By Eddie Pipkin
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! It is Turkey Day. The Official Start of the Holiday Season. Family Day. Parade and Football Day. The National Day of Gratitude (“a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens,” as originally articulated by Abraham Lincoln. Since this blog is regularly distributed on Thursday mornings, and since this email may be waiting in your inbox as languidly e-graze your way through your post-tryptophan stupor, I am legally and creatively obligated to write on the subject of Thanksgiving. I find myself in the dilemma in which ministry folks regularly find themselves: beholden to a calendar of festivals and rituals which dictate our topics for the week. Very familiar territory requiring a fresh take . . . again. Thank goodness there’s an app for that!
Well, by app, I don’t mean like a handy-dandy creative idea generator for your iPhone (although boy, howdy, wouldn’t that be something to be thankful for!). I mean “app” as in “app”lying oneself, or “app”roaching the issue with good humor and a plan, or “app”rehending the issue with fearless cognition and dealing with it forthrightly, or maybe even celebrating the appropriate solutional “app”licabilities.
The wonderful thing about a seasonal calendar—which the liturgical calendar gloriously is—is the familiarity of rites and rituals which reinforce the fundamentals of the faith. The downside of a seasonal calendar is the never-ending need to bring a fresh perspective to familiar vistas.
Take heart! (Or take a turkey leg!) And if you are not inclined to slice yourself a turkey leg off the big bird, at least slice yourself some slack. In the times in which you are feeling the pressure of the blank page (be it Word doc, spreadsheet, planning page, or that special old-school yellow legal pad you use to jot down your brilliant original ideas in mechanical pencil), don’t let frustration get the better of you. “Hmmm… frustration the path to burnout is,” said that wise sage Yoda, before digging into a slice of pumpkin pie as big as his left ear.
Remember these things:
- Borrowing is beautiful. It’s never been easier to tap into the vast creative resources of the millions of people passionately practicing ministry. Mine that vast trove of treasure, especially the things that inspire you. Share those with others. (Just don’t try to pass them off as your own ideas—it’s bad timing to get on the ‘naughty’ list right now.)
- Everybody has a little Mr. Rogers in them. People like to help. Let them help you. This is why we have teams in place, to share the workload and to spread the creative burden. But individuals, even beyond an official team structure, love to help out, and they will often say, “How can I help?” Take them up on those offers in small ways and big ways. Let them. Good things happen when we share! (I’m talking to you, Uncle Dave, with the last helping of dressing.)
- Sharing is Caring. Don’t hog the spotlight for yourself all the time or feel like things can’t happen unless you make them happen. Invite a guest speaker in. Let other people on your team lead things. They love those opportunities. It’s good for your congregation to see different perspectives and creative approaches. Share the wealth of talent and experience with which all communities have been blessed, be they large or small.
- Power to the People. When you can’t come up with a new idea, it might be a good time to let people “choose their own adventure.” Put them in charge: Thanksgiving, for instance, is a great time for this. You can give a whole worship service over to letting people express their gratitude in short, spontaneous witnesses, and wonderful stories will be shared. You can lead a time of prayer in which people pray gratitude prayers and seek blessings together, and the Spirit can move in surprising ways. A “people led” event should be a regular part of our rotation. It makes people feel involved, valued, and empowered in a way that few other approaches can.
- Reduce. Keep things simple. If you’re feeling stressed, when the calendar is full, pare things down and be a minimalist. This is, in fact, a very nice and often welcomed change of pace. Complicated things are not inherently better—they’re just more complicated. Relationships are more important than gadgetry. One-to-one, face-to-face, person-to-person, heart-to-heart connections can be better than an extravaganza.
- Reuse. Especially during holidays, people crave nostalgia. They love to see those traditions and familiar rituals. It’s identity building, and it’s more important than ever in a world that feels disjointed and disoriented. Give folks the sentimental, time-honored, wistful moments they love.
- Recycle. Pull from the file folder of some of your greatest hits. If you tried something several years ago, and it worked like gangbusters, pull it out, dust it off, and give it another go-round.
Communicate to people what you are doing. Be honest and open and lean into the thing you’ve chose, whatever that thing is. Make people your trusted partners. Don’t try to do a minimal holiday and promote it as some big world-changing shebang. Tell people you’re keeping things simple and invite them to embrace the concept along with you. If you’re too tired to come up with an original sermon, tell them that you’re preaching a friend’s sermon you thought was so great they needed to hear it, too. Don’t try to pass it off as your own work. Be honest, and folks will say, “Good for you. That was an interesting idea for the day!”
So, following my own advice (and knowing you are probably dozing off even as you try to read), I’m keeping it simple today. Allow me to express my own thanks for the ministry I get to do with Phil and the team at Excellence in Ministry Coaching, and allow me to thank you for being a reader. It’s a sacred, mysterious relationship, the one between writer and reader. It spans time and space. It connects people together in marvelous and magical ways. I don’t take it for granted. Thank you for giving me a piece of your time and attention, and thanks for your kind words and encouragement and your shared wisdom and insights.
I’ll send you out with one of my favorite Thanksgiving quotes: “We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.”
God bless you and yours. God bless your ministry, be it vast or person-to-person. God bless this broken old world. Help us always to see the beauty in the cracks. Give us a good night’s rest and a good day’s work. May we love everybody as we have been loved, and may peace and hope be our banners as we speak a good word to every person we are privileged to meet. Amen.