Building Character Through Encouragement vs. Self-Esteem

A few days ago my church finished 3 weeks of sports camps for children in our region ages 5-15. It is the single largest outreach activity that our church conducts. This year we saw God work in the lives of many people.

In our first week of camp I noticed something very interesting. Our camp that week was baseball. I spent most of the week helping out the 5-7 year old players. In case you do not know much about teaching baseball to kids that young, it requires a lot of instruction, reminding, and patience.

As I was coaching the kids the fundamentals of baseball (how to hold a bat, throw a ball, run the bases, and understand the process of getting someone out) I had a parent approach me. This parent was concerned that if their child was called out at first base that it would discourage them and so began to tell me that it does not matter if they were out, that I should just let them remain on first base, regardless if the fielder had made a good play and got the ball to the first baseman before the runner. After the parent finished, I gently shared how it was important that the kids learn right at the beginning the fundamentals of baseball, including being called out at first base. The parent, whiling disagreeing with me, politely submitted and let me continue coaching. The player, with his head cast down because he was out, walked back to “dugout”.

The next day I was teaching the players the proper way to hold a bat and stand at home-plate so they could know how to hit a ball. As I was teaching them how to place their feet, hold their elbow, and swing the bat, the same parent came up to me and told me that it was not important for a five year old to know how to properly hit a baseball as long as they tried hard and had fun. Then it hit me! I had a big decision to make about how I was going to coach the rest of the week. Would I teach the players the proper way to play baseball or would I just let them play the game without correcting them? In other words, would I seek to encourage them in their baseball skills by gently and patiently reminding them how to place their feet, hold up their elbow, and throw a ball, or would I just ignore all that and let them run and play. For sure it would make my week of baseball camp much easier if I had just let them play the game without coaching them. But there are at least two huge problems with that. One, at the end of the week they would not know how to properly play baseball. Secondly, they would have developed bad habits in their hitting, throwing, and catching that would be harder to correct if they continued to play after camp was over. I chose to teach them the proper fundamentals. This meant that I had to constantly remind them of things that I had taught them earlier in the day or week. This meant that they had to learn how to deal with being called out at first base. This meant that they had to learn to run the bases in the right order or they would be out. This meant that teaching the rules of baseball must outweigh the player’s feelings of being called out at first base. This meant that I had to be patient, gentle, but consistent in enforcing the rules so that each player could learn how to play baseball. That would mean hard work for me. But, the hard work would be done in hope that by Friday all the players would improve and they all would enjoy the real game of baseball.

And here is the where I get to the main thoughts of this post. Often we see people more concerned about feelings than correcting bad behavior, habits, and false thinking. Some schools now will pass a child to the next grade even though they had failing marks. The thought is that by failing them and requiring them to meet the minimum standards for passing would discourage them and cause them to become failures in life. So they pass them in hope that they will get better later, or the next teacher will connect with them and help them. But in doing this, are we not setting them up for failure? If they are failing, it is not a lie to tell them that they are successful? Is it right to give a student a high school diploma if they cannot read or write? Is it wrong to tell someone they are not succeeding?

Now to some reading this might think I sound a bit harsh. Some may be thinking that there are many variables to consider why kids do not do well in school (home abuse, not eating a good breakfast, bad teachers, delinquent parents, too much television, etc.) so placing all the blame on the kids is wrong. I would agree that there are many other variables that affect a kid’s performance in school. But, I would also argue that passing over what needs to be corrected in their life is just as bad or worse than everything else affecting them.

The reason I say this is that I am not just talking about kids in school. That is just an easy illustration. This problem has infiltrated our society as a whole, even in my field, the church. Building self-esteem has become more important than upholding righteousness and holiness according to God’s word. Often we see in the church a greater desire for people to feel accepted by the church than for people to be accepted by God. There is overwhelming pressure to not talk about people’s sinful thinking and attitudes, because that would cause them to feel bad. A common statement I often hear is, “I am like this because of… (fill-in-the-blank), so it is not my fault.” I am often told that I do not understand because I had a good childhood, good parents, etc. I have at least two comebacks for that. First, how do they know what my childhood was like? Second, are we not all judged by the same standard (God’s word) regardless of our childhood? Does God make exceptions for sinful thinking and attitudes because someone has had a difficult life? No, he does not. The standard is the same for all people for all time.

So, what are we to do? Here are a few Scripture verses out of 1 Thessalonians 5 that I think can help us.

1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

We are to encourage one another and build up one another. You might be thinking, “Ron, does that not mean we are to be concerned about the self-esteem of our fellow believers?” Well, let us look at the passage real quickly. V.1-3 speaks of a false peace that is in the world. This false peace leads to destruction. V.4-8 says that Christians are children of light and we are not to live like those who live according to the darkness. This implies that if a believer begins living according to the darkness, the false peace in the world, then they need to be encouraged by a fellow believer to repent and change their way of thinking and living. They are to be built up in the faith they profess, not made to feel like the way they live and think does not matter. V.9-11 shows us that we, as believers, have been saved from the wrath of God, so we are to live as though that is true. We are to encourage each other in that truth, and build up each other to live as children of light. This applies to our behavior, thinking, attitudes, and motivations. In other words, we are to be more concerned about the holiness of one’s life than we are about their self-esteem.

Now, this does not mean that we should be harsh, judgmental, or cold with people. Nor does it mean that we are trying to point out each little fault  that others make. Nor does it mean we are trying to corner people so that we can give them a piece of our mind. During baseball camp, there was no yelling, screaming, or talking down to the players. Simple encouragement by correcting in love, according to the fundamentals of baseball. Building others up with biblical encouragement simply means coming along side a person in order to help them according to the standards of God’s word. It means we help each other mature in our faith. It means we acknowledge  and applaud when others walk in holiness, and thank God for His work in them. The affect of biblical encouragement is that we grow alongside our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ because as we exercise patience and love and as we seek God’s word together to know how He wants us both to live. Biblical encouragement does not mislabel sin as personality defects, nor does it blame our sin on other people or things. It always aligns us up to God’s word so we can better know how to live holy in this world. This kind of biblical living is hard work. It takes time, energy, humbleness, patience, love, and commitment. It does not pass the responsibility to other people, hoping someone else will help them. When we are motivated by self-esteem, it ignores problems and denies wrong doing, which gives false hope and false security. Biblical encouragement addresses problems in love and acknowledges sin with hope of seeing restoration and correction, which leads to joy and freedom.baseball-coach-2

Like a baseball coach wanting properly teach a player how to hit a ball, each believer seeks to coach each other to live holy in their thinking, attitudes, and behavior. One of the false ideas in our world today is that if we correct behavior people will always feel down. That is not true. As I was coaching those baseball players, I saw great joy and enthusiasm when they finally hit the ball with the correct stance. They were so happy of their success that they could not wait to pick up the bat and do it again. They had experienced true success because now they were playing real baseball according to the rules. They were built up in their love for baseball, not because I called their failures success, but because I help use their failures to show them to correct way to hit a ball. Not only was this fun for them, but it was edifying for me as well. May we operate the same way in the church.

 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.

– 1 Thessalonians 5:14

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