For many people, this has been the most difficult year they can remember. Surveys show that worry and stress—even for pastors—have increased this year at astronomical rates.
Pastor, I want to encourage you to do something that might seem counterintuitive and radical in the middle of a year like this.
Gratitude provides the deep spiritual roots we need when we’re going through tough times.
Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Whatever happens, give thanks, because it is God’s will in Christ Jesus that you do this” (GW).
Even in the worst of times, God wants us to be grateful. That’s why I want to encourage you to express gratitude to your church family. As a leader, your gratitude sets an example for everyone else.
Paul knew this. When he wrote letters to various churches, he almost always started with a “thank you”—usually involving the church’s faith, hope, and love.
Picking up from Paul’s theme, here are three specific ways you can show gratitude to your volunteers and leaders.
First, thank them for sharing the Good News in love.
It can be easy to love other Christians, but not every church will consistently show love toward non-Christians. Not every church treats guests as Jesus would. That’s why it’s so important to point it out when you see this kind of love being shown in your church.
I love saving letters from guests describing how loved they felt when they visited Saddleback. Sometimes people will email me their stories or write them on our welcome cards. I share those stories as I’m patting the church on the back because it helps put some flesh on what I’m saying.
People don’t join a church because of doctrine. You may have the most perfect doctrine on the planet, but your church’s love will draw people into your fellowship. They join when they feel like they’re part of the family.
Second, thank them because they serve the Lord in hope.
Pastors aren’t the secret of any church’s growth. It’s the volunteers. Your lay leaders are the core of your church. At Saddleback, we couldn’t do a worship service without our volunteers—even online worship services. They clean our buildings, lead small groups, and counsel hurting people.
Our church has people who put up with the bad weather (yes, we get it every once in a while here in Southern California) and the guests who might require extra grace. Yet I consistently see them serving with a smile on their face.
It’s easy to get busy and forget about all the great work your volunteers are doing every week. Most don’t serve to get your appreciation, but they need to hear it.
I think about Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:11: “The more lowly your service to others, the greater you are. To be the greatest, be a servant” (TLB).
That’s a good reminder as we show appreciation to the leaders in our churches. Those people serving in the trenches are heroes.
Third, thank them for their sacrifices in faith.
At Saddleback, we have people who take seriously God’s call to give back 10 percent of their income to him. They do it out of joy, and I’m grateful for that.
When I look at everything we do at Saddleback—from our ministry in Southern California and around the world—I know it only happens because people have sacrificed.
The same is true for the buildings that serve as tools for our ministry. We went a long time without those buildings, and God did great work even before they were built. But I’m so grateful that God challenged the people of Saddleback Church to give sacrificially so we could have them today. Even during the pandemic, our volunteers and lay leaders have sacrificed their time, energy, and finances to minister in many different areas, such as the Drive Through Food Pantry.
Never pass up the opportunity to thank the people of your congregation for their generosity and sacrifice. That starts with follow-up emails after they give. It includes grateful letters with your annual giving statements.
But it doesn’t stop there. Let them hear it from you and the rest of the church staff on a regular basis.
Don’t wait until Thanksgiving to express your gratitude. Your congregation needs to hear it regularly from you.