The Power of Encouragement

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

In this series of 4 devotions, Liz shares lessons from her journey as a visionary leader called to create a Spirit-led movement that encourages, equips, and empowers women of all backgrounds to live into their God-given gifts and callings, and to help faith communities create healthy ministry environments where sisters and brothers can serve together, freely and fully.

The Power of Encouragement

written by Rev. Liz Testa

Women’s Transformation and Leadership and

Equity-Based Hospitality

Reformed Church in America

Encourage one another and build up each other, as you are already doing. 1 Thess. 5:11

 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Luke 1: 39-45 NRSV

I left my career in show business partly because I got really tired of being in competition with other women. I never dreamed that God’s plan for me would be to lead a ministry to encourage, empower, and equip them…

This leadership lesson is beautifully appropriate in the midst of Advent. Christian leaders are disciples who make disciples; “both/and” leaders who attend to their own spiritual and vocational development and help raise up others to do the same. These relationships must be built on mutuality and reciprocity, creating generous space for authenticity and vulnerability as we ask God’s Spirit to order our steps. Take Mary and Elizabeth for example; when the angel told Mary that her relative was also pregnant, she knew she needed to see her and traveled many miles to do so – a courageous act for an unmarried pregnant teenager. She was richly rewarded, as we know. Elizabeth’s joy-filled welcome confirmed that they were both in sync with the Holy Spirit’s movement in their lives. And it was after this confirmation that Mary proclaimed her song, the Magnificat, with humble, holy boldness. Blessed is she who believed.

This Holy Spirit-filled power of mutual encouragement has ripple effects for us as leaders and for the Kingdom. A few examples come to mind from my leadership journey.

I first met Karla Camacho, a next gen leader from Iglesia Nueva Esperanza, Mesa, AZ at a Hispanic Ministries meeting. I had been praying about how God would use my Spanish language and cultural background in this role. Karla told me I would be a relational bridge. As our relationship deepened, Karla shared her struggle to embrace her leadership gifts fully and together we worked on a breakthrough. It became clear that she was also called to be a bridge, to join our guiding coalition and help create Spanish-language, culturally-appropriate resources for Latinas who are newer to the Reformed tradition and the concept of having gifts of leadership. She has also been attending seminary and pastoring alongside her spouse, Israel. Indeed, blessed is she who believed.

Then there is Alisha Riepma, who joined our staff when I did, as a recent college grad. We were assigned as roommates on a Holy Land trip. God knew we needed each other. As we traveled, we shared our joys and fears, built trust and learned from each other. We walked in the footsteps of the women who encountered Jesus, exploring how he empowered and lifted them up. The seeds of our callings took firm root.  Alisha helped me define my calling to coach rising leaders as I joyfully encouraged her to embrace her pastoral gifts and calling.  After moving beyond the “girls can’t be pastors” idea, Alisha went to seminary, spent 2 years as an Albany Fellow and will be installed as Pastor of St. John’s Reformed Church, Red Hook, NY next week.  Oh yes, blessed is she who believed!

These early Mary-Elizabeth stories have shaped my leadership and our ministry culture. Last Thursday, sisters in our She is Called virtual study group shared how they feel led to use their spiritual gifts in life-giving, Kingdom-impacting ways, even as they acknowledge the realities of doubt and distraction. The power of ongoing encouragement will be key to fulfilling God’s call in their lives. This is holy, humbling, and God-glorifying leadership work.

In this Advent season, take a moment to reflect on your own leadership and the people around you. Who are the Marys (and Marios) in your midst, of whatever age or background? How is the Spirit beckoning you to come alongside them for mutual support and encouragement as a new year approaches?