Encouragement takes place when your love meets a member's fear. Everyone has fears or disappointments or confusion about life. When we show others that we truly love them in the midst of their pain, we are providing encouragement. Proverbs 18:21 tells us that the tongue has the power of death and life. Encouraging words bring life; shaming or harsh words bring death. Your job as a leader is to bring words of life to people who are feeling the sting of death emotionally. Listen to the instructions of Paul in Ephesians 4:29: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." Encouragement is a community builder.
Tips for Becoming an Encourager
- Be slow to speak. (Prov. 12:18; 13:3; James 1:19). A great way to encourage members is to listen to their stories with attentiveness and caring. Do not try to fix things quickly or give glib, pat answers to their problems or issues. Simply listen.
- Exercise sensitivity. The Bible reminds us that our speech should be seasoned with salt. Our words should be filled with grace (Eph. 4:29) and should mimic those of Jesus who came in grace and truth (John 1:14).
- Show kindness when you speak. Words of gentleness are soothing and tender. Truth does not always have to be delivered from a rifle barrel. Truth spoken gently is more readily heard and more easily obeyed.
Pitfalls to Avoid When Trying to Be an Encourager
- Defensiveness. Don't try to justify yourself. Simply listen to what others are saying and try to clarify what is being said.
- Sarcasm and criticism. Sometimes humor gets out of hand. Remember that people are easily wounded with words (Prov. 15:4).
- Correction. Don't tell people that their feelings are wrong or inaccurate or say to someone, "You shouldn't feel that way." The point is, they do feel that way, and you need to listen carefully to determine why they have the feelings they are experiencing.
- Advice-giving. Avoid giving answers before having really investigated the questions. Advice-giving can be patronizing and can shut down communication. Quick advice often ignores the real problem.
Real encouragement requires active listening. It means fully engaging with another person and participating in their pain and frustration. As you listen carefully, you will be able to bring words of encouragement and comfort and hope to people in your group. Remember, the Scriptures are full of exhortations and commands to build up and encourage one another.
From: Leading Life-Changing Small Groups. 2002. Bill Donahue. Page 151-152.