catch them being good
Most parents who are trying to navigate the difficult waters of raising kids have heard this advice from a psychologist on Oprah at one time or another. But the advice is not just pertinent to raising children. We recently talked with a pastor from a church who was very excited about some responses she was getting from an elder's group that she hadn't expected. Our response to her? Make sure you reward the behavior. It isn't being manipulative, it's biblical.
So often we get caught up in the thinking that most of church life is moved forward by picking and instituting the right programs--success is based on whether the program worked or not. But most of church life isn't about programming. It is about creating a culture that promotes the development of disciples of Jesus. Think "greenhouse." In fact, the choice and success of programs are often the direct result of the kind of environment that produces them. And that environment needs to be encouraged.
People (and churches) seldom make huge changes or shifts in direction. They adjust slowly through small changes. They transition. They experiment with a shift. When we see people exhibit compassion, Christ-like behavior, sacrificial giving, servant-hood, or selfless service, we need to acknowledge their behavior. People need to get immediate feedback that their efforts were worth it. That they are headed in the right direction. This will encourage them to lean that way the next time. Too often we focus on what needs to be worked on, what seems to be broken. But that does not create a greenhouse environment. Scripture tells us to encourage one another and build one another up. That is not just a general instruction, it is just good sense if you are trying to create a culture that fosters faith.
Don't assume this is just the pastor's role. Leadership needs to be brought in on the culture change so they can build up the Body whenever they can. They can look for the good and not the shortfalls of the people they are leading.
Of course, when they remember to do that...tell them, "Good job."