Attending church is not an end in itself – there is a practical reason why we are to be regular attenders. We are to pay thoughtful attention to other believers, to take an interest in their welfare, and put some significant thought into how to help, support, give hope, love, spur, assist, stimulate, and uplift them into keeping up with Jesus (Hebrews 10:24-25). A major opportunity for this is to occur at corporate gatherings. Worship services, small group Bible studies, and other ministries of the church are all important because they are opportunities for us to encourage other people. Yes, we are to be fed ourselves, but we are also to have the attitude and practice of attending ministries so that we will have the opportunity to speak words of encouragement to others.
This whole church thing is not some sort of optional equipment for the Christian life. We need each other. We need the church. Eugene Peterson has said: “Love cannot exist in isolation: away from others, love bloats into pride. Grace cannot be received privately: cut off from others, it is perverted into greed. Hope cannot develop in solitude: separated from the community, it goes to seed in the form of fantasies. No gift, no virtue can develop and remain healthy apart from the community of faith. ‘Outside the church there is no salvation’ is not ecclesiastical arrogance but spiritual common sense, confirmed in everyday experience.”
The church provides Christians with the nurture, guidance, and encouragement necessary for spiritual development. God gives us the church: to help form our identity as Christians, and give us a secure sense of belonging; to bring comfort and encouragement in difficult times; to proclaim the Word in preaching and sacrament; to provide godly examples for us to imitate; and, to discipline us when we go astray. We are to be the church to one another, helping each other to become more like Jesus.
Therefore, we are to put ourselves in a position to be an encouragement to others, to love them with the love of Jesus. Here are six types of encouragers that I see displayed in the book of Hebrews for us to emulate:
- The Cheerleader. “You can do it. I believe in you!” We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on to push through the quitting points. They did it, and so can we (12:1).
- The Affirmer. “What you are doing is valuable and important!” The preacher said, “We are confident of better things in your case – things that accompany salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (6:9-10).
- The Rebuker. Better is open rebuke than hidden love. “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” (2:1-3).
- The Prayer Warrior. “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (4:16).
- The Partner. Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs – not by themselves. “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (3:13).
- The Pastor. Shepherding in the Bible is a practice and function, not just a title. It is someone who comes alongside and helps make sense of the confusing situations of life, knowing what to do. “Jesus suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (13:12-14).
There is enough criticism already out there; one needs not look any further than Facebook to get their fill of it. Instead, decide to be an encourager. Everyone needs encouragement, which means every single Christian needs to be an encourager to others. What kind of encourager are you? In what ways do you need to develop to become a better encourager? How can you influence your church through encouragement?