4. The Power of Encouragement in the Life of the Church Planter
The Power of Encouragement in the Life of the Church Planter
Let me begin by asking you this question: Are you encouraged right now? I wish I could see your face and hear your answer to that question. All of us need encouragement, but especially those of us who plant churches.
If encouragement were a food source many people in ministry would be starving right now. The truth is, encouragement is the fuel that all of us in ministry need to keep going. Church planting, however, is often the ministry venue where encouragement is least present but the need for it is the greatest. Why has God wired us for encouragement? Where do we go to get it? What does it do to us, and what can we do with it?
In preparation for this session I had posed several questions for you to ponder:
– If you had an “encouragement meter” attached to yourself, on a scale from one to ten, ten being the highest number, what is your meter registering right now?
– Who and what has God used to encourage you as a church planter lately?
– What is the “power of encouragement”?
In this talk I would like to address four seminal questions dealing with the topic of encouragement and church planting: 1. Why is encouragement so vital to a church planter?, 2. How does God encourage church planters?, 3. How does the church planter navigate the dry times?, 4. What are the ways in which you can you keep your heart encouraged?
I. Why is encouragement so vital to a church planter? (The need for encouragement for the church planter)
A. Church Planting is different than pastoring
- There is more risk-taking is involved in church planting
– Most things a church planter does, he does for the first time.
– Without a leadership base which is given in established churches, there can be uncertainty.
– The feeling that he/she has is: building a bridge while on it
- The stakes are higher in church planting
– The pastor of an established church has a leadership circle to fall back on when times get tough. A church planter often starts out as the lone leader.
– A church in the planting stage is very fragile. It can be blown away by a strong gust of moral failure, key people leaving, draining finances, or a power struggle.
– A church plant is very public and all eyes are on the church planter to produce good results quickly.
- The expectations are higher in church planting
– Established churches with proven track records are predictable. They have a track record, and people more or less know what to expect.
– Church planting, on the other hand, is often fueled by high expectations – both by those on the inside track as well as those looking on.
– Consciously or unconsciously the church planter will be asking herself, “am I meeting expectations – my own and those of others?”
B. Church Planting is life lived in the harvest field
- Church planters are compelled, as was Jesus, to spend lots of time with non Christians
– Relationships take time. Trust is earned. Secular Europeans are often very far from God and take a long time in moving toward the bottom of the Engel scale. This can take a toll on the soul of the church planter.
– What can gnaw at his heart is seeing so little fruit with so much of his time expended for the lost.
- Non-Christians might like you, but be turned off to your message
– Dealing with rejection is difficult for anyone. No one deals with more rejection than the church planter.
– Yes his ministry life is somewhat dependent upon people moving toward the gospel, not away from it.
– How much woundedness can one person take without cashing in?
Conclusion: Church Planters are in dire need of encouragement because their ministries are not nearly as stable as those in established churches, and the often times long road toward conversion and the rejection that goes with proclaiming the gospel.
II. How does God encourage church planters?
I would like propose that God encourages church planters through “sending”. When God wanted to encourage the world, He sent himself in Jesus Christ into it to save it. When God encourages us, he does it by sending or gifting us. There are four areas through which God sends us encouragement: through his word, through prayer, through others, and through circumstances.
A. God encourages us through His word, the Bible
Encouragement leads to strengthening. It is like a muscle-enhancer. God’s word strengthens us. Take Jeremiah 15:16 as an example. “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight.” As we imbibe God’s word, it does something to our hearts. The nourishment of the Bible produces in us joy and delight.
B. God encourages us through prayer
Older theologians often spoke of the phenomenon of “unction”. We see this in the life of Jesus. Jesus sought the Father’s heart in prayer. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mk 1:35). Determined to pray, he went into the desert (Lk 5:16), up to a mountain (Lk 9:28), and to the temple (Lk 19:46). He taught his disciples “that they should always pray and not give up” (Lk 18:1). Fascinated by what they saw in him, Jesus’ disciples asked to be instructed to pray (Lk 11:1). In prayer Jesus submitted himself totally to the will of the Father. This intrinsic submission of the heart was made possible out of a secure relationship grounded in love.
The result of such praying was unction. Sangster describes this as a coupling of prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit. “Unction comes only of praying. Other things precious to a preacher come by prayer and something else. Unction comes only of praying. . . . Able preaching can often reveal the cleverness of a man . . . Unction reveals the presence of God.”
C. God encourages us through others
“Encourage one another”, is what we read in Hebrews 3:13. “If a person´s gift is encouraging, let him encourage” (Ro. 12:8). In the Bible we don’t find phrases like, “Always look for the worst in others. Back off on praise and recognition. Don’t thank people too much or else they’ll become proud.” Quite the contrary!
The early churches were oases of encouragement.
- Barnabas was called the Son of Encouragement (Acts 4:36)
- Barnabas encouraged believers in Antioch (Acts 11:23)
- Two prophets in the early church, Judas and Silas “said so much to encourage and strengthen the brothers” (Acts 15:32)
- After being release from prison in Philippi, Paul and Silas go to the home of Lydia “where they met with the brothers and encouraged them” (Acts 16:40).
- When Paul was in Macedonia, Lukas writes, “Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-bye and set out for Macedonia. He travelled through the area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people” (Act 20:1-2)
- On the way to Rome, Paul the prisoner met with believers, where we read: “at the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged” (Acts 28:15).
Without question: in the first century, when people wanted to tank up on courage, confidence, and strength, they found that they could do so in the fellowship of believers.
