Thursday, 27 December 2018

Facing a Risky Future


There were four of them.  Their dreadful disease had rendered them outcasts from society, shunned by anyone who saw them, and forced to live outside their city.  They had survived on meagre scraps for several weeks, but even that was drying up because of the siege.  They faced a difficult decision.

Even if they could find a way to get back into the city, the siege was so effective that there seemed to be no food there.  People were starving.  So trying to get into the city was pointless.

Staying where they were was equally pointless.  Sure, they had managed to survive in the past, but now they faced inevitable decline and certain death.

The only other option was to move out towards that which was the source of their problem - the enemy encamped around the city.  It was dusk as they set out.  Perhaps, they thought that the fading light would hide the consequence of the disease from which they suffered.

The strange thing was that at precisely the time these men set out for the enemy camp, the enemies heard a sound like that of two armies coming towards them.  They fled leaving all their supplies behind, so the four men ate what they could and also passed on the news to those inside the city, thus bringing an end to the famine.
While this could well be a contemporary story from any one of the parts of the world affected by warfare, in fact it can be read in 2 Kings chapter 7.

My experience in rural mission leads me to conclude that this biblical story has contemporary relevance.  Far too many churches seem stuck in a situation of decline.  Some realise that very soon the church could cease to exist.  But what can be done?  We cannot turn time back, so no matter how much we might desire a return to “the good old days” when churches had better attendances.  Going back to where we were before things got this bad, is not an option.  Neither is staying with things the way they are, facing ultimate demise.

Like the four men, we need to face up to what appears to be threatening us, and - also like them - take the risk that comes with change.  Many churches that have done so, have experienced a reversal in their circumstances, but it comes with a cost.  The cost is that we have to be willing to leave the comfort of the old familiar ways, and the familiar structures of our church services and meetings.  But you probably know that the final words of a dying church were recorded as “We have always done it this way!”

If your church did not see numerical growth in 2018, you need to ask why.  Churches that are static (not to mention those in decline) are contrary to the experience of the vast number of churches throughout the world.  It ought not to be tolerated.  Usually, the cause of a church becoming static or in decline is resistance to change.  Such is the state of resistance to change in many churches that when I am asked, “Why don’t people come to our church?” I am tempted to say, “Because of the people who are already there!”  This is not because I would want them not to be there, but because I long that they would become instruments of change.

Being willing to let go or to move aside is vital.  Holding things tightly under a control that denies change is a death sentence.  Of course things might be done differently, or at different times, or on different days, but it’s worth the risk.  Staying as we are, when that means we are gradually declining, is not an option.  Some will say, “There is noone to take over if I give up!” but is there an honest willingness to let go and step aside?  Sometimes, it starts with a willingness to let change happen.  I know that it’s hard.  My experience in three episodes of pastoral leadership of churches, has always involved those who have been faithful becoming willing to allow (or even encourage) change.  But where this was combined with love and prayer, we saw God at work in ways that might have been hard to imagine.

So, as we enter 2019, please do not sit still.  If you are not seeing God at work through all you do at church: take the risk.  Are you willing to be open to God doing new things in new ways?  If not, is it time to re-dedicate yourself to God who brings life and change wherever he is welcomed.  Give yourself to earnest prayer that anything and anyone resisting change (no matter how sincere their motives) will be changed or moved.  The work of salvation is far too precious to be hindered.
Make 2019 a year for taking calculated and prayerful risks for the sake of the gospel where you live.  Please!

Barry Osborne - 27th December 2018.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Are You Ready?

OK, it’s time I confessed:I’m one of those people who leaves everything to the last moment.  I usually arrive where I am expected, but only just in time. Far too much is left to the last possible moment - or even later.  I can trace this back into my childhood. I lived close to my primary school but was late almost every day. Apart from one day I never had a reasonable excuse.  That day I had no excuse,my teacher was so shocked by my honesty on the matter that he awarded me two house points!

