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.
Changing the calendar to a new year looked somewhat different this time. It did not feel the same as it has in the past where the excitement of a new year brings resolutions and goals for what we hope to accomplish. It is hard to think about planning for what we might do this year when we are limited in our ability to be together as we have been in the past. Some days it is hard to think about what we can do at this moment let alone think about next month or the month after.
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.
Spending time in study together is a profound way for the leadership of a congregation to bond and become stronger as spiritual leaders. As a member of the session of my own church, we have begun a study of “Neighborhood Church: Transforming Your Congregation into a Powerhouse for Mission” by Krin Van Tatenhove and Rob Mueller. The first chapter in this book begins with an understanding of how congregations can learn to embrace fundamental changes in perspective that will lead us away from a focus on ourselves to a focus on those where God has planted us.
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?
Recently Minner Serovy, one of the Ministry Relations Officers for the Presbyterian Foundation, shared an interesting experience she encountered while participating in a panel for an adult education class. The opening question was, “Is the church a business?” All the other panelists were members of the church where the panel was taking place, and all were businesspeople. They explained their reasons for thinking of the church as business. With some discomfort, Minner said, “I could not find my way to agreement.”
In the spring of 2016, Sean Mitchell, Development Director at Myers Park Presbyterian Church, was the keynote speaker of our Annual Leadership and Stewardship Event. This past week he and the Rev. Dr. Millie Snyder published a book “Gracious Stewardship: Developing the Church in the Way of Jesus.” Today I share with you a small glimpse into the ideas that Sean and Millie explore in their book.
Sean reminds us, “We are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, that of gracious forgiveness offered by God to all members of God’s family. Our stewardship ministry is part of our overall proclamation of the gospel, and not a separate fundraising effort to provide the finances for our proclamation. Stewardship must be integrated, both in content and in methodology.”
Let’s reflect with Sean and Millie on Jesus’ parable about a father and his two sons. The younger son took his inheritance and squandered it in a distant country. When he had spent everything and found himself working in the fields feeding pigs, he decided to return home in hopes that he might become a hired hand for his father. Instead his father welcomes him home and throws a party for him. The older son who had remained home all along found it hard to understand why his father had never shown that kind of attention to him.
In this story we see a father who enacts grace with both of his sons. This grace was the foundation for his own stewardship.
- The father is a gracious steward of the wealth God has entrusted to him. When the younger son asked for his share of the inheritance, his father was generous and gave it to him.
- The father is a gracious steward of his relationships. When the younger son was seen far off, his father saw him and ran to embrace him. This father was willing to accept his son without condition. He also went into the fields to reassure his older son that he had always been a part of the family and had always had a share of the father’s blessings.
- The father is a grateful steward. He offered grace freely to both sons. He did not put conditions on their role in the family, and he didn’t withhold blessings from either son. He celebrates and forgives because he is a thankful soul and takes nothing for granted. His gratitude keeps him centered in gracious generosity.
Sean and Millie begin with this biblical story to lay out what they see as the three core values of a grace-based stewardship ministry.
- Transforming Fellowship – relationships are vital to our formation as stewards. What would that mean in your congregation? It would mean:
➢ moving toward one another in community
➢ sharing our stewardship stories and listening to one another
➢ hearing the stories of people who are taking steps toward contented lifestyles
➢ hearing the stories of people whose lives and wallets are over-leveraged
➢ nurturing an environment of trust where it is safe to listen and challenge one another
➢ creating relational communities where we discuss and embrace the gifts of God and discern what gifts we might each share in response to God’s amazing grace
- Gratitude – embracing God’s abundant grace fosters peace, trust, and celebration. Stewardship teams need gratitude as a core value. Without gratitude, stewardship ministry is merely a string of tasks with no acknowledgement of grace. Learning to regularly acknowledge and thank God for provision and resource is a spiritual discipline. Creating special occasions where you can lead the entire congregation in practices of gratitude are appropriate responses to God’s generous grace.
- Equipping the Saints – encouraging the church to share, practice hospitality, and live generously. Gracious stewardship teams are encouraging and equipping. They join with the mission of other ministry teams to build up the body of Christ. Their work presents faith-formation opportunities for members to learn how to practice stewardship in real life. They expand the understanding of stewardship to be more than giving and finances. Equipping the body of Christ to embrace stewardship of all of life and creation gives them joy and purpose.
If this grace-filled message from Sean and Millie resonates with you in your Stewardship ministry, I encourage to get a copy of the book to read, invite your Stewardship Ministry team to study the book with you, share a copy of the book with the session, and most importantly consider the values of grace-based stewardship in your own life and ministry!
Associate for Stewardship
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: