Snapshot number one: as an experiment, I wrote a thank-you note to a team member for something she’d done for me; it was still on her desk a year later.
Snapshot number two: I sent a thank-you note to a church member, who told me politely, but firmly, that that was quite unnecessary and she wished more people ‘did their bit’.
Snapshot number three: a pastor from another church told me he never said ‘thank-you’ to people, because it only encouraged people to expect it, and not to serve because it was an act of discipleship.
Here is Paul, writing to the Philippians:
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. 1:3-8
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. 4:14-19
Obviously, he thanks God for them; but it is impossible to read those sections and not think he was thanking the Philippians too. Which is what I tried to say to the lady who didn’t want to be thanked. And what Ive have said to that pastor if I’d been brave enough (he was quite intimidating, as you an imagine)
So here are five reasons why I think it’s important to thank people.
Thanking people makes me recognise I am only one part of the body. Because I think about church on a Monday morning while everyone else is at their work or doing other stuff, I can think we pastors are the ‘real’ workers, and everyone else is, basically, the audience, the consumers, the customers.
But embedding myself properly in the body means that I can see the significance of my role without in any way demeaning anyone else’s.
Thanking people makes me recognise that I am utterly dependent on ‘we’. Which follows on. A lot of a pastor’s time is spent either alone, in study or preparation, or with a few people who are on the receiving end of counsel, or wisdom, or teaching. So I can start to think of everyone as dependent on me – either in a self-glorying, or a self-pitying way..
But I need others, not to assist me in my ministry, but to exercise theirs, and as they do that, we interlock. It is quite a sobering exercise, to work out just how many people need to turn up and do something for a Sunday service to happen.
Thanking people makes me recognise that while I am visible my service, most people are hidden in theirs. Who sees who turns the lights on, staples the newsletters, or corrects the spelling in the PowerPoint? The person who remembers to buy the milk, or to hoover up the crumbs?
A few of us get the spotlight and the microphone. And, if you’re that way inclined, that’s a reward in itself, and can be pleasant. I don’t think that’s wrong, by the way: leave aside the power-hungry, I think when we exercise our gifts for others it should feel like that’s what we’ve been created and saved for, and contains a reward. People with the gift of hospitality, love it when their cakes are enjoyed. People who have the gift of music, love singing. So teachers are allowed to enjoy it when people learn, and even to enjoy teaching.
Most people don’t get visible credit for what they do, though. I get feedback on my sermon, but the typist, collection-counters and lawn-mowers don’t. Maybe they don’t want public thanks, but that isn’t the only kind, is it?
Thanking people makes me recognise that while I am paid for my service, most people are volunteering theirs. This is a sensitive one, but it’s probably something other people are aware of more than we are. We ask people to do things, and sometimes can use some guilt-inducing methods along the way, but people do have other time commitments which often have to come first. If you’re going to run the ‘God comes first’ argument, just imagine how much time the average slave would have had to give to church. Not much, is the answer.
Thanking people makes me recognise that often, I am publicly thanked for other people’s service. An outside group uses the building, and thanks you for the way it’s kept. A community group is celebrating the area, and would like you to be present. The mayor is having a lunch for faith leaders, and would like you along to hear her speech.
We often get to be the visible personification of the congregation, which means we are on the receiving end of other people’s compliments. It’s rude of us not to pass them on.
The weekly preview
I have written before about what I do in my weekly ‘staff meeting with me’, but I’ve now added an extra question to my format. After I’ve looked back over the significant moments of the previous week, and everything that’s happened, I now want to ask, ‘Who do I need to thank’?