If you were to be given a nickname that reflected your involvement in the church, what would it be? Go on, humour me. Have a stab at it. Or if you’re brave, ask someone else. What would it be? Of course, if you’re new to CCB then it’s probably just something like ‘newcomer’. And you’re excused from this exercise! Would it be ‘linchpin’? How about ‘dependable’? There are a few ‘go to’ Mr ‘Dependables’ among us. But perhaps it’s something else; possibly less flattering but more honest! We could have some fun with this. But probably not as much fun as your mates might have with you. But what I’m getting at is that sometimes the names we’re given by those who know us best reflect the reputation we have. One such instance was Joseph. He was a Levite, who came from Cyprus. The disciples were so taken with this man that they gave him another name; they called him Barnabas. We read about him for the first time in Acts 4:36. He was given that name because he was so encouraging; that’s what his nickname meant.
Some of you will know that one of my favourite theological articles to recommend is written by a woman called Cindy Patten. I know nothing of her or her other work. All I know is that she wrote an excellent piece in 2003 for the Journal of Biblical Counselling. It’s called ‘Becoming a Barnabas’ and it’s available on the CCEF website for $1.49. In my view, that’s money well spent. I read it again recently because I was aware that though I once had a reputation for being encouraging, something had changed. If you were to ask fellow staff members of Co-Mission, I’d have a very different reputation as a result of our discussions and deliberations on any number of issues. The Lord convinced me that I’d become someone who was often negative and certainly someone who moaned more than he should. And I’ve become quick to find fault. And that inevitably affects the feedback you give to people; whether you’re doing it formally in an appraisal or evaluation of informally in a casual conversation. Either way; it’s not good. I felt challenged by that. I didn’t want to continue to be someone whose words were more destructive than constructive. And so I turned, once again to an article I’d found helpful before. I also read Gordon Cheng’s Matthias Media book called Encouragement. It was worth doing.
Patten identifies six categories of words that can be used to encourage others:
1. There are words of affirmation from someone who knows the God whose words of praise build us up.
2. There are words of comfort from someone who knows the compassionate God whose word speaks comfort in our sorrows.
3. There are words of concern from someone who knows the God whose words express his interest in the lives of others.
4. There are words of motivation from someone who knows the God whose words stimulate us to repentance.
5. There are words of joy from someone who knows the God whose words give us immeasurable pleasure.
6. There are words of wisdom from someone who knows the God whose words show the soundest of judgment.
When God’s words encourage us, we have every reason to encourage others. If we know the same God that Barnabas did, we have the very same resources than inspired his encouraging speaking ministry. And it’s no more difficult than opening our mouths and speaking.
Years ago, Richard Coekin (the Director of Co-Mission and Senior Pastor at Dundonald Church, Raynes Park) made an off the cuff comment. It was probably off the record as well, but I don’t remember and so I feel at liberty to share it with you! He said that congregations can become like their pastors. I don’t know whether that’s true. I hope, for your sake, that it’s not! But it has made me ask whether I’m in some way responsible for creating a culture at church that’s less positive and affirming than it should be.
As you read through this document there are lots of wonderful things that, because of God’s work in us, we’ve been able to do really well. Most of them receive justifiable exposure in this booklet. And we will rightly celebrate them and express our gratitude to God for making them possible. We should be encouraged. But I just wonder whether one of the things that we haven’t done quite as well as we could have done is encourage one another. And that’s a shame. But perhaps, it’s just me!
Yours in Christ,