Question: Our church has an unwritten rule that we don’t recognize volunteers because it is flattery. That doesn’t “feel” right, but how do I distinguish between flattery and recognition?

Answer: On the surface it may be difficult to differentiate between flattery and appropriate encouragement since the difference between the two is an attitude of the heart.

Flattery is trying to get something, and affirmation is giving a gift.

Flattery is an attempt to use words of praise to get something out of people. We might praise another to gain position or favor. A leader might flatter to keep volunteers motivated or working harder. The word often used for flattery in the Old Testament means to use “smooth” speech and is used several times in the context of the prostitute that uses praise to get something, namely money. When flattering, we might lie or stretch the truth.

On the other hand, affirmation is an expression of love from the heart that portrays a truth about a person. We give the gift of affirmation in order to build another’s faith or to encourage them. We intend to gain nothing for ourselves. Jesus told parables in which masters praising servants represents God praising or affirming His children (cf.Luke 16:8, Matthew 25:21, 23). Paul affirms Epaphroditus and Timothy to the church at Philippi (Philippians 2). Hebrews 10:24 says that we ought to consider how to stimulate others to good works. Certainly affirmation is a way to do just that. Proverbs 27:2 says, Let another praise you and not your own lips. That seems to imply that receiving praise from another is appropriate. Affirmation is sincere, always expressing a truth even if that truth may not be apparent to the hearer.

The more that I appreciate what God as done for me, the more likely I am to be generous with my words in recognition of others. I often, however, withhold affirmation because of jealousy. I rarely offer praise to someone that has made me angry. However, I find that the more I sense the ultimate security I have in God that I can recognize freely. Insecure, self-promoting leaders make poor leaders of volunteers.

Appropriate affirmation is an act of love that comes from a reservoir within our heart. If your heart is full of God’s love, you will be compelled to encourage others with a sincere heart. As for the church”s unwritten policy, I would try to bring this to the surface and discover if it is in fact the belief of your leaders. If so I would gently try and help leaders see the difference between flattery and affirmation. You might try and uncover underlying reasons for their rationale. It may be simply that they had a bad experience in their past with an insincere leader or an egotistical volunteer.

by Al Newell

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