Being an athlete I can’t help but think about the complexities in what is means to encourage. There is the fist bump after a great play, or in bball the corporate celebration when you have just gone on a 15 – 2 scoring run and forced the other team to call a timeout. But there is also the “come on man!”, “you gotta stay with him!” and other corrective words that are usually accompanied by a hand clap or slap on the butt. The expression of encouragement is both supportive and challenging. When I go up to a teammate, clap his hand, pull him close, and say, ” you have to make better passes”. I am primarily telling him that I know that he is a better player than he is showing. I am not coddling him by saying it is okay that he is making bad passes nor am I suggesting that he is a bad or insignificant player. I am expressing that “you are not being the player I know you really are.”
This type of robust encouragement is important in the Christian faith too. From what I observe, many of us Christians struggle to truly encourage one another. Encouragement is a responsibility in any relationship – be it a friendship, marriage, partnership, etc. -, but we often make is a task or chore. We seperate it from relationship. Encouragement is what grows people towards an end. In Christianity it is closer to God. If we truly care about those around us we must fully encourage.
Healthy and productive encouragement is both structural and spontaneous. Look at any sports team. Before the game begins there are often rituals that occur. Swaying in a circle, jumping up and down, dancing (i.e. the All Blacks’ Haka – a rugby team in New Zealand), while these may seem silly or odd bursts of adrenaline, they are also corporate liturgical acts of encouragement and ways to cultivate belonging.
These rituals encourage the athletes by reminding them that, “we are all in this together”. If Sunday morning (or whenever a congregation gathers) was a time not only to “hear the word” and worship through music, but a time where the liturgy (rituals that have a “telos” or intended result) of the service was one that encouraged individuals and the body, we would be a better people.
* This post was inspired by a post from my friend Kristin on her blog Halfway to Normal.