The Gift of Encouragement in Discipleship
It’s not a sign of weakness for men to long for praise. As Pat Morley says, “Encouragement is food for the heart, and every heart is a hungry heart.” If you’re discipling another man, here are three specific ways you can encourage him spiritually.
By Ryan Reeves
Senior Content Editor
We are wired to give and receive praise. All throughout the Bible, God Himself dotes on his children as a loving Father.
And in this example of a father’s love from the book of Proverbs, we see the impact of his encouragement and guidance on his son:
I will guide you in the way of wisdom and I will lead you in upright paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered, and when you run, you will not stumble. (Proverbs 4:11-12, NET)
Few things have the power to impact us as much as the gifts of praise and encouragement. But despite this truth, as men, we can tend to be long on critique and lean on encouragement.
If you are discipling another man—especially if it’s a young man—we want encouragement to make up the bulk of your interactions.
Consider the biblical discipleship example of Paul and Timothy, which we’ve written a lot about in recent months. Paul describes his role in Timothy’s life as being a man who will “remind you to help God’s gift grow, just as a small spark grows into a fire” (see 2 Timothy 1:6, NIRV).
In fact, throughout his ministry, Paul is quick with his praise and support of those in his care. Of course, he rebukes as well, but only in the worst of circumstances—when someone is living in open sin, refusing to listen to God’s word, and then presenting those as good things in the church. Overall, Paul is slow to anger and slow to criticize. And to his disciples, he is gentle, longsuffering, and kind. He encourages and uplifts them with his words.
Assume in all circumstances that the man you’re walking with and guiding on his discipleship journey is hungry for encouragement and praise. Then be lavish with it—even if it feels awkward. Encourage early in the journey and often.
Encouraging a Man in Spiritual Matters
The source of a man’s core identity is Christ. We want to be well-rounded men, rooted in Christ and growing in life. So while encouraging someone in practical matters is helpful, nothing is more important than encouraging him in spiritual matters.
Early on, you’ll want to consider where he is on his own spiritual journey. Your role is not to be another man’s pastor or savior or judge, but rather to guide him in the truth with the heart of a father and brother.
At the end of the day, it is his responsibility to strive for spiritual growth. Any amount of pressure, obligation, or rules from you will not grow his spiritual faith. The reason is simple: Christianity is not about behavior modification; it’s about heart transformation.Christianity is not about behavior modification; it’s about heart transformation.Click To Tweet
If you have started meeting with a man who doesn’t know Christ, ask a lot of open-ended questions and look for opportunities to share your own beliefs and practices.
Be ready to answer any questions from him—but if you don’t know the answer, don’t fake it. Instead, tell him, “That’s a great question and I’m not really sure what the right answer is. Let me do a little research and come back to you on that.” And then, do the research! Ask your pastor or your triad how they would answer that question, and then be sure to follow up in your next meeting or phone call.
But if it’s clear that the man you’re meeting with is a professing Christian, then once you’ve built some rapport be direct in encouraging him to practice these three (at minimum) spiritual disciplines:
Plenty of Christian men struggle to find time to pray or don’t feel like they even know how to pray. If even the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, we can assume men today have questions or hesitations, too.If even the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, we can assume men today have questions or hesitations, too.Click To Tweet
If he expresses that he struggles with prayer, identify with him in that struggle. Even just letting him know that it’s okay if he struggles is a first step toward a richer prayer life.
You might suggest that he starts small, praying over meals and before bed. Later, make suggestions that you have found helpful—maybe a book of prayers you like, or a method for journaling your prayers. And above all, pray with him.
You might also try this: when you meet up, open up a new text message and then share prayer requests with each other verbally. As each request is shared, type it into the text message. Hit Send before you leave. Now you each have a list of your prayer requests for the other and you can follow up before you hang out again. (Note: if one of his requests is highly personal and confidential, you may want to write it in a journal instead, as it’s easier for someone else to see a text.)
Christians rest on the Word. But as with prayer, when it comes to Bible reading, we often find it difficult to know where to begin—or how to jump back in after a long break. If the man you’re discipling hasn’t read the Bible ever or in a while, remove that hurdle by encouraging him to start in a specific book.
You can make suggestions for best practices in reading the Bible diligently, but you should encourage this habit, not insist upon it. Guilt doesn’t change people; love and grace do.
Instead, think about how you might participate with him in a Bible reading plan and talk about it when you meet. Or you may want to start with a short workbook or book that helps men apply the Bible to their lives. But you don’t need to turn every meeting into a Bible study at the expense of getting to know each other and talking about real, day-to-day-life things. There are plenty of opportunities for that in the local church, such as in small groups or Sunday School classes.The best way to encourage someone else to spend time in Scripture consistently is to be in it yourself.Click To Tweet
The best way to encourage someone else to spend time in Scripture consistently is to be in it yourself. As you’re faithful in that area of your own life, you will frequently find you are able to recall a pertinent passage when you are discussing a problem or issue together. You may even want to bring your Bible to meetings, and don’t be bashful about referencing a passage as the occasion warrants.
Demonstrate how powerful God’s word is in your life—that it is truly “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
Men of all ages are typically less active and less diligent in their church attendance than other groups. In many churches, it’s not uncommon to see a man’s wife and kids there every week, only for him to show up periodically and reluctantly.
The man you’re discipling may not be of this mindset, but if he is, help him see the value of church engagement by modeling it for him. Encourage him to check out an upcoming opportunity to meet people and get more involved, like a couples’ small group or a men’s barbeque. If he doesn’t currently have a church home, invite him to come and sit with you at your weekend service, or offer to visit a church of his choice with him.Active participation in the local church and a desire to serve and give back is a sign of spiritual maturity.Click To Tweet
Active participation in the local church and a desire to serve and give back is a sign of spiritual maturity. Along these lines, tithing habits can also be raised at the appropriate time in conversations. Giving joyfully is something we should encourage and model.
(A note of caution: a small percentage of men need guidance in balancing church involvement with other priorities. If the man you’re discipling has crammed his schedule with so many ministry-related commitments that he doesn’t have time or energy for things like personal devotions or eating dinner with his children, encourage him to take inventory of his priorities. He may need your advice on how best to dial back his commitments. Remind him that if we spread ourselves too thin doing good things that other people could do, then we won’t have space for the best things that only we can do.)
No matter where a man is starting from spiritually, your sincere, steady encouragement will demonstrate the heart of his loving Father in a way that will help him get to where he’s trying to go. “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
THE BIG IDEA: Your role is not to be another man’s pastor or savior or judge, but rather to guide him in the truth with the heart of a father and brother.
This article was adapted from A Guidebook for Spiritual Fathers, Beta Version, 2022.