“Encouragement for Those Who Give It”
Part Two: Learning to Accept Encouragement
Accepting encouragement is a serious matter for all Christian leaders. It is expected that ministers and para-church organization leaders will from time to time offer advice and give encouragement to those who need it. That’s just something they’re expected to do. But sometimes the pastoral role needs to be placed on someone else, and it is the leader who needs to be on the “receiving end.” And when this happens it is most important that this leader in God’s vineyard receive that help as willingly as he or she gave it. Unfortunately, however, it is not uncommon for some of us in Christian vocational service to overlook the wisdom and importance of being a recipient of encouragement.
Leaders, as a rule, usually have very strong egos. It is no different for those who serve in the service of Christ’s kingdom. Characterized by strong wills these egos will frequently manifest definitive and thought-out opinions. Such opinions or ideas may relate to a new ministry strategy, the implementation of a new program, or even the interpretation and application of a passage of Scripture.
I remember well an incident that took place many years ago. I had recently accepted the call to be the pastor of a suburban parish. The challenges for leading this congregation were numerous. For several years the church had been on the brink of bankruptcy. If that were not enough the congregation was overwhelmed with disunity and bereft of any organizational stability. Needless to say it didn’t take any stroke of genius to realize that some hard decisions had to be made . . . and made rather quickly. As the new leader “on the block,” I quite naturally assumed that addressing this urgent situation was something I was expected to do. And so, I began to take “the bull by the horns.”
Ideas were presented; and there was no hesitation on my part regarding opinions. And things began to improve. Then one day someone came to my office to complain that I was too opinionated. With all the graciousness I could muster, I tried to explain that I wouldn’t be much of a leader if I were not opinionated. “After all,” I tried to point out, “whoever heard of a leader without opinions?”
But there was a side to her complaint that, at the time, I failed to hear. She wasn’t confronting me for my numerous opinions. She was airing her frustration regarding my leadership style. She was right. In trying to make much needed changes, as a young pastor I had made some of those decisions without being sensitive to the feelings and ideas of the other people.
My ego had gotten in the way.
And all too often the egos of a multitude of us who serve as leaders in Christ’s army become a serious impediment to ministry. That should come as no surprise to any soldier of the cross. But if we are not careful and spiritually vigilant to handle our egos with wisdom, our ministries will project a spirit of stubbornness. Instead of being seen as humble men and women of God, we will be viewed as arrogant.
In the area of a Christian leader’s accepting words of encouragement and wisdom from others it is our pride that so often hampers vulnerability and stands in the way of our receiving help and advice when we need it. Our arrogance demands that we appear strong. Some of us have been deceived, believing that any appearance of need (through pain, tragedy, discouragement, or the like) is a sign of weakness. Perhaps we’ve never considered seriously Paul’s experience in 2 Corinthians 12. After beseeching the Lord three times to help him regarding his so-called “thorn in the flesh,” Christ told him that his, Paul’s, weakness would proclaim God’s power (v. 9). Paul was not afraid to share his appeal for help with the Corinthians.
We can certainly choose to hide our needs from those to whom we are called to minister. But in so doing we not only proclaim a distorted message of the Christian life, but we allow our authenticity to be questioned.
We certainly aren’t recommending that Christian leaders “unload” all their problems on those they serve. Obviously great discretion is needed here, not only with regard to what is shared, but with whom it is shared. But to some of us, just accepting vulnerability, even as a concept, is a giant leap forward.
In Galatians 6:2 Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.” The apostle did not exclude elders, deacons and other leaders of the churches of Galatia from this pastoral instruction. After all, he knew all too well that they also had burdens.
When we learn to accept encouragement as leaders, we allow others to participate and have a share in our lives. This is a profound truth about ministry, this matter of letting others become involved in our lives. But, after all, isn’t that what God does? In Christ He invites us to become participants in His life too.