Oklahoma Baptists will gather at Oklahoma City, Quail Springs, Nov. 11-12, for our Annual Meeting. This is an important year for our cooperative work. I invite you to come and participate, even if you do not normally do so.

As we move toward our meeting, let’s continue to reflect on the reason why we work together. We encourage one another to advance the Gospel.

In my previous article, we have already considered the vital significance of the word “We.” We, not me, not they, not it.

“We” speaks to our fellowship in Jesus Christ—a deep theological sharing that expresses itself in remarkably practical ways. We share our time, our money and our work.

Today, let’s turn to the word “Encourage.”

In one of my first columns as executive director-treasurer, I explained that “Encourage” is a word that is misunderstood by many. Maybe I should say that the word “encourage” is “under-understood.” We often fail to appreciate the full range of what the Bible means when it says, “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thess. 5:11).

The biblical vocabulary for encourage carries the idea of support. To encourage is to come alongside one another in order to help. We encourage a brother or sister in Christ when we give them sympathy. Encouragement is present, kind and compassionate, like an arm around the shoulder. At times we all need that kind of support.

Jeff Ray used to end his seminary classes on Fridays with the same admonition week after week. As he sent those young preacher boys out into the churches he would say, “Be nice boys. Everybody is having a hard time.”

Life is hard. Often our efforts to serve the Lord meet opposition and obstacles. We are misunderstood and maybe even mistreated. We need to support one another with kindness, presence and sympathy.

Encouragement is support, but it is more. Encouragement has a stronger side.

To encourage is to challenge. That encouraging arm around the shoulder must also be a firm hand in the back. To encourage is to strengthen, to push forward and to exhort. It is easy to grow discouraged in the Lord’s work. The troubles of our hearts are enlarged, and we give in to self-pity.

We will grow weary and lose heart unless a brother or sister comes to our side. “Stand firm, be strong, don’t quit. You are not the only one being misunderstood and mistreated. Your brethren all around the world are running the race. Let’s finish our course together!”

Encouragement gives both support and challenge.

Oklahoma Baptist pastors and churches need encouragement. We are all too often weak, distracted and divided. This lack of church health keeps us from fulfilling our mission to get the Gospel to our neighbors and the nations. The strong must come alongside the weak and spur one another on to love and good deeds. We can and we must strengthen one another for the sake of the Gospel.

The mission of Oklahoma Baptists is to Encourage one another to advance the Gospel.