I am wanting to get back into the habit of posting around here, but I just haven’t quite known what to say. I am striving to not spend hours upon hours dealing with things that are out of my control, like name changes in the SBC, pastors that do bizarre things, and denominations that fall apart. I’ve spent enough time commenting on other posts and other places about stuff like that, but what I’ve realized is this: I’m wasting my time on that. There are enough voices on all of those that you don’t need a separate post from me. (If you do, you’re putting way too much stock in my opinion. Get Dave’s, Howell’s, or Jeff’s instead.)
What I want to occupy your time with for a couple of posts is this: four words that are critical especially for pastors and ministry leaders, though not too bad for anyone. These are four that come far too infrequently from our lips, it seems. Two of them should come often, and two should be infrequent, coming only when necessary.
Let’s deal with the two that should come very often from our mouths.
Earlier this month, First Baptist Church Almyra observed that they’ve tolerated their pastor for a year. It hardly seemed like it, probably because his preaching has anesthetic effects and makes time pass quickly. Anyway, to celebrate, Ann and I worked together and cooked dinner for everyone in the church to say “Thank you.”
Then a couple of things struck me:
1. I’ve been in the ministry for nearly 15 years and, unfortunately, I’ve never done this before. I should have. These people trust me to be a part of their spiritual growth. They come to me when they don’t understand something in the Word of God. When they oversleep on Sundays, instead of watching the 1030 Adrian Rogers broadcast, they go ahead and come to church. (Most of them watch Dr. Rogers at 8, or something like that…)
And people have done that before, for the last 15 years. When I was 19, parents asked me to help disciple their kids. At 17, I preached my first sermon (it took 8 minutes). Along the way, I’ve thanked mentors and leaders that have given me opportunities. I’m fiercely loyal to a few people that have held me together in tough times.
But I’ve failed miserably to show appreciation to the people that give me something to do. The people that I’ve thought of as burdens, challenges, and even obstacles to getting anything done. That was wrong.
2. Then there’s what I observed by the reaction of the church: they’ve never heard of, much less seen, someone do this before. Sure, a few pastors have expressed gratitude when they left, but in the process? Not here. I’ve talked to a few of my fellow pastors who acted like this was a novel idea to them. (Surely some of the wise ones around here will comment how they’ve done this all along, but I didn’t ask them.)
It’s as if expressing gratitude to our church members is something completely alien to our behavior. That shouldn’t be the case. Why?
Here’s a few good reasons:
1. There’s absolutely nothing unbiblical about it. Search all day, and you’ll find that Paul is even grateful for the Corinthians, though they gave him such trouble. We focus so hard in Philippians on “I thank my God in every remembrance of you” that we’re missing this: he tells the Philippians that. He’s thankful for them. Paul tells the Corinthians that he has a thorn to remind him of God’s grace–the same grace he’s thankful for. The Psalms resound with thankfulness not only for God’s providence but the earthly vessels, like the king, who bring it.
2. It keeps our own egos in check. Most of us carry the seeds of an ego problem, and the spotlight makes it grow like sunlight on a rice field. Stopping to serve your church, at your own expense of time and effort, is a good thing. Not the “I serve by going to the hospital” and whatever else—that’s a big part of what the church expects you to do. Not the “I’ll do this to get people to show up” serving that we do—that just pads our stats. The kind of serving that can’t bring us anything but knowing we’ve done a good thing.
3. You really do owe them your thanks. I’ve been back and forth through the Bible, and I cannot find anywhere that people are required by the New Covenant to show up every week and listen to us preach. It’s not there. You can make a pretty solid argument that Christians must read the Word of God to grow and to be obedient to God. You can make a clear statement that we must assemble together for fellowship and encouragement.
But fill that pew and listen to you for half-an-hour? It’s not there. That’s part of how we do this, but even if you look at Paul’s Pastor Epistles, he never says “and preach good sermons every week.” He talks about teaching, making disciples, and strengthening people into leadership. That people entrust us with explaining Scripture to them every week ought to be humbling to us before both God and them. We need to say thank you. Most of us, in all honesty, are standing in front of people with more experience, more wisdom, and as good of a grasp of the Bible as we have.
So say “Thank you.” Say it often. Not because it will save your job or get people to do more stuff for you, but because you ought to do it. It’s the right attitude to take. Certainly expressed in a manner that glorifies God, but showing gratitude to His people in the process will not hurt you or diminish His glory one bit. Don’t just try it. Do it. Let your people know that you thank God for them without them having to get to heaven to find it out.