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You’re excellent

How do you motivate Christians to serve God more?

Do you paint a picture of need?

We are short of helpers in this programme. If you don’t sign up, we’ll have to close it down. That would be a pity because there are so many people we are trying to reach and help!

That may work with some people, but it will leave many feeling flat. The uncommitted will just switch off, while the committed will feel guilty for not doing more. Those struggling with their own challenges will feel burdened and helpless.

So perhaps it’s better to ditch the guilt trip for something different.

What about a compelling vision?

This programme has seen lives transformed and we want to see more of that. If you sign up, God will do great things through your service and you’ll really enjoy it!

That might motivate some extra people to step up, but they may well drop out when they discover it’s hard work and the fruit is not as low hanging as you made out. Beating people with the stick of ‘You’re not doing enough’ and dangling the carrot of ‘It’ll all be great fun all the time’ are not the best ways to motivate people.

There is a third strategy.

It is the approach the apostle Paul takes in 2 Corinthians as he seeks to motivate the believers in Corinth to give towards the needs of the church in Jerusalem.

But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

2 Cor 8.7

Now, if your mind is as suspicious as mine, you may imagine a sarcastic tone in Paul’s words. But he was no twenty-first century cynic. He didn’t move in the British and Irish cultural milieu of irony and sarcasm. I think we should take Paul’s words as sincere. He honestly commends the Corinthian Christians for the qualities he lists here. And he does so after their response to his instructions in his previous letter(s).

This church had been proud of its faith and knowledge. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul had to challenge them not to neglect the more significant virtue of love. But now he has evidence of their genuine love for him, not least in their obedience to his teaching (see 2 Cor 7). They have made real progress.

Like a good parent or teacher, Paul shows us how to encourage well. He uses encouragement as motivation. He does not say, ‘You could do better’, or ‘So far so good, but what about giving?’. Instead, he says, ‘You’re doing well in so many ways, I know you can do this too!’ He has faith in them, or rather in what God will do in them.

Encouragement is powerful.

I was reminded of that recently when a brother in Christ asked me to help him get a book on encouragement back in print. It’s by the late Derick Bingham. In a time of personal discouragement, this brother lifted his copy off the shelf and began reading. As his spirit was lifted by Derick’s encouraging insights, he became convinced that others needed to hear them. I was invited to work with him to bring the book to press [i]. As I edited it, I remembered the encouragement Derick gave me as a young man starting out in ministry. His words were gold, but the time he spent listening to me over coffee was like diamonds.

Marcus Honeysett, my colleague and the founder of Living Leadership, often quotes a saying he received from the late Nigel Lee:

Encourage the good wherever you find it.

That principle flows through everything we do here at Living Leadership to support leaders. If you’re a leader reading this, we want to remind you of the good things God has done in your life, and in the lives of others through your ministry. More importantly, we want to encourage you in the unchanging truths of the gospel and the unchanging person of Christ.

That is how the apostle Paul encouraged the Corinthians.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

2 Cor 8.9

The greatest encouragement for us is the Lord Jesus. His example of faithfulness encourages us to keep going. His love communicates just how precious we are to him. His self-sacrifice brings us eternal riches. His grace motivates us to be generous and gracious towards others.

In my experience, many ministers are chronically under-encouraged. And many congregations are perpetually discouraged. The minister, responding to this discouragement, and running on fumes, tries to spur on the congregation to do more.

Unsurprisingly, it’s like flogging the proverbial dead horse!

I have commented before in this blog about practical ways to encourage your minister, so I won’t list those here, (though do check out that post). Rather, let me remind you again of how the apostle Paul encourages the Corinthians.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

2 Cor 8.9

Look at Jesus and the magnificent way he gives himself up for us. The one who shared in heaven’s riches by right, entered our world in poverty and obscurity so he could bring us to share in his inheritance. And look at what this inheritance is already achieving in and through you. As you serve him with the gifts he has graciously given you, his blessing extends through you to others. You excel by his grace.

Because of this wonderful truth, excel in this ministry of encouragement!

If you want your people to give more, remind them of what they’ve been given. Those who become aware of their blessings in Christ will naturally increase in gratitude and this in turn will motivate them to love others more.

What difference would it make in our churches if both minister and congregation were encouraged more? No one ever died from being over-encouraged. By contrast, we can find ourselves flagging badly when encouragement is lacking. So, the following is worth considering.

FOR CHURCH MEMBERS. Tell your minister what they are doing well. Encourage them by telling them what you’re learning, how you’re growing, and what they are doing to help you grow.

FOR LEADERS. Tell your people what you appreciate about them. Let them know when you see spiritual growth in their lives. If possible, be specific. Remind them that they bring pleasure to God, that he loves them, and is constantly with them in their daily lives.

Above all, delight them in Jesus, who never disappoints.

If the only thing you ever do is talk about Jesus, who he is, what he’s done, what’s he’s still doing, well, from that place of encouragement, they will serve with joy and you will never have to plead for volunteers again.

Surely that would be a blessing indeed!



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