By Eddie Pipkin
Here we are, arrived at the cusp of the Day of Giving Thanks. And you’ll be expressing gratitude in all manner of ways for all manner of benefactions. Gratitude, as I like to say, is the cornerstone of a well-lived life. But while you’re out there guiding others in gratitude exercises, articulating your thanks to scores of folks on social media, leading prayers of thanksgiving everywhere you go (because you are the kind of person who routinely gets called on to do that sort of thing), and preaching and teaching about counting one’s blessings and giving God the appropriate glory, promise me you won’t forget to do one important thing as we wrap up these two years of tribulation. Don’t forget to give yourself a well-earned pat on the back. Don’t forget to also thank yourself. If that premise stumps you for more than half a second, allow me to furnish you with an A to Z list of appropriate attaboys and attagirls.
Those of you reading the blog serve in a variety of settings and conditions. Some of you are surrounded by large supportive leadership teams and well-trained professional staffs, and some of you are toiling away in solo positions in small churches and challenging situations. Some of you have the primary responsibility of the ministries you lead. Some of you are seconds-in-command or support staff. Some of you are volunteers. All of you, whatever your context may be, have prayerfully sought to do the best you could under trying circumstances for the last couple of circuits around the sun. And despite all the odds, and by the ever-present grace of God, you’ve persevered and made it through to a new normal.
Way to go! You’ve had to make a lot of difficult decisions. There have been struggles. There have been losses. But here we are There is much for which to be thankful. Allow us to celebrate your dedication and professionalism, your passion, and your commitment to work with eternal implications.
Here’s that A-Z list of all the ways you have let your light shine. Thanks to you for . . .
A – Adjusting to the new normal. You figured out a way to move forward, sometimes with faltering, baby steps, sometimes with energy and style, but you made the adjustments that needed to be made, kept tweaking those adjustments, and responded to every new round of information and every twist in the plot with fortitude and perseverance.
B – Breaking traditions when traditions got in the way. The mantra of “but we’ve always done it that way” dead-ended really quickly in the face of the pandemic. You changed what needed to be changed, re-imagined what could be re-imagined, and started some exciting new things when the opportunity arose.
C – Calling for help when help was what you needed. When your brain was drained, and your skill set depleted, you reminded yourself that even Jesus worked with a team, sent up the ministry Bat Signal, and graciously accepted the help that was offered (which was a nice, new thing for some of us).
D – Delegating things that you didn’t understand and didn’t have the bandwidth for. Part of that asking for help was handing off projects that were beyond your scope or training, as well as empowering people to be your ministry representative in hundreds of settings where they were equipped to make a difference.
E – Ending things that needed to end. This was hard, sometimes painful, work. But it was necessary, and the pandemic really brought into focus some of our creaky ministry infrastructure and lifeless legacy programs and traditions. You let some of those go with grace, a merciful farewell that will lead to a brighter future.
F – Being unafraid to Fail for all the right (and righteous) reasons. It is an undeniable truth that every single thing you tried in the last couple of years was not an unqualified success. If you throw a lot of things at that wall to see what sticks, not everything does. It’s a messy metaphor, and also an accurate one. But you fearlessly kept trying out ideas, letting go of ego and perfectionism.
G – Leading others in Grieving collectively (even as you grieved personally). People desperately needed a mechanism for grief, for processing their sense of loss, and for mourning what needed to be mourned. You provided that, and you often did it even as you were dealing with your own losses, frustration, depression, and feelings of disorientation.
H – Offering Hope to all who needed it. You also provided a sense of community, togetherness, and connection for folks who were feeling isolated and alone. Through the long months of uncertainty and confusion, despair and frustration, you provided a clear sense of support and movement towards a greater future.
I – Innovating to do what had to be done. You built teams, held listening sessions, and sought answers to difficult challenges, and you figured out ways to re-invent and re-imagine ministry. Sometimes, you shepherded ideas that were an improvement on what you’d been doing before.
