“Do we really think there is a single person in this world who does not need either encouragement or admonition? Why, then, has God bestowed Christian brotherhood on us?” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Correction does much, but encouragement does more. —Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
“… he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” Proverbs 11:25 (NIV)
Let’s face it … we live in a world of daily challenges—to venture beyond where we have been before, to reenter painful or frightening arenas, or to hang tough right where we are. The encouragement of others helps us move from fear and passivity to belief and action. It is not a cure-all for our fears. It doesn’t even eliminate them. But it does help us move forward even though we are uncertain. Encouragement is God-like because God is the quintessential encourager. The Bible is full of reassuring words from the Lord. As leaders, we are called to be encouragers. Tragically, for every one comment of encouragement there are six comments of criticism (conversations with kids, spouse, employers/employees; inner circle, etc.). Determine now to turn this trend around. Look for opportunities to be a blessing!
An Encouraging Leader Case Study
1. Leaders who are encouragers demonstrate generosity.
In the person of Barnabas we have a powerful example of an encouraging leader. As a matter of fact, honest encouragement was so much a part of his life that his friends had stopped calling him by his birth name, Joseph, and began calling him Barnabas. The first time we meet him, he is offering tangible and practical encouragement by selling some of his land and giving it away in an extravagant act of generosity.
"Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet." Acts 4:36-37 (NIV)
What would others who follow Jesus nickname you?
We get a further glimpse of how much the church (and the Holy Spirit) believed in Barnabas later in the book of Acts as they were sent out on the first missionary journey …
In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. Acts 13:1-3 (NIV)
2. Leaders who are encouragers believe the best about others.
Think about those you lead. Do you believe they can change? If we are to be encouragers we need to believe that through the power of God, radical transformation is not only possible but expected. We must get to the place where we do not believe that who others were yesterday has to limit who they can be today, or who they can become tomorrow.
In Acts 9, believers in Jerusalem were understandably nervous about a Jewish leader named Saul. He’d left town on a murderous campaign against followers of Jesus. Now he was back, claiming conversion. Nobody trusted him, thinking his story was a cover-up for another attack. But Barnabas risked trusting Saul, becoming his advocate to the wary apostles.
"After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall. When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus." Acts 9:23-30 (NIV)
Describe a time when someone believed the best for you, even when you could not see it for yourself. How does someone else’s belief in you and hope for you free you up to change and become more of what God wants you to be?
3. Leaders who are encouragers embrace “outsiders”.
In the beginning days of the church, the gospel had been spread essentially among Jewish people. But eventually some of the followers of Christ began telling Gentiles about Jesus. Some daring souls were saying, “If it’s good for the Jews, maybe it’s good for the Gentiles, too.” Others wondered if God’s love was big enough, Jesus’ grace deep enough and the Spirit’s presence powerful enough to change even the Gentiles. Through a great work of the Spirit, these Gentile spiritual seekers were becoming followers of Christ, shocking many of the Jewish Christians. The hand of God was upon them and they committed their lives to Christ. Following this, the word got back to the church headquarters in Jerusalem.The questions in the moment were, How would the church respond to these new believers? Would they put a lid on this new work? Would they demand that faith be restricted to one ethnic group? Or would they throw the doors wide open to the Gentiles?Would faith in Christ become a global call to all men and women? And who would the founders of the church sent to Antioch to investigate this new work of God? They did what made the most sense – they sent Barnabas, the master encourager …
"Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." Acts 11:19-26 (NIV)
4. Leaders who are encouragers are willing to confront others in love.
Sometimes if we are to be true encouragers we must challenge others in some area of their lives. Usually we experience a high degree of pain when we confront. Nevertheless, we must do it in such a way so that others always have a sense that we do it out of love. If we’re loving as Jesus does these confrontational experiences won’t be so bad. We must get to the place where we care so much that we share God’s passionate conviction that they should not stop, quit, or let up until they have achieved the fullness of life in the kingdom. You don’t do anyone any favors by allowing others to settle for second best when it comes to fulfilling God’s plan.
Do I love others enough not to stand by silently and let them miss God?
Can we create a church family where we persistently push one another to go farther, fly higher, trust Christ more, think deeper, love more fully, set the bar higher and take another run at those things where we first fail? Even when others are ready to give up on themselves, we must refuse to give up on them!
In Acts 15, after Barnabas and Paul had completed a successful missionary campaign, Barnabas became the advocate for another outcast. His nephew, John Mark, skittish and immature on the first missionary journey, had earned Paul’s scorn. But Barnabas saw potential in John Mark and stuck by him, even at the cost of his partnership with Paul.
"Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing." Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches." Acts 15:36-41 (NIV)
The bottom line is that Barnabas’ risk paid off … young Mark grew up and became one of the four gospel writers!
Is there a time when someone refused to give up on you, even when you were ready to give up on yourself?
5. Leaders who are encouragers are willing to defer to others.
Perhaps Barnabas’ greatest quality was his willingness to be the backstage guy. In Acts, we initially read of the missionary team Barnabas and Paul.
"Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." Acts 11:25-26 (NIV)
"This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul." Acts 11:30 (NIV)
"When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem …" Acts 12:25 (NIV)
"In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Acts 13:2 (NIV)
"They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God." Acts 13:6-7 (NIV)
But by Acts 13:42, the names are reversed to designate a new leader. Seeing God’s hand on Paul’s life, Barnabas quietly stepped aside so Paul could be God’s frontline spokesman.
"As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God." Acts 13:42-43 (NIV)
"Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: 'We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.'" Acts 13:46 (NIV)
"But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region." Acts 13:50 (NIV)
"At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed." Acts 14:1 (NIV)
"So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders." Acts 14:3 (NIV)
"Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust." Acts 14:23 (NIV)
"Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers." Acts 15:22 (NIV)
Leaders who encourage others are generous, see the potential in those they lead, value newcomers to the table, lovingly yet firmly challenge those they lead and model mutual submission.
What does it mean that we are to be devoted to encouragement? What would it look like if we were truly committed to encouraging those we lead on a continual basis? How do we practically live this aspect of leadership out?