My “Fan Mail” File

My actual “Fan Mail” file

I have a file marked “Fan Mail” in our filing cabinet. Years ago my wife suggested I start the file for the occasional thank you note, pastor’s card, and (in the later years) e-mails with nice things to say about me and my ministry.

I’ll admit my first inclination was to begin this post with the statement, “I confess I have a file marked ‘Fan Mail’,” but quickly realized that this would be completely contrary to the point of the post. There’s no need to confess about having such a file.

A member of a mission team with which I had worked e-mailed me, encouraging me in my writing and speaking. I appreciated it, but didn’t dwell on it, thinking maybe that was egotistical or prideful. My wife suggested that I take a second look at what she had written. “I think the Lord is encouraging you through her,” my wife said. She was right.

I believe there have been many times over the years when I have robbed myself of the gratitude, affirmation, and encouragement God had for me that He was channeling through the people whose lives my ministry had impacted.

The Bible says to encourage one another, but paying a compliment is a two-sided coin. If someone is to be encouraged then that means someone has to allow themselves to be encouraged!

It’s a form of false humility to blow off the praise or affirmation from someone. If we’re honest enough to check our motives at such times we’ll find that we want to come off humble before the other person. We’re proud of the fact that we’re so humble!

Pastoral ministry is a challenging calling. There’s plenty of criticism that comes our way. Complaining parishioners usually greatly outnumber complimenting parishioners. God’s grace toward us is sometimes given in the expressions of praise, gratitude, and affirmation that come our way. Graciously receiving such encouragement is a way to express gratitude to the Lord for how He has chosen to work through our life and ministry. It’s one more way we give praise and glory to Him.

Thankfully, I haven’t had too many occasions when I was in desperate need of reading my “Fan Mail” file. Occasionally just pulling it out of the file drawer to add another expression of affirmation is usually enough to keep me going.

Yes, as pastors we should model being an encourager, but we should also model how to receive encouragement. We don’t have to let it go to our head, but we can let it go to our discouraged heart!

The Power of Encouragement

EncouragementBrightSmall“I could use a little more encouragement around here” is something we often mumble to ourselves as pastors. Criticism seems so easy for parishioners to express; encouragement, not so much. Encouragement seems to be important, probably because it’s in short supply! I still have a file that has virtually every kind, thankful, or encouraging note I received during my years of pastoring. I’ve thrown away every critical note! In all fairness to the congregation I served for nearly forty years, I think I received a lot of encouragement. Still, it was easy to get discouraged, a common complaint of most pastors, from what I hear.

Yes, we pastors need encouraging, but that’s not where this post is going! Let me be blunt; it’s not all about us! Our parishioners are in desperate need of encouragement too! It seems to me that what we need to do is to forget for a moment our own need for encouragement and take the initiative to encourage those in our congregation. What’s amazing, and we know this, for we have probably preached it a dozen times, is that when we push ourselves to encourage someone else we’re encouraged ourselves! We’re encouraged because we know we’re doing something good and worthwhile for another person, and often (not always) we see how it impacts that person in a positive way.

One of the best ways we can pastor the people is to encourage them! So, let me encourage you by the reminder that you have tremendous influence as a pastor, and one of the greatest ways to influence those under your care is to encourage them!

Today, make that phone call, send that e-mail, message that person on facebook, send a note through the mail, start a conversation with that person who’s within earshot.

Today, praise the person for a quality or characteristic you admire in them. Say, “Thanks!” for something they’ve said or done. Listen, just listen, without giving advice or telling a story to top theirs. Do that sacrificial, often seemingly small, good deed. Give a hug, a thumbs up, or a pat on the back. Just BE THERE with the person. Pray for the person and tell them you did.

Be a real pastor to your people! Be an encourager today!

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing… encourage the fainthearted.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11,14)