J – Jerry-rigging with a smile. Sometimes you held things together with duct tape and spit. But you held things together! You cobbled some less-than-beautiful solutions, but you figured out how to give people the best options in a tight spot.
K – Knowing when to step back and take a deep breath, a time out, a well-deserved break, or occasionally a nap. You encouraged other people not to be too tough on themselves as they figured all this out, and you embraced the wisdom of not being too tough on our own self either.
L – Laughing at yourself. One of the keys to dealing with the overwhelming weight of one of the most serious crises of our lifetime was the gift of not taking ourselves too seriously. You were willing to greet any number of mishaps and misfires with a little holy humor, and you helped teach others the humility of letting go of perfect control.
M – Mastering Masked ministry! What an uncomfortable challenge to try to do everything with a mask on (not to mention encouraging others to keep their masks on when they didn’t feel like it). Sometimes you even managed to make it look cool.
N – Never giving up, even when you felt like giving up.
O – Offering yourself unselfishly, even when it meant offering yourself awkwardly. One of the great challenges of being a ministry leader during the pandemic was repeatedly finding yourself in uncomfortable situations, either because you were having to do things differently than you’d ever done them before, or because conflict arose about how to move forward, or just because you were tired and disoriented and still had to lead and be available for people. But you persevered with a heart that was willing to do what needed to be done.
P – Participating with a smile in every Zoom gathering and clunky video chat. Oh, my goodness, those Zoom calls and Zoom meetings got old, didn’t they? But there you were, logging on and smiling. Again and again . . . and again and again . . . with a sustained hero-level endurance.
Q – Quarantining with style and grace. At some point in the past two years, you either got sick yourself or got exposed (sometimes more than once) to someone who was sick, and you were forced to lock yourself away – not only to protect yourself and the ones you love, but to be a good example to everyone else (and there was a lot of that example-setting happening in a lot of different ways). You isolated yourself and yet stayed connected, leveraging technology, writing notes, making phone calls. You found ways to stay engaged. You did not let people down.
R – Responding with patience. People were frustrated. People were despondent. People were, at times, ridiculous, but you were imperturbable (mostly), modeling tranquility and even-temperedness and a methodical approach to working the problem at hand.
S – Stuffing 10 pounds of potatoes into a five-pound sack! You sometimes did the impossible – (perhaps you had some supernatural help!) – you made it work when the work seemed untenable. You dug deep and pulled it off.
T – Adapting to new Technology with an open mind and a willing heart. Oh, so much adaptation! Learning new things and letting your nerd flag fly.
U – Offering Understanding to the people who struggled. Empathy and compassion were precious commodities, and you shared them generously.
V – Valuing the things that mattered. You helped the people around you remember what was most important and prioritize those values. Even as you were changing policies and programs and making technological innovations and adjustments, you kept relationships front and center.
W – Embracing Whimsy! A little silliness, a little nostalgia, a little pixie dust, and even challenging moments became a time to smile and be blessed.
X – Serving as a Xenolith of faith. Look it up! A rock within a rock! A core of faith within the structure of faith-based ministry, keeping it real by helping everyone fall back on their core spiritual disciplines.
Y – Saying Yes to people. Oh, so many people with so many ideas. And you were open to letting them experiment and try different approaches and mix things up in interesting ways.
Z – Zookeeping! Call it “herding cats,” “nailing down Jell-O,” “teaching frogs to waltz,” or some other ridiculous phrase. The point is that you faced unmanageable circumstances and people and managed to manage them in a positive direction. It may not have been exactly the route you were hoping to take or the timeframe for completing the journey that you had envisioned, but you hung in there, and you did it!
In what ways do you take pride in your ministry perseverance in the past two years? What thing have you and your leaders done that is perhaps not noticed by the people you are serving (but vital to that service)? What will you pause and be thankful for this week that seems an unlikely object for thanksgiving? Share your own additions to the list in the comments section below. We’re thankful for you!