July 25, 2012
If there is an aspect of ministry that is underestimated, I think it is encouragement. That’s probably because when most of us think about encouragement we think of a parent sitting on the sideline, screaming and telling their child, “You can do it!”, “Go for it!”, “Great shot!” And while I do think cheering on kids is a great example of encouragement, the kind of encouragement I want to talk about is so much more!
I came across some Scripture the other day that got me thinking. Paul says in I Thessalonians 5:14-15 to, “encourage the timid, help the weak”. It is simple, but profound. I think it summarizes well what need to do as believers and what we aim to do in CFA. But I realize that often we are left wondering how exactly to help the weak. I believe the key word is “encourage”.
I have seen two fundamental ways to help someone. You can give someone something (in the form of a gift or a task) or empower them. Giving someone something often becomes a hand-out, a gift that is free to the receiver, and requires no work or commitment on their part. Sometimes there is a subtle message in hand-outs that says, “you’re not good enough to do this on your own, you need me. So let me do this for you”. Let me quickly say that I do believe there is a time and a place for hand-outs, such as during disasters, emergency situations, or where there is no infrastructure for economic growth. But many of us, including me, have fallen into this mentality that giving something is always beneficial to the receiver. That is not always true. I have seen this play out in many scenarios in Ethiopia, Haiti, and Kenya. It almost always turns out the same way! It creates a dependency and it creates a hierarchy where the giver has dominance over the receiver.
So how can we help people the right way? Well, when Jesus was on earth, his ministry was a lot about encouragement. I think it was strategic on his part, and had more impact than many of us realize. He encouraged and empowered his disciples when they had doubts. He showed them that all things are possible with God. He showed them that although they were just laymen, they could change the world. And they did! For those that were outcast, Jesus showed them that they were valuable and worthy in Gods eyes. He did not give them money, he gave them encouragement, hope, and empowerment.
Through my time in Kenya, I have seen that encouragement is the foundation for empowerment, and one of the best ways to help the “weak”. Empowerment is about helping someone to help themselves, or teaching them to fish as we commonly say. Encouragement is putting them in the right direction and helping them believe they can succeed. While hand-outs create dependency, encouragement/empowerment lifts an individual up to help them realize they are good enough, they can do it. I want to clarify that the kind of encouragement that CARE for AIDS offers is more than just kind words. It’s deep and meaningful fellowship and discipleship along with physically and spiritually empowerment that enables individuals to be challenged and grow.
Let me speak from experience. People who are down do not need handouts. For the most part, they are capable of getting themselves back on their feet. What they need most is to believe that it’s possible and gain the skills to do it. The apostle Paul said in I Thessalonians 4:11-12 to, “mind your own business and work with your hands… so that your life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anyone.” Then in 5:11 Paul says, “therefore, encourage one another and build each other up…” Together, I think these passages give us a brilliant insight as to how we can help those who are down. The answer is empowerment which comes from deep and meaningful encouragement consisting of teaching and training, resulting in the weak becoming both independent and respected.