What are the common characteristics of exhorters?
Following are some traits commonly observed in those who have the motivational spiritual gift of exhortation. These traits can be used to benefit others, or they can be misused and thereby cause discord in the Body of Christ.
When a believer walks according to the Spirit (see Galatians 5:25), his unique perspective (in this case, exhorting) is demonstrated through traits that reflect the character of Christ. However, when a believer walks in “the flesh,” making choices that are determined by his sinful nature, his unique perspective is demonstrated through undesirable, ungodly traits. (See Galatians 5:16–17.)
Read these examples thoughtfully and prayerfully, and ask God to help you discern if your motivational gift is exhorting. If it is, be encouraged as you learn about the special virtue and wisdom that God has given you with this gift. Be warned of the temptation to misapply these Godly traits when you fail to walk in the grace God gives you to use them righteously. (See Hebrews 12:15.)
Committed to Spiritual Growth
The motivation of an exhorter is to see spiritual growth take place in practical living, and he is willing to become personally involved to see it achieved.
The Apostle Paul demonstrated the gift of exhorting. His words in Galatians 4:19 reflect his desire to see spiritual growth among believers, as well as his willingness to be personally involved in their lives: “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.” In his letter to the church in Colosse, Paul declared that he worked night and day, “warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect [mature] in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:28).
Misuse of this trait: Keeps others waiting for him while he is busy ministering
Due to an exhorter’s willingness to give people whatever time is necessary to help them grow spiritually, his ministry often cuts into family time and personal responsibilities. He often assumes that his family will understand—until major resentments surface. Paul understood the sacrifices that he was making in his ministry. If an exhorter is married, his priority must be his marriage. (See I Corinthians 7:32–40.)
Identifies Root Problems
An exhorter can often discern the spiritual maturity of another person. Based on this, the exhorter will identify obstacles in the lives of those who are not growing spiritually and give encouragement to those who are growing. Paul saw the Corinthians as spiritual infants and therefore could not speak to them “as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ” (I Corinthians 3:1).
Misuse of this trait: Looks to himself for solutions
As an exhorter gains experience and success in counseling, he tends to categorize problems and arrive at conclusions before getting all the facts. If he fails to listen completely and sense direction from the Holy Spirit, an exhorter can be guilty of giving wrong direction. (See Proverbs 18:13.)
Sees Steps of Action
An exhorter has the ability to visualize spiritual achievement for another Christian and then help him work out practical steps of action to achieve it. These steps are designed to remove hindrances and develop personal disciplines through which the Holy Spirit can work. Paul told Timothy to flee youthful lusts, to avoid foolish questions, and to follow righteousness with a pure heart. (See II Timothy 2:22–23.)
Misuse of this trait: Being proud of visible results
When an exhorter shares steps of action, he assumes that they will be carried out. He bases this expectation on the fact that he has come alongside and is working with the person to achieve agreed-upon goals. As spiritual growth takes place, it is easy for an exhorter to take personal credit for it. He may also be tempted to settle for outward conformity rather than true inward change.
Raises Hope for Solutions
An exhorter uses examples from the lives of others to help Christians see the potential of daily victory. Paul used the testimony of one church to motivate another church. (See II Corinthians 9:2.) He used his own life to illustrate God’s grace, since he was the chief of all sinners.
Misuse of this trait: Starts projects prematurely
Exhorters tend to use projects to motivate others, and then when others are involved, the exhorter finds something else to work on. They jump into new projects without finishing existing ones. After being assigned several projects, those who are working on them may become frustrated. The exhorter can be insensitive and inefficient, even though he sees all the projects as a means to accomplish a bigger goal.
Turns Problems Into Benefits
Mature exhorters have learned by experience that God gives special grace during trials. They are champions of faith who direct believers to God’s redemptive power and purposes in all circumstances. They take great pleasure in helping others recognize the benefits of all suffering and sorrow, as God lovingly redeems each painful or bewildering circumstance. Paul gloried in tribulation. His credentials were the persecutions that he experienced and the counseling God gave him during his afflictions. (See II Corinthians 1:1–17.)