We have moved into the season of Advent as run up to Christmas.  I’m sure that you know that this is about being prepared for the coming of Jesus.  We should all be standing on tiptoes looking expectantly for Christ’s return.

A few years ago I wrote a revised version of the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins for use in a school assembly.  I thought I would add it here, with apologies to any who have heard it before. Versions vary slightly.

George, Henry and John, Mary, Jane and Sue were six young teenagers and friends who lived in the village of Opting-Under Water.  One day, the girls had been browsing the Internet, looking for anything about the Spice Girls when they discovered that David and Victoria Beckham were planned to be attending a special event in a village not far from where they lived.  There was no way they would be able to go but they worked out that there was a strong possibility that if they were traveling from their home in Holland Park, they would have to pass right through their village.

They knew the date, and the time of the event, but could not be sure what time they would be arriving. Mary thought it would be a good idea to camp out at the roadside in the village to see if they could spot the car,probably a limousine, she thought.  So it was agreed to meet up in good time to see if they could spot the Beckhams.

The next day, at the appointed time, the six friends met up at an ideal place where there was a green close by. The boys had brought a football, in case they could get it autographed by David, thought this seemed quite unlikely.  The girls had brought three large banners they had made themselves with words such as “Victoria we love you” written on them boldly.

“That;s a really good idea”, said Henry, “Why didn’t we think of that?”

“Because, as you know,” replied Sue, “Everyone knows girls are smarter than boys.  It’s all about preparation. We spent several hours last evening making these.”

Henry just shrugged.  Experience had taught him that arguing got him nowhere.  Instead he suggested that they had a kick-around to while the time away.  So the boys set up a goal with their jackets and played football while the girls settled down at the roadside.  They had chosen an excellent situation as they had a good view a long way down the road to a bend in the direction from which the Beckham’s would be coming, if they came at all.

After a while the boys tired of playing football and joined the girls.  All they had seen was ordinary cars, some vans, five large lorries and Mr Ford’s tractor and trailer.  John noticed that the girls were getting packages from their backpacks. As the girls unwrapped sandwiches, the boys realised they were feeling hungry.

“Are you going to share those?” enquired John.  

“Certainly not.  We only just have enough for ourselves.  You should have come prepared.”

With that the three hungry boys decided to hurry home and bring back something to keep them from starving.

Hardly had they left when Jane jumped up excitedly, pointing down the road.  “Look!” she exclaimed with what was a squeal of excitement. “It’s a posh car.  I think it’s a limousine. Get ready everyone.”

The girls stood in line, banners on display and waved madly as the car swept past them.  Then,,,, they could not believe it…. the car stopped and began reversing towards them. As it came to a final halt beside them, to their delight David Beckham stepped out and opened the door for Victoria.  The girls screamed and jumped for joy. 

“Hi!  However did you know we would be coming this way today? She enquired.  The girls explained how they had seen it on the Internet and worked out they might come that way.

“How long have you been waiting?” David asked. The girls told them everything and were rewarded with autographs and selfies on their mobile phones.


All too soon David checked his watch and suggested that they had better leave if they were to arrive on time.  The Beckhams climbed back into the car and it slowly drove off, disappearing from sight round the bend at the other end of the village.


It had just disappeared when the three boys returned.  Boy, were they cross with themselves!

"Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming" (Matthew 24:42).
Barry Osborne - 1st December 2018

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Hard Butter and Church Services

A recent experience of Bed and Breakfast caused me to think about how those of us who lead or preach at church services prepare. Not for the first time, I found myself struggling to spread butter, apparently fresh from the fridge, onto toast. It refused to spread. What was worse was that my effort resulted in the toast being spoiled. While there was good reason for keeping the butter in the fridge, it was of little use to me at the table. Of course, melted butter would have been of little use also , but if only it had been softened a little by the time I wanted to spread it.

