June 30, 2013

Book Review - 'Encouragement: the Key to Caring'

This month I read Larry Crabb and Dan Allender's book Encouragement: the Key to Caring.  Never has a book simultaneously so unnerved me and spurred me on!  Wow.

Here's why.  When we get to thinking about how real encouragement can happen in our churches and consider the possibility of being one of those encouragers, we have to take a hard look at ourselves.  The authors begin by explaining how we all live behind layers to protect ourselves from the various things we fear.    (They include some fun little diagrams, that visual folks like me definitely appreciate.)  As I read I found myself squirming a little, thinking, Wow, they know.  I've been found out.  And then later, Am I really able to trust God enough to abandon myself to ministry in this fashion? Wiggle, squirm.  Squirm, wiggle.

At the same time, however, the text is comforting.  It can be so relieving to have the truth out in the open, can't it?  And it can be so refreshing to be reminded that God is trustworthy to strengthen us as we engage in His work, can it not?  Once we see that we live behind layers, we can be honest with ourselves and others, and begin to work through them.  Once we are reminded that there's a big, glorious, loving God calling us to serve, we can abandon ourselves and step out in faith (a little, if you're like me) more boldly.

The thrust of this book is that real encouragement can only happen when the fears are addressed.  If we keep bumping layers with others, no real encouragement will ever happen.  But if we do the hard work of getting to know ourselves, getting to know the Word, and really listening to others, we can become real encouragers.  Allender and Crabb argue that the final goal of encouragement is to move people along in their walk with Christ (p 127).  Isn't that something wonderful to think about?  To enter into conversations and relationships thinking, I really want to spur this sister or brother on toward Christ.  That does not mean that we can no longer have any fun and must always be looking to dig up peoples' dirt and fear, by the way!  Rather it's simply a mindset that loves God, loves neighbors, and keeps the door open to opportunities to encourage.  According to the authors, Encouragement is not a technique to be mastered; it is a sensitivity to people and a confidence in God that must be nourished and demonstrated (p 80).

As such, you will not find a multi-step program in this book.  You will, however, find very practical guidelines for growing as an encourager, along with solid arguments about why it is important for members of the church to make such ministry their primary goal.

All told, it's a quick read.  The book is broken into two parts.  The first chunk of chapters offers an explanation of what encouragement is (and is not).  The second set of chapters delves into the process of encouragement.  Throughout the text, the authors offer examples and stories of their experiences to help the reader see how ministry through encouragement fits into normal life.  But despite the clear and concise writing, this book might make you a little uncomfortable (as I experienced) and will most certainly leave you with a lot to think about.  As a result, you will find yourself engaging in conversation differently, with an increased desire to minister to those with whom you interact.

So consider yourself warned: this book just might change you a little in the present, and perhaps a lot in the future!

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