I was sat at my desk when I received the email last week. “I am overwhelmed with your kindness… Thank you!”. Then a little later from someone else, “Thank you for your prayers, I really appreciate that especially as I have had a hospital procedure this week - very timely!”. My own encouragement of others comes back to encourage me!
As a trainee teacher I was overwhelmed, and almost destroyed, by the amount of criticism which was the standard vernacular of the teacher trainers. When in my early days as a teacher, the ‘robust’ criticism of Ofsted set a fear inducing atmosphere for so much of school life. Yet, there were always those who brought Christian encouragement. En-courage-ment. Putting in courage! And the value of this, is incalculable for those of us in Christian organisations such as those with OSCAR…
When I discovered the network of Christian organisations, and the range being promoted with OSCAR, I sensed how important such a resource was. Such things are becoming the connective tissue of the body of Christ. As we see what Christians are engaged with, there is a sense of individuals and organisations responding to God’s call. But I was stirred to think how many may remain disconnected from where mutual encouragement and greater connection could be a huge advantage.
Where organisations connect up through prayer filled, loving Christian relationship, without fear of comparison, waves of mutual encouragement can flow. I find this in courageous and long-lasting Christian communities, organisations, and schools all around the world. The distinctive flavour of Christian encouragement, which multiplies courage, is not the bland flattery which forever shuns from facing issues, nor is it the ‘please-like-me’ platitudes given to curry favour. No. Christian encouragement is deeply real, and deeply needed. This kind of encouragement has given me courage and sustained me as a church and organisation leader, through very challenging times. Why? Because such connection, and the encouragement that flows, is divine. And it multiplies itself!
Paul, in Ephesians 4, explains a wide range of gifts and abilities needed in the ventures of the kingdom. He encourages the Ephesians with this: “Speaking the truth, in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4 v 15-16; NIV 1984).
We tend to understand that there are different gifts, and different parts to ‘the body’, and that they all have a part to play in our ventures for Christ. But in this passage there is also a revelation that what we say to each other, ‘speaking the truth, in love,’ as we are equipped by Christ, will have the effect of holding us together through the supporting ligaments of relationship that you and I can cultivate. Deep attachment, formed through divinely inspired encouragement. As each of us do our work in this truth-speaking in love, the body holds together and is built up. How are your supporting ligaments of love? As you bring divinely inspired encouragement to another person, so others in turn bring that to you. Are you being divinely encouraged and equipped through others? Or do you find your organisation, and even yourself, isolated?
Another equally good translation of the word ‘supporting’ is ‘supplying’. As we are connected to the Head, we supply each other through strong relationships. The gifts of skilful apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, connected to the Head, can equip us and supply us, so that through great teaching and encouragement we can all mature into all that God has for us. And as we actively seek to be encouragers, suppliers to others, so this comes back to us and we all benefit.
I believe this can be so true for the organisations with OSCAR. If only those with financial gifting, missional understanding, computer services savvy, theological training, or expert experience could know about each other, and make time to communicate with each other. What divine supplying could occur!?
I am drawn to these thoughts as I pray about a conference coming up, organised with Christian Concern and the Christian Schools’ Trust in February. In our recent enforced isolation, the opportunities for divine connection could be reduced. But we know the Lord does not want us to lose these vital, inspiring connections, which supply our souls, and help us to do our work joyfully and courageously as his body. How can we encourage one another at this time? In February, ‘Further Up Further In’ will be an online conferencing event for those in the world of Education to connect in this way, with a weekend of opportunities to meet with those experienced in bringing such encouragement and equipping to teachers and school staff. You may have other events in your sphere of service to the Lord.
But even without these events, there is something we can all respond to today. Can you choose to see, what God sees, in another organisation, a colleague, a friend or a family member? Bring divine encouragement by simply naming it in them, thanking them and thereby honouring God for who they are, as much as for what they have done. Why not explore OSCAR and see if God stirs you to make a new connection?
May your supplying ligaments strengthen you in these months ahead! May you not only ‘hold together’, but grow and be built up in love. May you receive from the great people God is giving you opportunity to connect with, so that joy-filled courage may sustain you.
Here a link to the ‘Further Up Further In’ conference.
Contact Steve by email firstname.lastname@example.org