I began to wonder what thought processes had taken place in the kitchen. Did they, I pondered, want me to be impressed with the fact that they kept the butter in the fridge, or that they kept the fridge temperature extra low? Had they considered whether it would be fit for purpose when it arrived on the table? Might they not have thought about it at all? After all, the butter is always kept in the fridge! Was there a ‘Chef knows best’ attitude?

So, let’s compare the church service to breakfast and the sermon to the butter. We might have carefully prepared each item ‘on the plate’ to our own satisfaction. The contents may have been freshly prepared (not as an old friend used to describe second-hand sermons as ‘cold meat with warm gravy!’). We may have arranged the different items carefully and attractively on the plate. We may have cooked them just the way we like them. But, have we carefully considered whether the members of our congregations will find them enjoyable, easy to digest, not too much but just sufficient.

It is all too easy for the chef to know best what makes a good breakfast, and to impose the set menu on the guests. At least I was able to swap black pudding and fried tomatoes for some baked beans. But I would so have liked to have been able to spread that butter on my granary bread.

A few days after my B & B experience I attended a men’s breakfast where my fried egg was not quite fried. Again, it made me think about how much effort we put into preparing a meal for the congregation. Could the hymns have been selected better? Might our prayer have been better if we had shortened it by two minutes? Might the sermon have been improved with a relevant illustration?

The sad fact is that some of us enjoy leading worship and preaching, but risk not thinking through whether what we are serving is what is wanted as well as what is needed. Far too often over my 50 plus years of sitting in churches I have come away uncertain as to the point of the whole service. Was there actually a purpose behind it all or was it merely an exercise to give the minister something to do!

I quite like the advice given to public speakers: “Say what you are going to say, then say it, and then say what you have said”. In other words, have a clear purpose behind what you are doing, and be clear about what outcome you expect.

So, if you are preparing the meal for next Sunday, please make sure that everything is properly cooked, chewable, and digestible. Make sure the butter will actually spread!

I suppose I could have sent the butter or the half-cooked egg back to the kitchen with a polite request that they do something about it. After all it should have been prepared with the customer in mind. Send it back to the kitchen?!! How would I feel if members of the congregation provided some honest feedback? What if someone said, “I learned nothing new today”, or “I got lost halfway through your sermon”, or “I missed the purpose of this morning’s meeting?”!

It is always helpful to get feedback on the reflections in these Prayer & Praise News. The last few have been quite challenging. I probably enjoyed writing them, and I hope they have not left a bitter taste. Writing for an invisible audience is rather different from taking a service or preaching a sermon, but I hope that some found the butter spreadable. Dolet me know please.

Barry - 9 November 2018.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

What is Discipleship?

