The Purpose Behind the “Exhortation”

exhort | iɡˈzôrt, eɡˈzôrt |
verb (with object and infinitive): strongly encourage or urge (someone) to do something: (with direct speech) : “Come on, you guys,” exhorted Linda the media have been exhorting people to turn out for the demonstration.
Recently we began experimenting with an “exhortation” in our worship services. The elders have decided to stick with it, in a more brief form, after the elder prayer. I’m writing to give you the background behind this.

I map out the preaching calendar plenty far in advance. This is because I believe the Spirit can work just as much at the planning desk as in the preaching pulpit. So in the Spirit, we try to plan well. Now, sometimes I am able to connect that Sunday’s passage – sometimes chosen far in advance – with what is happening in the present-tense life of the congregation. But sometimes it’s not possible without shoe-horning that exhortation into the sermon unnaturally. And that does violence to the point of preaching – that is, to accurately bring out the original author’s intent, by the Spirit, with a precise application to today.

But I’m not the only one who is charged with shepherding God’s flock with the shepherd’s staff of God’s Word. Our Great Shepherd charges the other elders with that task, too (1 Peter 5:1-4). Thus the “exhortation” gives us a chance to do just that, each week, in “real-time” with what’s happening in the congregation. 

A couple examples will help illustrate. Say that a handful of folks have had friends from high school pass away recently. The elder, remembering this, might exhort everyone to remember Psalm 56:
Psalm 56:6 You have kept count of my tossings; 
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
So he might go on to exhort us, when we grieve, to grieve to the Lord, in the shadow of the resurrection, knowing that
Psalm 56:9 This I know, that God is for me.
10 In God, whose word I praise,
in the LORD, whose word I praise,
11 in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?
Or, if everyone in church is getting chippy with each other (we’re a hospital for sinners, after all), the elder might notice this and simply exhort us,
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
The bottom line: we are commanded by Christ to
Hebrews 3:13 . . . exhort one another every day, as long as it is called
“today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Thus the “exhortation” in church is meant not only to edify us but also to be a springboard to further exhortations, one to another, throughout the week. “It’s like the elder said this week . . .” Yet the point of those exhortations is not to police one another, but to encourage one another to persevere, with joyful confidence in Christ:
Hebrews 3:14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
One more thing. As you spend your own time in the Word, there may be times when you sense that a bit from the Word is not just for you, but for others in our church, too. Don’t let that “sense” go fallow – humbly let an elder know about it. It may just be that the Spirit is working in that moment, in the quietness of your morning devotions, to communicate something to the rest of us, through your prayerful reflections. We are all dependent on another that way, by God’s design. 

Cordially in Christ,