Each November the virtue of thankfulness is easy to speak of. Then it seems that thankfulness, unlike Aunt Rita’s Cranberry Surprise, is quickly forgotten. As Christian pastors we should be setting the tone of thankfulness in our homes and especially in our churches. I am convinced that thankfulness is more than a response; it is an action. We can choose to be thankful.
Yes, I recognize that some personalities are more prone to express gratitude than others, yet everyone, by the Lord’s enabling, can possess a demeanor of thankfulness. As church leaders it is vital that not only are we personally thankful but that we work to build a culture of thankfulness. Let me offer three habits that build a culture of thankfulness.
Decide to be thankful
A quick survey of Paul’s letters reveals forty-six different uses of the word “thank” or “thanks.” Some are response to events, of the giving thanks, the majority are his expressions of thankfulness, while others are commands to the churches such as “give thanks in everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Paul both in his example and instruction places the recipients of the letters in the position of choosing to be thankful.
You, as the pastor, must lead the way in deciding to be thankful. Over time the congregation you shepherd will begin to mimic the attitude you model. If your regular tone and attitude is negative, unthankful, and discouraging then the culture of your church will be that way as well. The tone of your home and culture of your church will never be thankful if you do not decide to be thankful. God is always on the throne and Jesus is always the head of the church but as the pastor, you have your hand on the thermostat and can set the church’s temperature. Decide, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to be thankful.
Determine to speak thankfully
“When was the last time you told your church you loved them or were thankful for them?” This was a penetrating question asked of the handful of pastors in a conference breakout session. Very few, including this pastor, could answer that question. You could read the face of every pastor in the room, “My church knows I love them, don’t they?”
You probably know the old joke about the wife who asks her husband, “Do you love me?” To which he replies, “Yes, I told you that on our wedding day, if I change my mind, I’ll let you know.” It didn’t work for him, and it won’t work for us.
Relationships grow out of an expression of love. The same principle applies to the relationship of a pastor to his church. Just as assumption and ease creep into every other relationship until neglect is the norm, it is easy for the pastor to assume that his church knows that he loves them and is thankful for them.
Determine to tell the church how thankful you are for them. This is a practice that Paul modeled in his letters. You could be pastoring the most miserable people in the world and still be thankful that they show up every Sunday. Even if all they do is snarl at you.
To grow a culture of thankfulness in your church that lasts beyond November we must systematically speak thankfulness.
- Weekly tell your church, “thank you for being here today.” Or perhaps more appropriately, “I thank the Lord that He led you here today.”
- Monthly, very briefly but clearly, express thankfulness as to what the Lord is doing in your life, in your church and who is He is. This can be a quick one-sentence statement during your announcements. “I’m thankful the Lord gave us the rain we need.” “I’m thankful that we have people praying in our church. “I am thankful that I have friends who love me even when my team beats theirs.” Model to your church how to be thankful for what is happening around you.
- Quarterly tell your church you love them and you are thankful for them. Put it on your calendar to tell them. Not because you must force yourself to say this but because it is easy to forget. Your church needs to know that you love them and are thankful for them.
- Yearly preach from a text that tells us how to be thankful. We will not know how the Lord wants us to practice thankfulness until we see what he has to say on the subject.
We must be intentional in order to effectively to build a culture of thankfulness. Determine to speak thankfully.
Devote yourself to celebrating others
Much of Paul’s thankfulness is prompted from what others are doing. How they are helping another, how they are being an example in the faith or their obedience to the Lord. In his letters, he frequently celebrates others by name. Reading through the list of men and women in Romans 16 you can see and feel his celebration and expressions of gratitude for them. To build a culture of thankfulness you must celebrate others.
As a pastor, celebrate others by praising them for how they serve in the church. As a shepherd, congratulate your church members when something significant happens in their lives. Attend graduation parties and tell them how happy you are for them and that you will pray for them. Enlist the help of someone in your church, maybe an assistant, who is extremely conscientious of birthdays, anniversaries and special events that happen in the lives of your flock. Find ways to consistently and equally celebrate your people. Devote yourself to celebrating others.
Intentionally developing a culture of thankfulness is hard work, especially on days we do not feel thankful. Developing a culture of thankfulness takes time. You may even wonder if a culture of thankfulness will ever be developed. I’ve learned a long time ago that some people will never be happy or thankful no matter what you or anyone else does. Their poor attitude should never be an excuse for us not to demonstrate thankfulness, speak thankfully and celebrate those around you. We, as Christians first, and pastors second, have every reason this side of heaven to be thankful.