At a recent meeting of the Churches Group for Evangelization the subject of discipleship was frequently mentioned.  It became clear that how discipleship is understood varies from denomination to denomination. I think that many of us have been using the word with little thought as to how it might be defined and described in different contexts.
A few years ago I was invited to speak on Discipleship in a Rural Context and carefully prepared my talk and the slides that illustrated it.  Since then I have given it more thought and I am sure that were i to give the same talk today it would be slightly different.
Discipleship has been a common topic across the Churches for several years and, it seems, it still is an issue of concern.  Does this reflect, I wonder that we focused on making believers rather than making disciples?  It also seems to me that we have often understood that discipleship is something that develops after people have believed.  The Great Commission is expressed by the gospel writers variously as proclamation of the gospel, bearing witness to Jesus Christ, and making disciples.  But nowhere is it described as making believers.
The term believer had significance for the early church, operating in an almost entirely Jewish context.  The issue was whether people believed that Jesus was the Messiah Therefore the use of the term believer was a useful shorthand.  In a Gentile context we tend to use the term believing as a substitute for the more accurate word, trusting.  We encourage people to put their trust in Jesus Christ and his atoning work for salvation.
It is in Matthew’s Gospel that we find the first disciples of Jesus commissioned to go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that Jesus had taught his disciples.  So, if that provides a context, perhaps we need to explore what discipleship meant to Jesus and those first disciples.
At which point did they become disciples, and what did that mean at that point?  Clearly, for some, becoming disciples was something that preceded believing that Jesus was the Messiah.  It began with an invitation to commence a journey with Jesus that was much more than a physical journey. They became pupils in a mobile classroom, watching and listening to this extraordinary person who could heal the sick, deliver the oppressed, raise the dead, still the storm, and feed a multitude with a few loaves and fishes.  For some of them, lesson one was seeing water turned to wine. Impressed by what they saw, they gave attention to what they heard. Along the way, they reached a point in which they had accepted that Jesus had the words of life. Later still, came Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God” and Thomas’ confession, “My Lord and my God”.
This leads me to wonder whether, in the cultural context in which I am operating, the call I give to others to become Christians should be more about a call to enter a journey of discovery, rather than taking a leap of faith.  Of course, such a journey needs repentance at its start or near to it. It could also be argued that taking the journey is, in itself, a step of faith.
As an example of what that might look like in the context of evangelism, Elim has adopted a new framework for evangelism which provides the possibility of three different responses.  The gospel is clearly explained, following which the three options are presented. A ‘Big Yes’ is an immediate decision to make a commitment to Christ. A ‘Little Yes’ might be a decision to go on a Christianity Explored Course (or similar).  But a ‘Healthy Maybe’ is a third possibility and asks no more than an expression of a willingness to be open to change views or attitude.
I include this example to illustrate different ways in which a journey start might begin.  When I started out in evangelism, the cultural context in the main was at least nominally Christian with a degree of knowledge of the Christian faith.  We therefore called for a response to make a full commitment there and then. In some ways it was an appeal to an emotional response to follow Jesus. These days, we find it necessary to set out the gospel in more of a teaching mode.  This accords with the way the the gospel was presented in Acts to both Jews looking for the Messiah, and to Gentiles needing to be saved. The New Testament Greek word used implies reasoning. It engages the mind.
One positive aspect of encouraging a response as a start of a journey is that it makes it easier to travel with uncertainty or doubt.  This is not the same as disbelief. Faith gets tested and it is not unusual for even those who have been Christians for many years to have off moments of doubt.  Wrestling with uncertainty on a progressive journey is a more healthy approach than seeing it as a failure of faith.
In my early Christian life discipleship was measured by attendance at four church meetings each week (believers’ meeting, gospel meeting, prayer meeting, and Bible study).  I think that becoming a disciple might also have been described as moving from trusting for salvation to a commitment to go 100% in following Jesus. While I still feel the need to teach and preach for real commitment, I see the wisdom of a less binary approach.  If, as I have suggested here, that discipleship in the gospels began before belief, perhaps it is true in our own time and the UK context. In which case, we need programmes that affirm journeys regardless of how far they have travelled.
When I travel by train or by bus, the vehicle usually stops several times before I reach my destination.  Usually I check where we are and decide whether I intend to travel further.
I would be interested in hearing from you please describing how discipleship is understood and measured in the context of your church.  How does a disciple differ from a mere believer? How do you feel about the idea that discipleship has a beginning before a faith commitment?  Please drop me a shortish line to barry@ruralmissions.org.uk and put ‘Discipleship’ in the subject line.
Barry Osborne - 25th October 2018