D. God encourages us through circumstances
In my own life as a church planter there have been many times when I was down and in need of encouragement. I can deal with most any kind of circumstance, but what is extremely difficult for me is ministry stagnation – when nothing seems to be happening. In such times I often went to the Lord and said, “Lord, you’ve wired me to thrive on seeing you at work. Right now I’m down because I don’t see any movement. Would you please encourage me by allowing me to see you at work?” Rare are the times when after such honest praying I didn’t see God work circumstantially.
III. How does the church planter navigate the dry times?
The ministry is loss-prone. If we do not learn to deal adequately with our losses and disappointments as church planters, we might not survive.
We all go through times of dryness, pain, frustration, depression. This is normal.
I remember a time that was particularly painful for me. We had just planted a new church in the city of Mannheim, Germany. Things were going well. People were coming to Christ. There was a spiritual dynamic that was palpable. Then we went on vacation.
After getting back from vacation I found a letter full of criticism by a leading couple in our fellowship. They sent it to everyone in the church. The not only left the church but left me reeling in pain and sadness.
I told my wife Jan, “All I want to do is to get a job at McDonalds. I want to work in the back, put Hamburgers in small card board boxes, and not talk to anyone.” I have come to call this my “McDonalds Days”.
We all have McDonalds Days. But how to we deal with them?
A. Don’t medicate dryness with adrenaline
By default most men will turn to adrenaline to sooth their ministry and life pain. What do I mean by adrenaline? Anything that gives you a jolt into another world: pornography, laud music, extreme sports, fast driving.
B. Allow sadness to run its course
If the dryness is due to loss, then allow yourself to be in a blue funk. Become a friend of your depression – in as much it is reactive depression, as a result of things happening to you. The sadness will lift, if you give it time.
C. Nourish your soul in the presence of God
Don’t get caught up in finding your deepest satisfaction in what you do, but rather in the awe and joy of God’s fellowship. Augustine once wrote: “The soul nourishes itself from that which gives it joy.” Nourish your soul will large doses of solitude in the presence of Christ. Delight in his Word. Memorize large portions of it. Let the word of God saturate your soul, that you might be full of joy.
D. Pull away from the ministry and engage in life-giving activity
The church planting ministry is like a monster – it will eat you up, if you let it. That’s why all of us need to disengage from our ministries from time to time. We need to find leisurely things to do that give us joy and that refresh our spirits; a hobby, a sport, a mini-vacation, a trip, a visit with good friends.
IV. What are the ways in which you can you keep your heart encouraged?
A. Keep in step with the Spirit of God (Gal 5:25)
“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” The idea here is that the Spirit of God orders our living. As He orders the way we live, we begin to see that ministry is not about us, or even about the ministry itself, but about God. Sometimes the agenda that the Lord has for us will be different than our agenda for our lives and ministries. As we seek to follow the leading of the Lord we gain freedom to live with ambiguity.
B. Seek to encourage others and thus be encouraged
What happens when we praise and encourage each other?
- Our sense of well-being is heightened. Here’s a German lesson. The German word for encouragement is “Ermutigung.” Within the word “Ermutigung” is the word “Mut” which is the word for courage. It’s related to our English word for mood. When we encourage one another, it does something to our mood. We get a sense of heightened well-being.
- Encourgement leads to courage. Within us there arises a new motivation to be active.
- Encouragement begets encouragers. Those who are encouraged will themselves want to be those who encourage others. And when an entire church is affected with the power of encouragement, a new culture of thankfulness and encouragement rises.
During our church planting ministry in Mannheim I had cards printed up with a certain phrase on it. The phrase read “Das war einfach Spitze!” (That was just exceptional!). Every time I saw someone in our fellowship do something wonderful I sent them a card; telling what I saw and why I thought it to be exceptional.
Engaging in church planting can often lead to tiredness. At such times the Lord will often send us someone to encourage us and to give us a new perspective from God’s vantage point. Because the McDonalds days are bound to come.
A young pastor sensed his need for a special touch from the Lord in his life. As he was prone to do, he got up early and went into the living room to spend time with the Lord. He had just confessed his sins and asked God for His blessing. He felt a real need to be touched afresh by the love of God. He needed encouragement.
His little son, Tim, was 22 months old at the time. While his father was in the living room speaking with the Lord, Tim wandered into the room. His dad noticed him and how he was quietly approaching him. Most of the time Tim is quiet at such times in the morning because his mother had taught him not to disturb his father during his quiet time. But on this particular morning Tim went directly to his father, laid his little hands upon the folded hands of his father and spontaneously said: “Hi, special one. Hi, special one. Hi, special one.”
Never before had Tim said those words. Six times in a row he said to his father: “Hi, special one”. At that moment it became clear to the father that God was blessing him through the words of his son.
It may be that you were raised in a family in which you were criticized more than you were praised. Or that you have a boss that constantly cuts you down. But God wants to encourage you this morning. In his eyes you are loved and valued. You are His special one. Do you hear Him saying that to you – You are my beloved daughter, my beloved son. I have works of art that I want to perform in you and through you.
That is all the encouragement you need in order to go up to someone else, put your arm around their shoulder and say, “Hi, special one”.
Assignment: Begin to keep a “journal of encouragement” in which you write down the many small and sometimes large things that God uses to encourage you. Especially in the dry times your “encouragement journal” may be a life-line to save your weary soul.
 Quoted in Ajith Fernando, Jesus Driven Ministry, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002), p. 43.