Misuse of this trait: Treats people as projects
The exhorter is constantly on the lookout for steps of action that will bring lasting results. Therefore, as he works with his family or friends, they may get the impression that they are simply another counseling project rather than real people who need personal attention.
Desires to Be Transparent
An exhorter knows that true spiritual growth will not take place where there is a stronghold of guilt. Paul told Timothy to maintain a “good conscience.” (See I Timothy 1:19.) An exhorter is willing to be vulnerable to others, sharing with them his own shortcomings and weaknesses in order to gain a wider hearing for the Gospel. (See James 4:6 and I Peter 5:5.)
Misuse of this trait: Shares private illustrations
Sometimes the exhorter tells other people knowledge he gains during his counseling experiences—information that was meant for his ears only. Exhorters depend heavily on illustrations to communicate their messages. However, when these illustrations are shared without permission, listeners become uneasy, and those who were counseled become resentful.
Gains Insight Through Experience
As the exhorter studies Scripture and life experience, he is alert to cause-and-effect sequences. Through these patterns he discovers underlying principles of life.
Misuse of this trait: Presents truth out of balance
Exhorters tend to avoid heavy doctrinal teaching that does not have immediate practical application. This emphasis can result in an imbalance of teaching content, which will eventually show up as doctrinal error. Thus, the exhorter needs the balancing ministry of the teacher, who is sensitive to doctrinal integrity.
Explains the Truth in Logical Steps
An exhorter tends to explain truth using logical reasoning in order to motivate people to act upon it. He sees clear steps of action that can be taken, and he urges people to act on them quickly. Because of his logic, Paul’s writings in I Corinthians 15 have been studied in law schools. He reasoned with the Jews, the Greeks, King Agrippa, and others. (See Acts 18:4, 26:28.)
Misuse of this trait: Sets unrealistic goals
An exhorter often visualizes long-range projects and goals for people. However, he often doesn’t present the goals with a realistic timetable. When others assume that the goals will be accomplished much sooner than they can be achieved, the situation raises expectations and breeds disillusionment.
Desires to Share Face to Face
An exhorter needs to see the facial expressions of his listeners in order to determine their responses and to confirm positive results. Paul’s longing to see his fellow believers was constantly reaffirmed. (See I Thessalonians 2:17, 3:10; II Timothy 1:4.) He used personal conferences extensively. (See I Thessalonians 2:11–12.)
Misuse of this trait: Gives up on uncooperative people
Exhorters tend to lose hope for people who do not quickly and consistently take steps of action toward spiritual growth. By surrounding themselves with only those who respond quickly, they forfeit valuable personal character training and insights that God will then teach them in other ways.
Are You an Exhorter?
Do you recognize any of these positive characteristics or their misapplications as ones that you have demonstrated? Do the motivations of an exhorter guide your decisions and actions? If so, rejoice, because God has given you a unique responsibility in the Body of Christ!
If these characteristics, and their misuses, do not reflect your motivations, we encourage you to read and study similar information about each of the other six spiritual motivational gifts (prophecy, serving, teaching, giving, organizing, and mercy). Ask the Lord to reveal your spiritual gift to you. God will show you how He has gifted you. Be diligent!
As each of us identifies his or her motivational gift, he or she will be better equipped to achieve maximum fruitfulness with minimum weariness. As we exercise our gifts, we experience personal fulfillment and a deep sense of joy.
Russell Kelfer, in his book titled Discovering Your Spiritual Gift, gives us an excellent word picture related to the motivational spiritual gifts assigned by God: “This isn’t a gift for you to put on the mantle like a trophy to admire. It is like a certain kind of glove that you put on that allows your hands to do the work of the ministry they were called to do. It is like a certain kind of spiritual shoes you wear to take you where you need to go” (Kelfer, page 10). Let’s put on those custom-designed gloves and shoes and get to work!