Lessons from the Stores

Woolworth, Toys R Us, BHS, MFI and Focus all have one thing in common.  They have disappeared, having once been a prominent presence throughout the country.  Other well known chains have also struggled, closing a number of their stores in order to survive.  Of course it was not always thus. At one time they had been popular outlets, supplying goods that people wanted.  In every case the decision to close and render thousands of people without jobs will have been preceded by a series of Board Meetings at which the directors noted the steady decline.
In many cases the decline has been linked to changes that happened around.  Sometimes businesses have failed because of online shopping. In other situations they failed to keep their businesses in touch with the changing culture surrounding them, and lost out to competitors.  Some of the big businesses that have survived have done so because they have recognised that the cost of the floorspace was disproportionate to the amount of sales.
Reflecting on this I am aware how the Christian witness in the UK has similar problems, not least in rural areas.  Churches that once saw many more people attending Sunday services, now have relatively few people attending, while the cost of maintaining our premises has become ever more disproportionate.  In many situations where once a building served the purposes of a congregation, now the congregation serves the building.
It is generally understood that 11.00 am services were established as a suitable time to allow the cows to be milked and essential chores to be done before church gathered.  Now, it has become a convenient time that demands little and fits conveniently between a lie in and an extravagant lunch. Consequently, congregations dwindle and those charged with responsibility hope that somehow the decline in footfall will be miraculously reversed.
In my Open University Business Studies we were repeatedly taught that the main thing is that the main thing must remain the main thing.  Jesus left his disciples with one task. They were to proclaim the gospel and make disciples. Clearly, that is the main thing. Of course, having premises where Christians could meet, makes sense, but many of our buildings were erected to impress rather than simply serve a purpose.  In the past they also became places where the gospel was proclaimed and where people came to faith. When was the last time that happened in your church building?
It is not only commerce and churches that have inherited buildings that are no longer ideal for the main purpose.  Hospitals and schools have also had to adapt in order to remain efficient, where efficiency is related to what is the main thing for them.
Simply shutting down stores will not cure an ailing business.  Shutting down church buildings will not cure what ails so many of our churches today.  What is essential is to return to first principles. If our churches (i.e. the believers who meet in the building) do not have a clear sense of purpose - a commitment to the main thing - then messing about with the building is like rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic.  So the most important thing we can do, if we have buildings that are taking most of our money and energies, is to ensure that everyone in membership or who has a regular commitment to the life of our churches recognises that the main thing is spreading the gospel and making disciples.
Having done that, we can then evaluate whether or not our premises are enabling that purpose or, possibly, hindering it.  Sometimes making some adaptations could make a difference. But not change for change sake; but change that enables or enhances the main thing.
So, here’s the challenge.  Make a list of the resources of your church both in money and people hours.  Calculate how much is being spent on the ‘main thing’ and how much is being spent on your building (maintenance, heating and lighting).  If things have got out of proportion, then consider ways in which a proper balance could be restored.
Now I suspect that some purists may be thinking that this is all ‘business speak’ and seems to have discounted the work of the Holy Spirit and the importance of prayer.  But I have not done so. If Jesus were to turn up in your church next Sunday and ask you all how you are getting on with what he asked you to do, I don’t think he will be very impressed with answers such as we have raised funds to decorate this old building or to instal a better heating system (though they could be useful!),  God has entrusted us with his message to share it with the people he wants to receive it.  How are we doing with what he has asked us to do?
As to prayer: are we sitting around, praying that God will turn up and do for us the very thing he has asked us to do for him?  Some churches do not even have prayer meetings! Imagine that! Faced with serious threats and opposition, the first Christians met for prayer.  The focus of their prayer was greater effectiveness in their witness; not for deliverance from their problems. (See Acts 4: 23-31).  It’s a model we would do well to follow.
I find myself wondering about these mega-businesses that have disappeared from our High Streets.  If they still had products that were needed and which they could supply, could they have re-imagined their businesses to move from what was inherited to what would still be effective.
Almost all our inherited churches need reviving, and probably some need radical action.  Watching the decline and loss of engagement with the surrounding community is not an option if we want a future.  If what I have written here strikes a chord with you then I would love to take this conversation further, if you would appreciate my advice on how to move things forward,  I am only an email or phone call away (07720 322 213).
Yours for a more effective witness in the land,

Barry

Monday, 3 September 2018

Nobody's Perfect

You may well have heard someone say at some time, “Church would be great if it wasn’t for the people in it!”  I have been pondering recently, how often people have been stumbled in their faith by bad behaviour in a church context.  Sometimes people do fall out and some more easily than others. While that might be a fact of life, most of us would not want to find it happening at church.

