The encouraging word is given in season
People Matter was a regular column by Phillip Jensen in Southern Cross, the monthly magazine of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney.
Jensen, P 'The encouraging word is given in season'. Southern Cross, August 2001.
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“I’m glad David prayed so clearly and helpfully this morning,” Michelle said as she and her husband, Bill, drove home from church.
“Yes it was helpful the way he put things,” agreed Bill. “He has a great understanding of the word of God, and that comes through in the way he leads us in prayer.”
“It was more than that,” replied Michelle. “Without that prayer we would have had nothing to learn from the whole morning. It was the one place where we had clear biblical teaching.”
There was a long silence in the car. Bill had been the morning preacher!
Bill wondered whether his wife, Michelle, was being unthinkingly insensitive or simply overstating how bad the sermon had been. Sure David had prayed well, but how badly had he preached?
Ecclesiastes says that there is a time be silent and a time to speak (Eccles 3:7). Did Michelle pick the right time to speak?
Preachers should be seeking to speak the truth in love. Or as Peter says, “If anyone speaks he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.” This will involve teaching and correcting, rebuking and encouraging.
As the pastor of a congregation, Bill should be concerned to speak in just the right proportion of positives and negatives to help the congregation grow in their godliness and love of one another. The preacher fails when the frequency of his rebukes discourages the congregation.
But what of our conversations with preachers? We want to encourage them to preach with faithfulness and clarity, with love and understanding.
What can we say to them to help and assist them in their task?
It is not just what we say that matters, but also when and how we say it. Almost any negative sentiment expressed just after a preacher has delivered his week’s preparation with a passionate appeal is bound to be a massive emotional discouragement. It will not produce a better sermon next week.
The same principle applies to any ministry we are engaged in. Christians who serve others are still people—hopefully regenerate people—but still weak and sinful human beings. We should be serving for the benefit of the recipients of our ministry and for the glory of God. But, of course, this is not always the case.
We all need the encouraging word, the helpful advice, the loving rebuke and the constructive comments, so that we can better serve others. Be it in our home group leadership or our contribution on parish council, as an usher or in leading the youth group, there is a great value in feedback. It is important that we do not think of ourselves too highly, but with sober judgement. The advice of our fellow believers is important in developing that sober judgement.
But, as Ecclesiastes says, there is a time to be silent as well as a time to speak. Often the most counterproductive advice comes from those who have been quickest to speak up, while those who have the most helpful advice remain silent.
Michelle was only trying to help her husband and the congregation. He may have needed the sledgehammer treatment, some preachers do. But with that timing, what a powerful body blow to the preacher’s self confidence!
Names and details have been changed.