challenging and encouraging

How was church on Sunday? Challenging and encouraging? Actually, I was really encouraged and challenged by the sermon tonight / that article / bible study / doing one-to-ones / the conference / the mission week / that passage. Whatever it was, it was Both Challenging And Encouraging.

Actually it seems like everyone is challenging and encouraging us at the moment.

Men’s Katoomba Convention ‘teaching, challenging and encouraging since 1997′

Equip ministries ‘refreshing, encouraging, challenging, inspiring’

The Briefing ‘challenging convictions, encouraging ministry’

Anglican Education Commission ‘exists to support, encourage and challenge Christians involved in learning and teaching’

TEAR Australiaencouraging, challenging, teaching, networking and resourcing to make biblically-shaped responses to poverty and injustice’

The Bible Society ‘is encouraging all Christians to take up the challenge of reading their Bible every day’

Micah Challenge seeks to ‘encourage Christians to walk humbly with God and seek His heart for people in poverty.’

MTS ‘Be encouraged. Be challenged. Be spurred on to live a life worth of the calling you have received.’

An interesting variation is AP Magazine which aims ‘to encourage and strengthen believers in the faith and challenge non-believers to examine the claims of Jesus Christ.’ They seem to think challenging is for non-Christians.

We evangelicals have a very encouraging and challenging subculture (I am noticing a trend, however, towards ‘inspiring and equipping’). It’s a bit of a cliche. So what?

The New Testament doesn’t talk about ‘challenging’ us, it talks about ‘correcting, rebuking and encouraging.’ Is that the same as challenging?

What does it tell us about ourselves that the highest praise we offer is ‘challenging and encouraging,’ that every sermon seeks to be ‘challenging and encouraging’? Are we addicted to a weekly challenge and relieved by the encouragement which follows? Is it our activist heritage coming through? We love a challenge.

Is it a good thing? Is it Biblical? Is it helpful? It could just be that we’re a little unimaginative. What does it reveal about our attitudes, hopes and expectations?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. More to come.

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3 thoughts on “challenging and encouraging

  1. Haha yeah, it is overused a bit. Encouraged I feel is legitimate, as that’s one of the things good teaching should do and it seems a sensible word to use (not that there aren’t others). Challenging is more used then it should be I feel though. I think it comes from this culture of humility being cool, to the point where some people make an ironically unhumble thing out of it – in saying you were challenged by the sermon (or book or whatever) you’re pointing out that you’re not perfect and that the teaching has pointed out to you an area you need to work on. I think it comes from a good place (being open to correction and improvement and seeking to become more Christ like) but that people can take it too far, and come up with things to be challenged by from everything they come across. Like it could be a talk about a straight up narrative section, which is intellectually interesting and useful for context, but doesn’t really contain challenges to change one’s life. “The census in Numbers really challenged me to be more perseverant, like whoever wrote it must have been,” for example.

    • Thanks Andy – good point. I think false humility comes into things a lot. Sometimes I know I like to be ‘challenged’ but not actually confess anything tangible or to close to home. ‘Challenging’ keeps it general and impersonal.

  2. I agree, I feel saying those sorts of things can often be a cop out from actually saying what you found encouraging or challenging about the sermon.

    Having said that, I don’t think using the concept of being challenged is unbiblical.

    Verses come to mind such as “preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction”, “spur each other on towards love and good deeds” and “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”.

    To me being challenged is the same sort of thing as being spurred on, or rebuked, or corrected, but using ordinary English. It can have various meanings.

    People often use it to avoid having to use confronting language like “I felt very rebuked today” or “I was wrong and the sermon corrected me” or “the sermon really spurred me on to stop doing this and do this instead”. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. If having a far less confronting word to use means people find it easier to talk about how they’re feeling and what God’s been saying to them, that’s fantastic!

    But if it doesn’t get to the next stage of explaining why the sermon encouraged or challenged them, that’s where the problem lies.

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