By Eddie Pipkin

We here at Excellence in Ministry Coaching wish you a blessed and happy Thanksgiving, no matter how you are celebrating in modified fashion in this strange and awkward year.  We are grateful for your readership and grateful for your partnership in ministry endeavors, and we hope you are having a restful time of reflection and enjoying the people with whom you have hunkered down in your pandemic social bubble.  It is a time to be thankful for the fundamentals of our faith and family that have kept us strong and focused for the past nine months.  And it’s time to be thankful for people and things we had no idea we’d be featuring on our gratitude lists back when 2020 began.

By the way, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, a capotain is the technical name for what we traditionally think of as a Pilgrim hat – although we should be picturing it without the buckle – the capotain was a popular haberdashery option of the Elizabethan age and became particularly associated with the Puritans, but buckles were an expensive option, worn only by the very well off (which were the people who wore them in the portraits that survived that era and from which we have formed our image of the hat).  The Pilgrims were a hardscrabble bunch for whom buckles were an improbable luxury. No buckles for them.  [And now I’ve joined the ranks of those pastor types who like to bust up your holiday symbolism by pointing out that there were no wise men at the creche, etc.]

Sorry for the digression, but it is of a theme: the year of digressions, detours, byways, roundabouts, and roads less travelled.  That, for many of us, has been a thing to be counterintuitively thankful for: an enforced time to slow down and reevaluate where we’ve been and where we’re headed; a season of reconsidering our priorities.

We will be thankful tomorrow for a lot of things that we perhaps took for granted at the beginning of this year:

  • Medical workers and first responders.
  • Huggable friends and family (particularly the elderly and most vulnerable).
  • Frontline workers from grocery store clerks to bus drivers.

For us in ministry, there is a whole new crop of people and things for which we are newly (or renewedly) thankful:

  • Those nerds, geeks, and techies who have often been the subject of good-natured needling over the years, but who are now appreciated as the blessings from God who have saved our bacon on multiple occasions. How else would we have been able to carry on if not for their resourcefulness, availability, and enthusiasm for things which drive the rest of us nuts.
  • Technology (the raw material the technically astute have bent to their will in service of our vision). Where would we be without all these gadgets and gizmos to help us adapt?  Where would we be without Zoom meetings and Google Hangouts and livestreams and social media to keep us all connected safely from afar?
  • Connections (of the non-technical variety, empowered by all that technology). How nice that we didn’t have to figure any of this out in a vacuum, that we were able to share ideas and borrow resources and solicit feedback from an enormous army of fellow ministry practitioners.  How wonderful that we were all leaning on one another to figure out a way forward.
  • Generosity.  We have been reminded that even when times are tough, people will dig deeply and give all that they can in the support of God’s work and the vision of their local faith family.  People will give to help others, even when they are struggling themselves.
  • Patience.  When there just weren’t a lot of great options in a given moment for doing things in normal fashion, people were remarkably willing to give us a chance to figure it out.  We learned to be patient with our ministry partners and staff as we moved forward together.  And hopefully, by the grace of God, we learned something new about being patient with ourselves.
  • Creativity.  It is always part of what we do, but without it this year, we would have floundered.  We were reminded that creative approaches can salvage disaster and give us new insights into old ways of being.
  • Toilet paper. And by toilet paper, I mean the basic fundamentals.  An appreciation for the basics of life and work and faith.  Without them, we are in a panic.  With them, we are able to keep calm and carry on (with purpose).

In this year, as in no other in recent memory, Paul’s words in Philippians 4 feel real and newly appreciated:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.  Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.  Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account.  I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent.  They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.  And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:12-19, NLT)

Your work in these past months has been a “fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”  

I am probably only adding to the chorus of thanks you have received from the people with whom you are partnered in ministry, but If no one else has taken the time to say those words to you and affirm your labors in love, hear them from us: you are appreciated, and you, too, have been a frontline worker in helping people navigate an emotionally devastating time.  It is a job you have done with assiduity and faithfulness.  Your work brings honor and glory to God.

Perhaps we began the year feeling like we were in a “place of plenty,” working a plan with enthusiasm and abundant resources, confident in our vision and excited for the future.  Perhaps all that now seems like a distant dream.  But in the meantime, God has reminded us what it is to find renewed faith and purpose even in a time of need.  We have learned the power of partnerships in a time of struggle.  We have been reminded of the life-affirming security of deep relationships.

Let’s take time to be thankful.  Let’s set aside time to be alone with God and express our gratitude in the next few days, a sacred few moments of acknowledging all that has happened and how we have been unexpectedly blessed.

And let’s don’t keep that gratitude just to ourselves — or only between ourselves and God.  Let’s be as public as possible!  Let’s use every venue at our disposal to thank our ministry partners and the people who have kept us strong and focused and inspired.  Let’s encourage others to remember all the ways we and our ministry have been blessed and to share those thankful thoughts with one another.

Let us as leaders pay tribute to those who make our leadership possible.  And let us, even as we carve the turkey, carve out time to say a quiet (or very loud) word to those who may not realize how much they mean to us — how much they empower us to be who God has called us to be — day to day and moment to moment.  There are people who do small things thoughtfully and well, who don’t even think of their efforts as valuable ministry, whose thoughtfulness means the world to us.  Let’s let them know.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving 2020 in your own ministry context?  What unexpected and unanticipated thing sparks gratitude?  Share with us, and in sharing, help us celebrate God’s grace together.  We appreciate you!