The Power of an Encouraging Word

While watching one of the first NFL games during the pandemic, I heard a strange, unexpected sound. In the background, fans were cheering. It didn’t matter if it was first down or fourth down, or if a team was about to score or a player had fumbled. They cheered all the same. The constant noise of a large crowd seemed especially odd since few, if any, fans were sitting in the stands.

NFL sound engineers have spent a good deal of time developing team-specific crowd noise. Audio engineers hired by the NFL have worked with television network personnel to incorporate audio noise into game broadcasts. The league also is allowing teams to play pre-recorded crowd noise throughout stadiums where fans are not admitted. The noise masks the field level audio of players and coaches during games.

Apparently the NFL feels that the fan-fueled atmosphere is so essential to the game that they are painstakingly recreating the buzz artificially. Fan noise, they believe, will enhance the enjoyment of football fans everywhere who are now watching games at home.

Beyond improving the television viewing experiences of fans during the pandemic, it’s hard to deny that fan noise also has a notable impact on players. Momentum often changes the outcome of a key play when fans rise to their feet and wildly cheer on their team by shouting, chanting, whistling, stomping, clapping and blowing stadium horns — hence, the importance of having a home-field advantage. And who hasn’t heard those vocal (and sometimes obnoxious) fans attempting to persuade a referee to make a favorable call or protesting a perceived bad one. That, too, has an effect, though it’s not always the one they intended.

If fan noise is so important to creating a game atmosphere and keeping team spirit high, encouragement also is important to churches and pastors. It should be noted, however, that pastors don’t do it for the applause of the crowd, but the affirmation of the One. Still, they’re human, and the authentic adulation of others can lift their spirits and urge them onward during these difficult days. Like NFL teams playing to empty stands, they’ve been preaching to empty pews during the pandemic. They miss “the buzz” and energy of a good Sunday crowd.

Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, in a column entitled “Southern Baptists, Think Carefully About Your Ways,” shares his “deep and increasing burden” caused by the many distressing social issues. Each of his bullet points are challenges for God’s servants in the pulpit as much — or perhaps more so as spiritual leaders — as those in the pews. Among them:

• “The angry, cruel, ungodly, and carnal statements by Christians, and even some Christian leaders, via social media, articles, or comments in the media. These create suspicion and greater fear rather than faith and hope.”

• “The tragic state in America over racial matters and the growing and ongoing violent uprisings, which have fueled greater anger, hate-filled rhetoric, rebellion to authority, increasing lawlessness, and the loss of human life.”

• “The sadness and fear that has reigned since March, when the COVID-19 global pandemic began to shut down the entire country. And as America is now re-entering life with our schools, universities, workplaces, churches, and social gatherings, we are still fighting about who is doing it right and who is doing it wrong — even now, we’re arguing about treatments and prevention measures. This leads to a greater distrust of one another.”

More than ever, your pastor needs to hear an encouraging word. In a column a few years ago, Hance Dilbeck, executive director of Oklahoma Baptists, highlighted Azariah’s simple and powerful word for King Asa of Judah in 2 Chronicles 15: “But you, be strong and do not lose courage, for there is reward for your work.” Sometimes a pastor may wonder, “Am I even making a difference?” If those doubts linger, they may sour into despair, he cautions.

Don’t let that happen to your pastor. Tell him how much his faithful ministry and his diligent study of God’s Word helps you follow God better. Remind him that there is a reward awaiting him for all his good work among you.

Recently, I had an opportunity to read the encouraging sentiments and Scripture verses expressed in some cards that my elderly father, Bob Deaton, a pastor for more than 60 years, had received. He cared for so many others and their families during their times of need; now former church members and current church friends were expressing their care, concern and prayers for him. As I read each card to him, I believe I saw a light returning to his blue eyes. It was a beautiful moment!

Like cheers to a football team, a thoughtful and timely word of encouragement to a pastor is powerful. King Asa was inspired to remove idols, restore the place of worship, and gather the people of God to renew their commitment.

Encourage your pastor to do great things for God. No, don’t shout, chant, whistle, stomp, clap or blow a horn during his message on Sunday. Just be aware that under the constant strains and pressures of the ministry, a pastor may easily grow weary and lose heart. Your encouraging word or action can make all the difference.