No one has ever uttered the sentence, “That guy encourages me too much.” I have never heard of a person quitting their job, leaving a church, of shoving off a friendship because their leader showered them with too many encouraging words. Encouragement can be the fuel that fires people toward heights they never thought possible.
Christian leaders know and invest their lives in those they lead. To a faithful Christian leader, those in their ministry do not exist for their benefit. The true shepherd so desires the vitality of those they lead that the impression they make on the shepherd’s hearts lasts long after the leadership relationship is completed.
One example of such a shepherd is my friend, Brad Bigney. I learned from both his words and his life what a true shepherd leader is.
When I was a young pastor without much knowledge or experience (pretty lacking on common sense as well), I sought counsel from more seasoned pastors. I had seen the impact of Brad’s ministry in the community and thought I would benefit from a relationship with him. After just a phone call, he agreed to pour into my life and spent the next year, for about two hours once a month, answering my questions and pointing me to resources. He constantly told me to find ways to encourage, to pray, and to find joy in those I led. He talked about how leadership is about those you lead, not your vision or plans. Vision and plans are a part of leadership, but they exist for the people, not the people for them.
As formational as that time was, it was how Brad related to me after I moved away from the area that had the greatest impact. For years, I would receive a hand written letter from Brad a couple of times a year that listed how he prayed for me, words of encouragement, and several Bible verses to spur me on in ministry. Anytime I shot an email or text to him, a response would inevitably come back within the hour. He was always ready to set aside an hour to talk on the phone, answer questions, and just be there to provide guidance. He constantly told me he was praying for me and always ended every interaction with an encouragement to keep going, keep fighting, keep pointing people to Jesus.