason.
When are God’s people going to understand this?
Encouragement is such a simple thing, but with great powers.
Whether this came from Lewis’ Screwtape Letters or some other source, I cannot say. But the devil is said to have been showing someone around his arsenal, bragging on this weapon and that tool. The big one over there in the corner is his secret weapon, he said, because of its incredible power. “It’s the power of discouragement. I’ve brought down many a great warrior of the faith with that thing. In the hands of the disgruntled and careless, it will destroy a great church.”
Here are some of the chief ways we discourage a pastor. You’ll think of more….
–By withholding praise when he does something truly praiseworthy.
–By keeping the wages low and refusing to give raises.
–By criticizing his wife, condemning his children, undermining his staff and bellyaching about his ideas.
–By letting bullies and church bosses run rough-shod over the pastor without anyone holding them accountable. The pastor cannot fight them alone. The best warrior in the place to combat a church bully, incidentally, is a little elderly saint in tennis shoes. She is universally loved and respected and no bully would dare be cruel to her. So she can stand in the church business meeting and ask the hard questions in the sweetest way (example: “Pastor, how was the decision made to fire that person?” “Pastor, who decided that we would not do that mission trip this year?”)
The best way to discourage a hardworking, dedicated servant of God is to abandon him to the wolves. (See Acts 20:29ff.)
And the best way to encourage a servant of God?
Love the Lord and love His people. The first and second greatest commands.
Do your job. Be faithful. Speak up. Be a force for good and righteousness in the congregation. Sing at the top of your lungs. Give as though you really believed that God would honor the gift and the giver. Tell everyone you meet how much you love your pastor and appreciate his sermons. Brag on those who give a good faith effort in anything they do for the Lord, everything from cutting the grass to cleaning the toilets to cooking breakfast for the men’s meeting to singing in the choir.
Tell people you love them. Tell them they inspire you. Brag on them.
Pray for those who serve well and pay attention to those who are unfaithful and constantly on the prowl for ways to stir up trouble. Pray real prayers, intercessions of faith and fervency, calling on God to take special note of us, to empower our efforts, to protect us from the enemy, and lead us to be bold in our witness and aggressive in our efforts.
Quietly identify the troublemakers and surround them with a team of the positive and faithful, the strong and mature, who will counter their efforts to destroy with truth. Quarantine them with love.
Pull together like-minded people who are determined that this church is going to survive, that it is going to keep this pastor and bless his ministry, and that Satan is not going to get any victories on this plot of ground.
Depending on how deep-rooted is the discouragement factor in your church, you may have to take the long view on this. Work and pray to get positive-minded deacons and leaders in place, people characterized by love and Christlikeness.
Do this and I make you a promise. God will think of you every time He hears someone reciting Hebrews 6:10.
“God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love that you have shown toward His name in having ministered to the saints, and in still ministering.”
When we bless the church, we bless Jesus.
The work is hard and our days are few, so let us be faithful.
This article originally appeared here.