1 Thessalonians 5:11
There’s a great ad on TV. If you don’t watch sports channels you’ve probably missed it. An adult is coaching a kids’ soccer game—and I mean young kids. The players are probably in 4th or 5th grade. He’s constantly berating them, telling them what they’re doing wrong and yelling at them to do better, with comments like, “Get your head in the game.”
Cut to a board room. Now the coach is on the hot seat. He’s making a presentation—and the board? It’s made up of his players. They’re making the same comments to him that he made to them. He’s humiliated—as he should be. The ad ends with a former soccer star telling the audience what they should already know: Encouragement works better as a motivator than demeaning statements.
One person who understood this principle was Jackie Robinson. During his first few years in the major leagues the man who broke the color barrier in baseball suffered abuse in every city where the Brooklyn Dodgers played. I believe what helped sustain him was the encouragement he received during the early part of his life, as well as the unquestioned support of Branch Rickey, the man who decided it was time for African-Americans to play baseball in the major leagues. Jackie Robinson said, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
It is easy for us to get caught in the web of negative statements—to become judgmental of those around us. As a teacher, I have had to spend my life finding mistakes, pointing them out, and (I hope) helping my students correct them. Since my subject was music, I was constantly looking for things going wrong in my performing groups. How could I not find those errors and seek to correct them? There are, however, two ways of accomplishing this.
I have observed school conductors who, like the coach in the ad, are constantly pointing out faults in the most negative way possible. I remember one band director who told me, “My band knows I’m really angry when I break my baton.” Perhaps he got good results, but what a horrible way to live for both the students and the instructor! On the other hand, I have seen and worked with conductors who are so positive that even when pointing out mistakes they encourage their musicians to greater heights of performance.
Both kinds of conductors met Robinson’s standard. Each one had an impact on the lives of others, but what a difference in impact! Perhaps another quote would be pertinent here. Someone once said, “A good person increases the value of every other person whom he influences.”
Paul understood this principle. His own value had been increased by his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus. In turn, most of what he writes to the early churches is encouraging. Yes, he occasionally comes down hard on individuals or congregations he feels are missing the point of Christianity. A good example is his first letter to the church at Corinth. He takes them to task for their infighting and their egos. It’s clear he’s not afraid to point out errors when he sees them. Still, even when he is being his most negative, he encourages the churches to do better.
Steve Gilliard says, “Surround yourself with people who are most like you want to be.” As Christians, we should first of all surround ourselves with other Christians—not to the exclusion of non-Chriostians, but so we can learn from the examples of those who are more experienced, and thereby grow in our walk with God. I believe we should also surround ourselves with good people of any religion who can uplift us, as Paul urged the Thessalonians to do: “Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”