Recently, a colleague introduced me to a book by A.J. Jacobs. The title of the book is Thanks a Thousand: A Gratitude Journey. The idea of the book is deceptively simple: New York Times bestselling author A.J. Jacobs decided to thank every single person involved in producing his morning cup of coffee. The resulting journey took him across the globe, transformed his life, and revealed secrets about how gratitude can make us all happier, more generous, and more connected.
I find we often use the words “thankful” and “grateful” interchangeably, but are they really the same? Do they express the same understanding? You may say I am simply playing with the semantics. And that may be, but I encourage you to give these two words some thought and consideration.
Grateful: Finding Hope in Every Day
“For surely, I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord,
plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
Diana Butler Bass’s most recent book is entitled, “Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks.” We know that gratitude is good, but many of us find it hard to sustain a meaningful life of gratefulness. Most of us report feeling gratitude on a regular basis, but those private feelings seem disconnected from larger concerns of our public lives.
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” Isaiah 40:31a
This fall presents a lot of challenges as to how we do ministry during a pandemic. It also causes us to wonder how our fall Stewardship efforts will be received. The reason is that while we say we are in this together, we are not all experiencing the pandemic the same. Some churches are struggling more than ever financially, while others find that giving has increased and finances are fine.
Mark and Lisa Scandrette have written a book entitled, “Free: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most.” They provide a profound approach to thinking about the abundant lives that we live and how we manage the gifts and resources that God has provided for us. Thanksgiving is next week and expressing our gratitude and thanks seems to flow freely, but what does gratitude and thanks look like for every other day of the year?
Thanking should be a part of the culture of every congregation. People who give to support the ministry of their congregation should be thanked regularly. People who are active in the life of the congregation, and the life of the community, should expect to be regularly recognized and thanked for the work they do.
Paul regularly uses his letters as opportunities to thank God for his fellow believers. Romans, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon all contact strong statements of thanks to God for Paul’s fellow believers and their faith. Paul says, “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Philippians 1:3-5)
There are two important things to notice in Paul’s thanksgiving. First, he seems eager to give thanks. This provides a great model for us. We should be equally eager to give thanks for those with whom we share faith in Jesus Christ. Second, Paul tells people he thanks God for them. Sometimes we need to say thanks directly to people. Sometimes, we may say thanks to God in our prayers for the work of specific people but when we tell that person we have given thanks to God for them, we have taken our thanksgiving to a whole new level.
Charles “Chick” Lane, in his book, “Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry in Your Congregation,” suggests there are few things that will build up a congregation more than having a culture of thanksgiving. By this he means a culture in which people feel comfortable and natural expressing their thanks to one another. When people are regularly thanked, they will not only feel appreciated, they will feel valuable, wanted, and needed. They will also be quick to volunteer to help with other projects.
Here are some specific ways you can create a culture of thanksgiving in your congregation:
- Expand the circle of thanks-givers – don’t expect the pastor or the leaders to be the only ones saying thanks. Find the people in your congregation who have the gift of thanksgiving. Give them a pile of thank-you notes and stamps and help them to know who could use a thank you note.
- Thank everyone at the same time – sometimes a thank you can be extended in worship or at other congregational gatherings. This is especially good when lots of people have been involved in accomplishing a project, and you don’t want anyone to be left out in receiving thanks.
- Thank personally – a thank you note from a pastor, a thank you note from a leader of the congregation, a face-to-face thank you…you can’t thank too often. Receiving a thank you note when you least expect it can have a tremendous effect on someone.
- Thank immediately – the sooner a thank-you is received, the more sincere it will be perceived. Set aside time for thank-you note writing.
- Pass on a thank you – share with the congregation any thank-you that is received from ministries you support. Post them on the bulletin board or include them in your newsletter or an insert in the bulletin. Make sure everyone knows how their generosity has made a difference.
- Hold a thank-you trip – if you support a ministry in your community, plan a time to visit that ministry with a group of people from your congregation. This will give your congregation a chance to see the good work that is being done because of your congregation’s financial support.
- Involve the children and youth in your congregation in saying thanks:
- Spend Sunday school time writing “thank you” with chalk on the church sidewalk or parking lot.
- Make fridge magnets that express thanks and hand them out as a gift for everyone in worship.
- Plant seeds in small cups and allow them to sprout. Write messages on popsicle sticks to put in each cup. Give these to teachers and youth workers on Christian Education Sunday.
- Attach gift tags to small gift bows and give everyone one to wear on a special Sunday when you want to thank everyone.
Giving thanks is as important to Stewardship work as asking. Plan to say thanks with as much care as you plan to ask. Watch the amazing results that occur when people feel appreciated and valued.
Associate for Stewardship
*Excerpts taken from Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry in Your Congregation by Charles R. Lane.
I recently met Margaret Marcuson at a Stewardship conference and was impressed by her energy and enthusiasm for Stewardship. Margaret is a leader of leaders, ordained minister, and teacher and student of human systems. She speaks and writes on leadership and works with faith leaders nationally as a consultant/coach.
As we journey through this season of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, I encourage you to think about the carols, hymns, and other songs we sing and hear their familiar words this year in a new way as a way to “repeat the sounding joy” of generosity and stewardship. Here are a few with some tips for what the song might call you do:
There are many important things for us to remember about stewardship. Today, I want to talk about a couple of the “T’s” of Stewardship.
Have you ever been notified by an attorney that your presence was requested at the reading of someone’s will because you are going to receive an inheritance? Most people think this is a bittersweet time for obvious reasons. I can only imagine what it would be like because I have not experienced this, but for those who have, I’m told it is an emotional time. Imagine how it must feel to come to the realization that someone thought enough of you to want to leave you something upon their death. With that thought, you start to reminisce on the relationship you had with the person, and this reflection usually reveals one of three different types of relationships.