We toss the word “thanks” around way too often these days. I wonder how often it actually lands with leaders. It’s common in ministry to be running so fast, spinning so many plates, and putting out so many fires that our “thanks” actually tank. To be perfectly honest, our fly-by “thanks” isn’t enough to breathe life into anyone. Parents, teachers, pastors, children’s and student ministry leaders are actually experts at brushing off expressions of gratitude—“I don’t need to be thanked” is their common rebuttal. Yet, kid-influencers rarely let you know when fatigue or discouragement sets in. More than a pep talk, a pat on the back, or another piece of lukewarm pizza, leaders in your ministry need consistent, genuine, heartfelt encouragement. You can still use the word “thanks,” but round it out with a more robust message if you want to breathe life into leaders.
It’s Not What You Say…or Is It?
Words have the power to build up or destroy (see James 3:9-10). Whether on the playground, in a classroom, at work or at home, we’ve all felt this reality in relationships. There’s a familiar phrase that attempts to address this issue. You’ve heard or said it: “It’s not what you say but how you say it.” This statement is true, but not entirely. The fact is, what you say really does matter. We just need to avoid allowing our approach or attitude to counteract the heart behind what we’re attempting to communicate.
You don’t need a lot of words to breathe life into leaders, but they need to be on target to make a positive impact. Faithfully serving kids is accompanied by a lot of highs and lows. And leaders get tired like anyone else. Kid-influencers take in a lot of words along the way, but what’s hitting home most may be knocking the wind out of them. You can alleviate this by speaking choice words from your heart that assure leaders are known, valued, and making a difference.
Breathe Life: Press Beyond “Thanks” and a High-Five
Kid-influencers rarely receive the appreciation they deserve for their faithful investment. And, it’s tempting to stick with a simple “thanks” and a high-five when leaders put on their “I don’t need to be thanked” mask. Don’t let this deter you from gifting them with meaningful encouragement.
Experts say it still takes at least five positive statements to counteract one negative. Words can strengthen or sting, especially when criticism so often outweighs affirmation. For every thumbs-up a leader receives, there’s often a barrage of disagreements, complaints, difficult news, and harsh reactions coming at them. You can breathe life into leaders by showering them with a sincere wave of grateful words (whether they want it or not!).
To go the extra mile with leaders, accompany your “thanks” with questions and additional dialogue. Find out what’s going on in their life at home, work, church, and so on. Candidly discuss what they love and loathe about serving in ministry. Whatever you do, listen to what’s weighing on their heart, even if they serve it up to you with an upbeat “we can solve this problem” spin.
Unsure What to Say? Start with These 17 Words
Once you’ve taken in, it’s time to pour out. Be mindful of what you say next and how. Round out your “thanks” with encouraging words that will breathe life into leaders. If you’re not sure how to begin, here are 17 words that can work wonders in your ministry:
Put yourself in your leaders’ shoes. Imagine hearing theses three statements—Thank you for serving. Our God is using you greatly. Soar as high as He strengthens you.—in a heartfelt way from someone who cares for you. These 17 words, when expressed intentionally and personally, can bolster anyone’s spirit. Add to it a passage like the one from Isaiah below and it will revive the heart a leader that’s in danger of losing his or her way.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:28-31
Leaders regularly use these verses to strengthen those they lead. Turn the tables on the kid-influencers around you. Breathe life into leaders with the 17 words above and remind them to lean into the uplifting message of Isaiah 40.
Speak from the Heart
There’s no formula for breathing life into leaders. The 17 words and the verses in Isaiah are a good start, but whatever you say needs to flow from your heart. If your ministry follows the school year, you’re about halfway through. Now is the perfect time to speak words of encouragement into your leader’s lives. Of course, nothing’s stopping you from doing this anytime all year long!
Idea to Try:
Save the picture of the 17 words above, print it out, and give it to your leaders with a personalized note on the back. It will mean much more than saying exactly the same thing to each kid-influencer you know. Try it out this week and see if the 17 words catch on. Who knows? Maybe affirmation—in action and attitude—will catch on in your ministry. I’m sure your leaders will appreciate it, even if they say they don’t need you to breathe life into them.