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Spring 1998 · Vol. 27 No. 1 · pp. 84–86 

Ministry Compass

The Church's Forgotten Priority

Rodney D. Anderson

Building the church of Jesus Christ has become a multimillion dollar industry. Despite the millions, the masses are walking away. The back door of the church grows ever larger. The front door shrinks to extinction.

Ask an average builder, boomer, or buster about their church. You won’t like the answers. “We love the fellowship, but . . .,” as their voices trail off. “The music is wonderful.” “The pastor is a nice guy, but . . . .” Their silence echoes their disappointment and disillusionment.

Church life changes when encouragement becomes the priority.

Staffing the programs of the church is nigh impossible. People are burned out or have dried up spiritually. No joy remains in their service for the Savior. What has been taught and caught by the pupils is a spirit of apathy. Ask your people how they are doing personally. Ask the churched and unchurched alike. If they are honest, you discover persons consumed by their schedule, inundated with demands, tired beyond description, stretched to the limit.

Where should such people go for help and for answers to life’s problems? As a whole, the church is regarded as out of date and out of sync with society. People are looking, but the church is not providing. Perhaps that is why the counseling profession grows on a daily basis. Have we forgotten our priority?


Scripture demands that we do not give up meeting together. And the {85} only passage directing us to gather together also tells us why we must assemble. “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25, NIV; cf. 3:13). Meeting provides for the needed encouragement to face the challenges of life and death.

The same passage mentions a “Day” in the future. This “Day” may refer to Christ’s Second Advent, the coming judgment, the end of the world, the end of life, or some other future day. Context seems best to favor the Second Advent, though other possibilities do not cause the application to change. More significantly, the importance of the instruction grows proportionately as the Day approaches. Encouragement is needed today, but it will be needed “all the more” as the yet future Day draws nearer.


How does the church encourage? The Greek word translated “encourage” in Hebrews 10:25 is parakale?. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (one-volume edition) lists the following meanings in common Greek usage for this word, along with its noun complement parakl?sis,

(1) “Calling to,” either literally or with such nuances as calling for aid, inviting and summoning.

(2) “Beseeching,” such as calling on the gods in prayer, or the proposal from a superior to an inferior.

(3) “Exhorting” or “encouraging” someone to do something or believe something, sometimes of “winning over” someone to a plan.

(4) “Comforting,” especially of exhorting or encouraging someone in times of sorrow.

The first, third and fourth meanings are also found in the New Testament. Meanings three and four, exhorting/encouraging and comforting, are sometimes difficult to distinguish. Both the verb and the noun are found in the letter to the Hebrews. Hebrews 6:18 refers to the strong encouragement found in God’s promise, and 12:5 cites Proverbs 3:11 as an encouraging or comforting word concerning the Lord’s discipline. According to 3:13, the church by mutual encouragement may avoid becoming hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

In 13:19, the author exhorts his listeners to pray, and 13:22 refers to exhortation/comfort as a strong theme of the entire letter. The meaning of encouraging and comforting exhortation likewise fits our key verse, Hebrews 10:25. This is clear from its immediate context, 10:19-39, which is a call to perseverance through hardship. {86}

Fittingly, the verse right before it, Hebrews 10:24, tells believers to provoke or to spur one another on to good works and good deeds in the midst of their troubles. Just as a spur in the side of the horse launches the horse forward, so our words may urge other believers to good works. There may be momentary pain, but the pain motivates. Similarly, truth shared in love effects desired change.


The focus on encouragement in Hebrews compares well with the purposes of the Scriptures as stated in 2 Timothy 3:16: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (KJV). Each purpose provides a different type of encouragement.

Likewise people may be encouraged through all aspects of the church. The sharing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ brings hope for today as well as for tomorrow. The Gospel message frees from past sin and failure, providing forgiveness and optimism for the future.

Teaching in the church encourages toward growth as a person is spurred on to good deeds. When someone who is ticklish is poked in the sides, they lurch forward. Scripture that is properly taught propels one towards future growth and encourages them onward.

Worship may also encourage. People are lifted in their spirits in song; prayer transcends daily needs and puts one in touch with the Great Provider; the reading of Scripture enlightens and equips; even the offering may remind of the One who gave.

Open and honest fellowship brings needed companionship. No longer are you alone in the world. There are others with problems. There are others who are overwhelmed. You can commiserate. But most importantly, there are others standing alongside and upholding you in prayer.

In short, church life changes when encouragement becomes the priority. Worship takes on new meaning. The needs of people start being met. The church becomes practical and current to the issues of today. Workers gain a new sense of meaning and joy in their service for it now has a purpose.

Has the church forgotten about encouragement? Let us make it our mission to encourage people to new heights in Christ through our worship, in our teaching, through our fellowship, and in our outreach. A church that is real and applicable to daily life will find people flocking to it.

Rodney Anderson earned a B.A. from Grace University in Omaha, Nebraska, and a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary. He previously pastored churches in Nebraska and South Dakota and now serves the Rolling Hills Church in Papillion, Nebraska.

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