Please, as you seek to make your mark on the world, as you decide what sort of influence you will be on those whose lives you touch, do not overlook the role of Encourager. Encouragement empowers those who feel powerless. Encouragement improves the outlook of those in distress. Encouragement leaves an indelible impression on the heart of the encouraged.
Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you.
~William Arthur Ward
The Death of an Encourager…
The above William Arthur Ward quote was used yesterday morning in reference to a man recently deceased.
My wife and I attended the funeral of Charles Bowen, Sr. Mr. Bowen was a pioneering independent Baptist missionary to Ecuador, arriving there in the 1960s. He ministered in that country for 35 years, planted eight churches, established two Bible Institutes, and left behind a legacy that continues to influence thousands today. He was a funny, humble, genuine man who loved his Lord and was committed to his calling. In 2005, he “retired” from the mission field, but not from ministry. Rather than resting on his laurels or scheduling speaking engagements to share his experiences and life story for a fee (or a “love offering”), he worked with churches around Dallas/Fort Worth to establish Spanish worship services and outreach ministries.
Three men spoke at the funeral. The first was his grandson Hunter Bowen, a Liberty University grad student and follower of his grandfather’s footsteps into ministry. He read the obituary with the kind of insight only an intimate familial relationship could provide. He was eloquent in representing his grandfather as the family anchor, beacon, and buoy. The second to speak was Joey Bacon, the current Missions Director for the World Baptist Fellowship. He remembered Charles with obvious reverence, fondness, and admiration. It was clear that, to him, Mr. Bowen was the quintessential blend of humor and reverence, of faith and faithfulness, a true believer and genuine friend. It was this speaker who used the William Arthur Ward quote. Mr. Bowen had always been an encouragement to him.
The last speaker was Mr. Bowen’s current pastor, Brian Loveless. Brian is a fantastic speaker and a good pastor. He is also much the junior of Charles Bowen. The admiration the young pastor has for the older man was palpable. He recounted times when Mr. Bowen would stop by his office to ask for five minutes of his time to discuss one matter or another. An hour or so later, so many of the pastor’s own stresses and troubles spilled on the desk between them, Mr. Bowen would take his leave…and leave in his wake a much-encouraged younger minister.
“Encourage me and I will not forget you.”
…but not the death of Encouragement
I found the funeral an uncomfortable experience for personal reasons. Since my premature and unplanned departure from the ministry, it has been emotionally difficult for me to be in a room full of preachers. So many of my former colleagues were there. They were men with whom I shared many a prayer meeting, platform, and podium. Inevitably, the questions come.
“What are you doing now?”
“How are you? How is the family? Where are you living?”
Easy questions. Throw-away questions. Only, they never feel easy to me and I tend to hang on to them for hours.
You say, “It was 1997. Twenty-one years ago. Get over it.”
I know, I know.
You are right and I have done so…99.44% of the time. Allow me these little setbacks, these brief moments of reflection. By sharing them with the kind of raw honesty I would rather not I may yet find an audience…a person who who needs to hear…
The right word spoken at the right time
is as beautiful as gold apples in a silver bowl. ~Proverbs 25:11
Yesterday, after the memorial, the usual handshaking and hugging took place. Throughout the service, as I honored this departed servant of the Lord in my heart, in my head I dreaded the aftermath.
Sure enough, when the service was done, I found myself pressed by preachers. Most of them were genuinely glad to see me and I was genuinely surprised at how much they had aged. (Thank God there were no mirrors while I was thinking this.) I learned that a couple of my old friends had near-death experiences themselves with a heart attack here or a stroke there. They were doing much better and still soldiering on. When I inquired of the various pastors’ and missionaries’ ministries, I got the usual, “We are blessed” response. No doubt they are and so am I.
Right in the middle of my preacher facetime, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was the lead deacon of Calvary Baptist Church, the host church for the service and Mr. Bowen’s home church. He squeezed my shoulder and said quietly, without interrupting whatever conversation I was right then involved with, “Hello, Preacher. It is good to see you.”
There was a day when hundreds of people called me by that name. It was their name for me and I loved it. They honored me with it and acknowledged the gift and calling on my life.
Doesn’t happen much anymore. But this man always calls me that and does so most sincerely.
“The right word at the right time…”, says Solomon. Or, as the King James Version has it, “A word fitly spoken.”
That hand on my shoulder and warm greeting was a salve to my soul.
Anyone can be an Encourager
The thing I love about encouragement is that it takes no particular talent. It simply takes the right spirit. If you are genuine and kind in your approach to people…if you look for the good in them…if you embrace them in their brokenness…if you plant yourself firmly by their side…you will be an encouragement. You will be an encourager. You don’t have to know the right words. Often, you don’t need words at all.
I once attended the funeral of a dear friend’s father. I didn’t know many people there and the ones I did know I had not seen in a very long time. I stood next to my friend and didn’t say much after that service. I left feeling I had let my old friend down. I am a man of words and should have said more. I later texted him to apologize.
“I am sorry I didn’t say much today. You are in my prayers.”
“My friend,” he replied, “I didn’t need you to say much. I just needed you to be there.”
Be there! Often, that is all that is needed from an encourager.