But the Bible does make allowance for - but does not excuse - bad behaviour among Christians.  Most of us would not want to confess to being difficult to get on with or the cause of friction.  It always seems as if it is the other person or people who are to blame.

This reminds me of my time working in a small Valuation Office as a young man while in training as an evangelist.  Back in those days we had a tea break both morning and afternoon. Although there were only twenty of us on the staff there was an interesting mix of personalities, and tea breaks provided an opportunity for some to complain about others.  Through it all, an elderly valuer, Mr Jones, would quietly mutter, “The faults we find in others are most often found in ourselves”.  I must have heard him say that at least once a month.

But spotting the problems in others seems to be easier than spotting the faults in our own lives.  Jesus addressed this issue in Matthew 7: 1-5 where he uses the hyperbole of someone removing a speck of sawdust from a brother’s eye while ignoring a plank in their own eye!

I wonder whether some of the problem is that we expect perfection from other people, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ.  However, problems are often made worse because we do not know how to deal with imperfection. It is all too easy to ignore problems and hope they will go away or to be so offended that we walk away hurt.  Neither response is appropriate.

A good place to start would be for anyone who has been offended by a brother or sister (or even someone who is not a Christian) to take a moment to reflect on why they feel offended.  Is there any truth in something that has been said, or a good reason for the offending action? Before we exacerbate a situation, a better course of action might be to reflect on whether the cause lies with us.  I knew a man who once became upset when a neighbour’s drain caused some flooding on his property. It wasn’t until after he had complained that he discovered that they shared a common drain and that there was a blockage on his side of the drain that was the cause of the flooding.

Sometimes one person’s (we’ll call him A) unhelpful behaviour towards another (we’ll call her B) is a result of what was perceived as previous unhelpful behaviour by B towards A. If only the problem had been addressed before it started to get out of hand!
After searching our own hearts to see if a problem or cause might lie in us, we need to consider whether an offence is sufficient to make a fuss about it.  The apostle Paul writes about a love that keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5).  The apostle Peter also writes, “love covers a multitude of sins” (! Peter 4:8).  Sometimes all that is needed is the grace to love and forget, and then move on.

However, doing nothing about it is not always sufficient, but any consequential action or words still need to come from a heart of genuine love. If we cannot find sufficient love of ourselves then we should pray for the Holy Spirit to enable us to help us love others as we are loved by God.

Writing to the Christians in Rome, Paul declares that he believes they had reached  sufficient spiritual maturity to be able to admonish one another. The NIV translates the Greek as ‘instruct’ (Romans 15:14).  This implies that not all are perfect, but perfect enough to be able to both give and receive correction.  To admonish, in the biblical sense in which the word is used, is not telling someone off, but lovingly, gently, and humbly providing instruction.  Colossians 3:16 has more on this.

So behind the concept of admonishing is ensuring that motives are correct. Again in Romans we read, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”   Romans 12:16-18

Jesus, in his ministry, made only two references to the church.  One of these was about the management of offence. It is recorded in Matthew 18: 15 -17 and shows a process towards reconciliation, and what to do if all fails.  We note that it begins with an honest conversation between the one offended and the offender. Often when there has been a difficult relationship between two people that is lovingly properly resolved, there is a wonderful friendship that develops.

Going back to Mr Jones, and the words he so often muttered, reminds me to add that we all need to recognise faults in ourselves.  For none of us are perfect. The words of James 5:16 about confessing our sins to one another, has proved controversial over the years.  But if we simply understand this as an encouragement to acknowledge that we all mess things up from time to time, might make our relationship with one another more healthy.

“The faults we find in others are most often found in ourselves.”  Great sermon, Mr Jones!

Monday, 23 July 2018

The Ministry of Encouragement


The Ministry of Encouragement
I am writing this particular piece at the encouragement of my wife.  In some ways it follows on well from the previous one, which generated a lot of interest and requests to re-publish.

