Youth leaders column from Dave Fenton: Balanced encouragement

Youth Leaders ColumnAt the start of a new year, I am often drawn to a place in 1 Thessalonians where Paul is called on to defend his ministry.

He says ‘You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure’ (1Thessalonians 2.1). Presumably someone had said it was a failure and Paul had to correct that view. He goes on to give us a basis for how ministry should be done and how he had gone about it in Thessalonica.

The gospel and our lives

I am struck by the intimate images he draws about the conduct of his work. Using the close intimacy of a mother for her children as an illustration, he tells his readers of the love he has for them and how this love led him to share the ‘gospel of God and our lives as well because you had become so dear to us’ (2.7). Sometimes young people can be hard to love when they test our patience to the limit, but we should notice what Paul’s love drives him to. It is not only to share the gospel, but it is to share his life with them. There is a question of balance here. Some are good at sharing the gospel but their danger is that they only do that. Others spend their time in just getting to know their young people (trying to love them) and fail to see that part of their love for their group is the sharing of the gospel. We must do both — the gospel and our lives.

When we move later in the chapter we see another intimate picture of fatherhood. It’s a challenge to all of us who are fathers. There are three elements to the ‘father’ illustration. Paul describes his own conduct as ‘encouraging, comforting and urging ….’. We’re probably quite good at urging our young people to ‘live lives worthy of God’ (2.12) and this must be done. We need to be telling our young people that their constant aim (and ours) should be to live lives which please God. But if we only do that it can become a monotonous reminder of how bad the young people have been. But there are two other aspects here which can easily be ignored — ‘encouraging and comforting’.

Encouragement to be faithful

There is a kind of encouragement which almost says ‘we are right behind you, whatever you do’. We are just here to encourage and support you. A clear gospel message can (and should) be challenging to the lifestyle of many young people. Having urged them to live righteous lives we must realise that many will find that difficult and struggle to persevere. That’s why Paul has three aspects.

Sometimes young people need to be comforted. Bereavement may be fairly rare in a youth group but it can happen. But, as young people get battered by the cultural values of their society, they need to be comforted. They can be seriously hurt in an academic or social context and need us to help them through it. And, above all, encourage them. Not unconditionally, but encourage them to be faithful to God and his Word. Some Christians have said to me that you should never applaud or clap after someone has been thanked or commended for service — the reward will be in heaven. Well so it will! But all of us will be helped if our brothers and sisters give us gentle words of encouragement as we try to do faithful service. ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’ with the specifics of what has been achieved is no bad thing.

Dave Fenton – associate minister at Christ Church Winchester and Training Director of Root 66 which runs training courses for youth ministers across the UK. 


This article was first published in the January 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057