In most of life we need encouragement. When classes in school become difficult, I need someone to say to us, “Keep at it. Your hard work will pay off. Don’t quit.” When relationships break down it is often helpful for a friend or loved one to say, “Why don’t you go get counseling? Do the hard work so you can restore your relationship. You will be glad you did so.” When one loses a job or a loved one, we need people to come along side, hug us, and tell us they are with us. We all have times in or lives when we needed encouragement to persevere. The same is true of faith.
In this series, I’m discussing various practices that I see around the world in people who share their faith well. I use the acronym REVEAL and the second E stands for encourage. (For previous installments in this series, see here, here, here, and here.)
Early Methodists knew encouragement was critical to discipleship. Most people didn’t start to consider Jesus (what the early Methodists called “awakening”) as Lord on their own. Rather they started to contemplate who Jesus is, and what it means to follow him, because they felt encouraged to do so by the Spirit, the Bible, but mostly Christians who had talked to them about Jesus. Once they considered Jesus for a season, be it a few days or a few decades, early Methodists knew most people needed to be encouraged to take the next step of faith, namely, repentance and developing a faith in Christ. Critical to the Methodist understanding of discipleship is the notion that encouragement to follow Christ continued after justification through to the end of life as we are sanctified, becoming more and more like Jesus.
Unfortunately, when most of us imagine sharing our faith with someone we imagine more confrontation than conversation and the image that comes to mind is often not encouragement but discouragement. Many Christians I know simply will not share their faith with others because the examples they have of people sharing faith are people standing on a street corner yelling at random passersby that they are going to hell. Their experience is of people who act like jerks and seem angry and bigoted. Some also know of the religious bigotry and violence that can be found in many religious traditions—including Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism—where people have used violence and coercion to “share” their faith. They know that religious faith, when taken to extremes, can lead some people not only to act like jerks but to be actual murderers, and they want no part of that kind of faith sharing. But people who share their faith well know they can share the story of Jesus without manipulating or coercing others but by simply encouraging people to listen to the Holy Spirit and take the next step of faith.
Their stance is one of conversation, not confrontation. They listen to people share about their faith, then share about the Christian faith, and then partner with the biblical narrative and the Holy Spirit to encourage people to take the next step of discipleship be it considering, conversion, or conforming to life in Jesus.
Early Methodists understood the importance of encouragement and asked each other, very specifically, if they were awakened, converted, or growing in their sanctification. If a Methodist was not yet “awakened” to the idea that God was good and that Jesus was his son, then they were encouraged to start considering Jesus. If someone was awakened, then they were asked what prevented them from repenting and believing and were encouraged to take the next step and convert. If they were converted then they were asked how they were maturing as disciples, what they were doing well, and what parts of their life were still sinful. The early Methodists community was built on the assumption that most people needed encouragement along in the Christian journey.
Who are the people the Spirit is calling you to encourage? Do you know a person who isn’t considering Jesus who would be open to having a faith discussion? Do you know a person who has been considering Jesus for a while but who has not committed who might be open to an Alpha class? Do you know someone who converted and is being sanctified who might benefit from a Disciple Bible Study group? All your friend may need is a bit of encouragement from you to take the next step of faith.