Encouragement: How to Save a Ministry

by Tim Cole 

I recently had lunch with a preacher friend and colleague of mine.  We were ruminating on the memories of our very first sermons.  His first foray into the pulpit was as a nervous 16-year-old at his home, little country church.  He remembered that he’d studied his text thoroughly, reading every commentary on the passage in his preacher’s extensive library.  He’d hand-written his manuscript, which, by his estimation, would last about 40 minutes. 

Though he was given the Sunday evening sermon slot, the audience seemed twice the normal crowd with the youth group joining the curious adults, ready to hear the youngster’s first attempt.  As he climbed into the intimidating 3-sided pulpit, his nerves took over and he dropped his stack of unnumbered pages on the floor.  He silently prayed for God to somehow just get him through the evening.  He remembers that his sermon lasted a whopping seven minutes.  

On his way out the door, an Elder handed him a note written on the torn-off corner of a bulletin.  My friend said he didn’t read it, instead sticking it in his pants pocket while looking for “cover.”  Later that evening he sat alone in his bedroom having a self-described pity party for how poorly the night had gone.  He wasn’t sure if he’d ever preach again.  

At that moment he remembered and finally read the note handed to him by the Godly Elder at his church.  It wasn’t so much a note; just a simple Bible reference, “1 Corinthians 2:1-5.”  A quick turn to the passage revealed its wise encouragement: 

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.  For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ – and Him crucified.  I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. (NASB) 

This preacher, now 30 years later, says that simple note of encouragement from an Elder he respected might be the reason he’s still in ministry today.  When did you or I last give our preacher a heart-felt encouraging note – maybe at just the right time?  

The Proverb writer penned, “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones,” (16:24, NIV).  

As a minister myself for more than 25 years, and one who now has the privilege of pastoring our pastors, you might be surprised at the number of times preachers have told me similar stories of encouraging words, or actions, from Godly men in their lives that sustained them for years, and sometimes even for decades.  

And maybe this Sunday you might find yourself tearing off the corner of a bulletin…

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