365: Grow the Church with Two Words
Growing up in American fundamentalism, I’ve seen or heard about legalism absurd enough to be a punchline on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I was recently surprised with an odd legalistic edict, though. It was a curveball because it came from the non-denominational world.
Apparently, it’s a thing now that Christian leaders shouldn’t thank those who serve with them, because that will lead to people serving for the wrong reasons.
It’s absurd, but I understand how someone got there. I’ve served for the wrong reasons more times than I can count. Too often, I’ve wanted people to notice my contribution, my dedication, my sacrifice. Some of the biggest climbs in my spiritual journey are on the mountains of motives. So, I should be a poster child for this bit of legalism.
I thank my teammates all the time, because that’s the pattern of the New Testament. Paul told the Philippians that he thanked God every day for them because of their participation in the Gospel. He thanked God similarly for the Colossians and told them so. Same goes for the Thessalonians, for whom he added that his prayers were in light of their work of faith and labor of love. Paul even tells the Thessalonian church that he sent Timothy to them to strengthen and encourage them. Then Paul told Timothy that he thanked God for him constantly in his prayers. (Paul wrote the same to Philemon.)
Technically, Paul thanked God and not his fellow servants directly; but then he told them what he prayed. So, it’s basically the same thing. He let them know he was grateful for them in order to encourage them toward endurance.
Thanking a fellow servant is just one form of the encouragement we’re called to give. Hebrews 10:24 asks us to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” Romans 12:8 lets us know that exhortation is a spiritual gift. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 commands us to “encourage one another and build one another up.”
So, refraining from encouraging our co-laborers doesn’t make us or them more holy. It makes us disobedient and them more susceptible to burnout. Just as with financial giving, the biblical mandate is generosity and discernment—relinquishing control to God to measure the motives and conscience of the recipient.
God is love, and he cares for his children. Jesus told the disciples that the Holy Spirit was on his way to be our comforter and helper. The Holy Spirit invades those who believe, in part, to work through us to comfort and encourage others—including other believers. Why? Because he knew we’d need that.
I’m writing this after receiving a Facebook message from Aaron, one of my adventure buddies, parking teammates at church, and men in my Tuesday night “Dude Group.” He repeatedly affirmed things he saw in me and thanked me for my contributions to the spiritual walks of others, including his. It energized me in my service. It reminded me of the “so that” behind what I do.
I don’t serve to impress Aaron. Aaron sees only a small fraction of my contributions to the kingdom. In contrast, God sees everything (including my heart). It’s God’s “well done, good and faithful servant” that I hope to hear. You probably do, too.
What if we get more than one of those? What if God gives us less dramatic versions of that affirmation throughout our sanctification, throughout our spiritual journey, in the midst of our ministry? What if he prompts us to be Aarons—to be “sons of encouragement” like Barnabas? What if part of our kingdom work with God is reminding other workers that their contribution matters, that their faithfulness is admirable, that their passion is contagious? What if we explained to others how their giftedness and unique personality is being leveraged for eternal benefit?
I’ll tell you what would happen: other believers would lean in harder and non-believers would want a piece of that camaraderie. We could change the world—with something as simple and sovereign as a thank you.