Christian Leader, Are you Forgetting Something?

Last week, Crossway author Sam Crabtree shared the plenary stage with Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention. Both speakers addressed the importance of Christian leaders affirming others.

In his book Practicing Affirmation, Crabtree explains in further detail why we should affirm people and how to restore affirmation to relationships that have been lacking it:

Corrections need to be overwhelmed by affirmations.

Offering correction, whether at work or in our personal life, is necessary and often helpful. Crabtree suggests that those corrections must be overwhelmed by affirmations in order to truly be effective. "If we have too much correction, and not enough affirmation, people will stop hearing our corrections; they'll just tune out," he explains. A habit of over-correcting and under-affirming also wounds relationships with spouses, children, co-workers, students, etc.

Why should we affirm people?

John Piper writes, “When our mouths are empty of praise for others, it is probably because our hearts are full of love for self.” However, there is a difference between godly affirmation and the kind of affirmation that puffs up. In order to affirm people, we must first learn to affirm God. For what should God be praised? (Ps. 150:2). Crabtree argues that “God is not given the praise he deserves when we ignore or deny the work he is doing in people.”

So why should we affirm others?

  • When we commend God’s image in people, God is glorified, and that’s why we were made—to glorify God.
  • By commending Christlike qualities, and celebrating them when we spot them, affirmation showcases the character of God, giving him honor for the kind of God he is.
  • It earns us the right standing from which to make suggestions. It gains us a hearing.
  • It lifts morale—in the home, the office, church, locker room.
  • It energizes people. It motivates them to action.
  • It makes us easier to live with.
  • It helps us practice looking at others positively.
  • It constructively uses time that could have been wasted on complaining.

How do you restore a pattern of affirmation to a relationship?

At first the other person may not believe you or receive affirmation well from you. That’s because of a deficit. Your checking account [so to speak] is in the hole. Here are some practical suggestions to reverse the trend of an overly corrective relationship:

  1. If he/she has stopped listening to you, quit preaching.
  2. Stop moralizing about listening: “You should be listening to me!” Instead, ask the Holy Spirit to do his job.
  3. Affirm. Stay up nights if you have to, thinking of ways to say what is so commendable in him/her.
  4. Keep up a steady, tender flow of words and gestures that confirm and commend them.
  5. Model. We don’t affirm any particular quality we don’t personally embrace and exemplify in some appreciable measure. If we try to commend punctuality while always running late ourselves, our hypocritical compliments become off-putting.
  6. Love the unchanged person as is. Be a blessing to that person before he/she listens to you.

Things are moving in the right direction when affirmation, not correction, is the pattern. Relationships are healthy when so much affirmation is being spread around that no one is keeping track of either affirmation or correction, because the relationship doesn’t feel predominately demanding, but refreshing. This is not a matter of a raw mathematical ratio, but a perception from the other person’s point of view. This requires us to see things through others’ eyes. Do they see us as affirming?

Content modified from Practicing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree. Sam is a former public school teacher and has served as executive pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis since 1997. He is also lead pastor for life training, serving as the “vision keeper” of the church.

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