Encouragement is one of the greatest blessings you can give to others in your youth ministry (or outside of it for that matter). In English, it’s related to the word ‘courage’ but in Greek it has a far richer meaning. The Greek word paraklèsis means to give courage in faith or in acting, to encourage, to exhort or admonish, to make a strong request or appeal or to make someone feel better, to give comfort and support.
In short: encouragement is not just about saying something nice or paying a compliment. As the meanings of admonish and exhort make clear, it’s not always about saying something ‘positive’ either. It’s about saying or doing just that, what someone needs to go on, to take it to the next level, to take the next step.
Encouragement comes naturally to some people; just look at Barnabas in the Bible whose name actually means ‘son of encouragement’. If you read his story in the Book of Acts, you’ll see him encourage those around him again and again. But if you’re not one of those people, here are ten ways to become a ‘son of encouragement’, especially in your youth ministry.
1. Send a card
I know, email and social media are faster and easier, but sending someone an old-fashioned card may have a deeper impact. I’ve received many uplifting cards over the years and I’ve kept them all in my encouragement file. Just let someone know you’re thinking about him or her and praying. Don’t sweat what to write on it; often the gesture means more than the actual words.
2. Give money
Receiving money can be a huge boost. Think of teens that come to you for sponsorship of a missionary project or another charity. Just donating a small amount can make them feel seen and worthy. And what an encouragement would it be for a missionary not to have to ask for money for a new car, but to receive it without having to wait for months. The same goes for giving something to a family in need. And you can easily do it anonymously if you want, to avoid becoming proud. Barnabas gave away a lot of money actually, just read Acts 4:36 and 37.
3. Serve without complaining
I’ve had people in my ministry who served without complaining, who did what needed to be done. What an asset these people were! Sometimes you can help and confirm your leaders (including your pastor) by just doing what they ask of you, without complaining, no questions asked.
I am convinced that people long to be touched. I’ve seen it so often, that one touch did more to someone than all the words I’d said before. A hug, a hand on a shoulder, it encourages people. So when you talk to someone, reach out and touch!
5. Celebrate what God is doing
I never tire of hearing stories what God is doing in people’s lives. Celebrating what God is doing is an awesome way to encourage each other. So share what great things are happing in your ministry (no matter how small they may seem…every sinner saved is something to celebrate!). Had a great retreat? Share it. Did God touch people in the youth service? Share it. Are students bringing friends? Share it. Write about it in the youth ministry newsletter or a church newsletter, tell about in it the Sunday service, or in any other way.
6. Give a testimony
Personal testimonies can be a great affirmation for people in the same situation, or for people who need to be reminded that God hasn’t changed. I love hearing the testimonies in each baptism service for instance and I am so encouraged to see how God is still changing people’s lives. If you know someone who has experienced God in a special way, who has gotten through a situation with God’s help, or if you’ve gone through something like this yourself, ask them to share their testimony or share your own in a youth service or a service. It will bless and encourage others for certain.
7. Say ‘thank you’
One of the easiest ways to encourage volunteers is to simply say ‘thank you’ after they’ve done something. They’ll know what they did was seen and appreciated.
Exhortation is a very important form of encouragement. When you see someone struggle, go through rough times or stumble, tell him or her to keep going, to not lose faith. I love how Acts 14:22 describes what Barnabas and Paul said to believers:
“(…) they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God’.”
Struggles are part of our life as a Christian, but you can exhort others to hold on, to keep going, because it will all be worth it in the end.
It may be the hardest way of encouraging someone, but it is much needed. Sometimes confronting someone in love is what this person needs to grow. If we see persistent sin in the lives of those in our ministry, if we see a marriage in trouble, if we notice issues in a friend’s spiritual life, we need to confront. Sure, it’s easier to pretend we never saw it, but what good would that do? How many times have you seen serious issues resolve themselves? Lovingly confront with what we’ve seen may just be what a friend needs to hear to get his or her act together and make some tough choices. Remember, encouraging is not just about saying nice stuff. It’s also about saying what people need to hear to grow, to take the next step.
It’s the last one I mention, but it’s maybe the most important thing you can do for someone. When you learn about someone’s problems, write it down on your prayer list and pray for them. And don’t forget to tell people you’re praying for them. I’ve seen this simple statement bring people to tears. Just the thought that someone cares enough about them to pray can be all the encouragement someone needs.