Throughout the week we have been following an ITV series called “The Voice Kids”.  As a singer I have found this series enthralling and I am looking forward to the final this evening.  Three people from the pop world, Danny Jones, Pixie Lott and will.i.am are three coaches searching for a singing star of the future.  For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with the programme, individual children have performed a song to an audience while the three judges sit with their back to the performer.  They make a decision on the basis of the voice alone as to whether they are willing to coach the singer.  If the child gets through this stage they can choose their coach.  This is followed by a stage in which the children compete with one another.  Some are eliminated.  Just six children will sing competitively tonight.

There are several things that have made this series special for me.  Firstly, the vocal talent of the children, Secondly, the lack of pretentiousness from both the children and the judges.  Thirdly the love and support of the families.  Fourthly - and for me hugely important - the encouragement given by the three pop superstars.  The love for the children blends with sensitive mentoring.  There is no condescension or patronising.  The children are given respect and the best performance drawn from them.

There are some 39 references to encouragement in the New Testament, and I feel that this is a neglected ministry in which we should all be involved.  Writing to the Christians in Rome, Paul exhorts them to be humble and use the particular gifts God has given them.  Included in this list is a gift of encouragement (See Romans 12: 3-8)  The thought that this might be a ministry gift is very interesting, and I wonder whether you can spot the person or people in your church that have this gift.  In some situations it might be a gift exercised from the platform; but it might be a ministry of some in the congregation.

But while some may have this particular gift, we are all called upon to take part in this ministry of encouragement.  Twice in his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul writes about encouraging one another. (1Thes. 4:18 and 1 Thes.5:11).  If this ministry of encouragement is important we need to ask ourselves when did we last receive encouragement in our faith and when did we last give some encouragement to others. Encouragement stimulates and motivates the receiver.

It is also worthwhile considering the form in which encouragement might be given.  It could be as simple as a “thank you”.  As a preacher, I am grateful for kind words from members of the congregation regarding what I have said.  The best encouragement in that connection is when someone says that they have learned something new of felt challenged.  But all in the church, not just the preacher, need occasional encouragement, including those who do the menial tasks.

But I want to return to the inspiration from “The Voice Kids” that started me on this subject.  The caring and supportive attitude of the three judges is a perfect model for what should be seen in our churches.  It is clear that the children admire their mentors, but the judges do not exploit that.  They adopt a humble approach and pour out encouragement in equal measure to the unsuccessful as well as the successful.  It brought to my mind the occasion on which for the first time, I encouraged some of the Christian children in our church to serve the communion elements to the adults.  Think of all that was communicated to those children by that act.  So actions as well as words are important.

While all need some encouragement, those who are younger or newer to the faith, and those going through tough times, should be our focus of concern.  Saul of Tarsus was still a relatively new Christian when he benefited from encouragement from Barnabas.  (Acts 9:26-28)

The wisdom and encouragement given by the three popstars, is given to those who will eventually replace and outshine them.  This should be our aim in the church context too.  We should be encouraging those who may well outshine us.  In a recent sermon by a colleague on the feeding of the 5,000, he suggested that we might consider ourselves to be bread, broken to meet the needs of others.  The disciples on that occasion may have shared in the miracle, but it was the bread that was spent.  Perhaps encouragement motivated by love should always have a sacrificial character.

I was just 17 when I was asked by local ministers to give my testimony in an open air meeting.  A year later, during a mission in a Salvation Army church, the Officer in charge insisted that I should speak at the Sunday Morning Service (much to the disapproval of the mission team leader).  Some 26 years later I hesitantly sang a gospel solo for the first time, and was amazed to be asked by members of the congregation whether I had any CDs for sale.  Would I still be preaching and singing today had I not received encouragement?

So, please join with me encouraging others.  Who knows what such an investment might earn!
Barry Osborne - 20th July 2018