One of my most memorable stewardship ministry meetings came about because of what was said at the beginning of the meeting. For the remainder of the meeting, 1.5 hours to be exact, we talked about plans and tactics for fundraising. However, in this unforgettable passage of time that lasted only seven or eight minutes, a pastor opened our meeting with remarks centered on an important spiritual discipline necessary for the development of stewardship.
He read from the familiar passage, Luke 17:11-19. It’s the story of Jesus and the 10 lepers who were cleansed when they followed his instruction. Only one of these lepers, a Samaritan, returned to thank Jesus. After we heard the story, the pastor encouraged us as stewardship ministry leaders to follow the pattern of this one healed leper and practice regular gratitude. Then he pivoted and asked a few of my favorite stewardship questions of all time:
- As ministry organizers and equippers, should we spend more time encouraging church members to cultivate the discipline of gratitude?
- What would it look like if we spent as much time cultivating gratitude as we do cultivating dollars to support a budget?
- What are some ways that we as a stewardship ministry team could lead the way and cultivate gratitude?
He was not there to provide answers. He did not have a handout to present on the “five ways to lead a congregation to practice intentional gratitude.” I believe after years of ministry, he was seeing new possibilities. He was not suggesting we take off and leave fundraising as an activity of the past. He was encouraging us to make the cultivation of gratitude as high a priority as the cultivation of giving.
I have continued to ponder these questions and explore their answers. And I am beginning to share ideas that these questions have fostered.
Behind these ideas and my continued exploration is the remembrance that gratitude is one of the core responses of a disciple and a church community. Everything we do, from singing to sharing, is because of and in direct response to God’s unearned, breathtaking love. Inviting people to engage this primary spiritual discipline is certainly warranted. Through the discipline of gratitude, we and others, just like the healed leper, can return again and again to the one who claims us and say, “Thank you for all you’ve done and all that your grace is doing through your church and for your world.”
Here are three ways to cultivate the discipline of gratitude in the year ahead:
Intentionally express gratitude in church meetings and encourage others to do the same. In others words, at the start of meetings, use the opening minutes as an opportunity to give thanks for God’s goodness and provision. Read a psalm and/or share a personal story of gratitude to God.
Write a gratitude letter to the church community. However, the letter is not written as an expression of thanks to the community. The gratitude is to God and the letter is an invitation for members to gratefully reflect on God’s works. In the letter, recent baptisms could be mentioned as well as new outreach initiatives. Share what God has been doing through the community and for the world. Encourage members to also look for signs of God’s faithfulness in the ordinary 9-5 workday and to be grateful.
Personally practice and encourage others to practice the Sabbath. This day of rest is meant to provide regular times for rest. During these 24-hour breaks from work and other dutiful activities, the mind and body are restful and worshipful in ways not possible during the other 144 hours of the week. And this alternative space of restful worship is where gratitude can be ignited in the soul.
Cultivate gratitude. This challenge has stuck with me ever since a pastor gifted me with those three unforgettable questions. I pass them along in hopes that others will accept the same challenge to discover new ways for encouraging disciples to give, but to do so filled with gratitude for what God has already given.
Sean Mitchell is the stewardship development director at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is also the founder of Generosity Development (generositydevelopment.com).