By Eddie Pipkin

November 17, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!  I begin this blog by expressing my thanks to all of you who read regularly.  It is a privilege to write for you every week, and we at Excellence in Ministry Coaching wish you joy and success in your ministry endeavors, as well as a delightful time with friends and family in the weeks ahead.  It being Thanksgiving—a traditional time when our thoughts turn to the subject of gratitude—I thought it would be fun to share some ideas with you about “giving thanks.”

A lifestyle of gratitude is, of course, a biblically-modeled cornerstone of discipleship.  The Psalms include many creative ways to praise God’s goodness.  But even science increasingly demonstrates the value of a mindfully grateful lifestyle (here’s a fun video highlighting the highlights).  Psychotherapist Amy Morin writes in Forbes about the demonstrable benefits of grateful habits.  You can read her full article here.  The seven results she identifies are equally welcome in personal or ministry life applications—here’s a summary (with my added commentary about the ministry ramifications):

  1. Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. Letting people know they are appreciated is a great foundation for trust and a great lead-in to deeper conversations.  People like to know that they are valued (and others seeing you express gratitude have a strong sense that they can risk themselves in relationships with you, because they will be valued as well).
  2. Gratitude improves physical health. It is a great tonic for stress.  As seasonal stress rises, we should increase our expressions of gratitude in proportion.
  3. Gratitude improves psychological health. Ditto above, with the additional observation that gratitude is a great way to settle our minds down before engaging in complex and challenging tasks.
  4. Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. Ministry is high-stress work that can make us lose empathy and challenge others in unhealthy ways.  Gratitude is a perfect starting point for every conversation, collaboration, and negotiation.
  5. Grateful people sleep better. This is the difference between nodding off while stressing over the day’s problems or nodding off as we count our blessings.
  6. Gratitude improves self-esteem. I found this idea fascinating.  How could our expression of gratitude improve our personal sense of self?  Certainly, expressing gratitude to God helps us keep things in perspective in a way that enhances our sense of God’s love for us (which is the healthy basis of our self-esteem).  But Morin writes about how something else is also going on when we express gratitude in relation to others:

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athlete’s self-esteem, which is an essential component to optimal performance. Other studies have shown that gratitude reduces social comparisons. Rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs – which is a major factor in reduced self-esteem – grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.

Ministry work is rife with the unhealthy habit of comparison.  Expressions of appreciation for others and their work, as well as gratitude for what is happening in our own ministry sphere, can effectively reorient these unhealthy impulses.  As a powerful bonus, when we express our gratitude directly to others for their work, we build their self-esteem, which enhances the effectiveness of the team as a whole.

  1. Gratitude increases mental strength. Morin writes that grateful people are tougher, more resilient.  The very act of gratitude requires us to remember that we have more resources at hand than it sometimes feels like, and that even in tough times, with God’s help we know we will pull through.

Given that overview of the positive effects gratitude can produce, here are some ideas of the ways we can live that out as ministry leaders.

  • A.B.G. This is my new catchphrase with the young folks in my life.  When we sit down to eat, and they immediately start wolfing down their food, I proclaim, “A. B. G., A.B.G.!  Always Be Grateful!”  Then we hold hands and say grace.  I pitch it to them as the most basic of spiritual disciplines, expressing thanks for the blessings you’re about to stuff in your face.  Imagine if we, as ministry leaders, began every gathering—every meeting, every event, every one-on-one conversation—with a pause to express our gratitude to God and each other.
  • Take time to express your appreciation for the folks who make your ministry possible. I wrote about this during my recent blogs on stewardship; it is vital to give a specific and clear expression of thanks to those who share their ideas, work, and material resources in support of our vision.  As an example, I am always excited about my connection to Dan Austin and the good folks at the 88bikes Foundation, which has endowed more than 6,000 girls in 17 countries—mostly orphans and victims of human trafficking—with bicycles to use as transportation to get to school and work.  They do an excellent job of connecting donors with stories of the impact of their donations, sending photos and cards of the girls who receive bikes and shooting videos of moments of happiness.” People love to invest themselves and their money in causes they know are appreciated and have impact.
  • Build a daily habit of gratitude. Exercising gratitude is like exercising our bodies.  Use it or lose it!  The benefits accumulate and sustain us, but only if we are disciplined about building intentional habits.  Check out Brian Doyle’s TED Talk on his 365 Days of Gratitude.   Whether it’s the habit of saying grace with intentionality, writing a thank-you card to someone each and every day, or keeping a gratitude journal, build those thankfulness muscles by developing your own personal habits and making them part of your routine.
  • Let ‘thanks’ be the final word. Just as we noted the power of beginning with gratitude, there is also power in ending with it as well.  I loved this article from Kristen Bahler at Money on the single best way to sign off on any email: with an expression of thanks!  Especially when struggling with hard-to-write emails, it’s the perfect send-off:

Next thing you know, you’ve devoted a chunk of your workday to crafting the perfect email, and agonizing over every word. By the time you get to the signature, separating your “bests” from your “kind regards” is usually an afterthought.  But is there a right way to end an email?  Turns out, there totally is. And it’s how you should sign every email, experts say.

Just write “thanks.”  The logic is simple. “Thanks” doesn’t come across as stiff, or cloying. It’s appropriate for practically every type of exchange — you can use it to end a note to any level, department, or role at your company. And, importantly, it’s more likely to get a response than any other kind of signature.

That’s a biblically endorsed strategy, by the way.  Just check out the final verses in any of Paul’s letters.  And while Paul didn’t have a smartphone, it’s a strategy that carries over to signing off on text exchanges and phone calls as well.  Close with a generously expressed, “Thanks!”  Thanks for your time, thanks for your work, thanks for your opinion, thanks for listening, thanks for being you.

Did I mention, “Thanks for reading!”  We love to hear feedback from you, too.  How has your ministry expressed its thanks in creative ways that others might try out?  What are your own personal habits of gratitude, and how have they affected your mindset at work and at home?  Share your thoughts and ideas as well build a community together.  Happy Thanksgiving!