If you have ever cringed at the thought of the annual giving campaign, this is the book for you. With practical instruction for conducting a gratitude campaign, it will not only bring about positive stewardship but may very well shift the culture of your community to walk and live that path of gratitude.
Carolyn Scanlan-Holmes, Senior Minister, Avon Christian Church, Avon, IN
This is a practical and accessible tool for developing generous givers, and an invitation into relationship with our bounteous God.
Bruce R. Ough, Bishop of the Minnesota Conference, UMC
Kent Millard has helped countless other pastors and congregations conduct ‘Gratitude Campaigns’ with spectacular results. With this book his plan is now available to everyone. I hope many church leaders read and follow this pathway to improved stewardship.
Michael J. Coyner, Bishop of the Indiana Conference, UMC
This wonderful resource helps us move stewardship from fundraising to an experience of God's transforming grace.
Rob Fuquay, Senior Pastor, St Lukes UMC, Indianapolis, IN
The first five chapters of The Gratitude Path are spiritually energizing, personal, and thoughtfully devotional. Pastors could preach sermons based on each one of them. Chapter six is a pivotal organizational chapter for pastors and lay leaders. Here, Millard outlines his Gratitude Campaign step by step. This is a resource that we are happy to recommend to congregations.
Bill Enright, Senior Fellow, Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Indiana University
This book demonstrates how to develop an attitude of gratitude in each facet of the local church. Every leader in our church will read this book.
Jacob Williams, Jr., Senior Pastor, First Valparaiso UMC, Valparaiso, IN
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About the Author
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The Gratitude Path
Leading Your Church to Generosity
By Kent Millard
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2015 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
"Just to Say Thanks"
One of them, when he saw that he had been healed, returned and praised God with a loud voice. He fell on his face at Jesus' feet and thanked him.
— Luke 17:15-16
Give thanks with a grateful heart.
— Henry Smith, "Give Thanks"
Count your many blessings, name them one by one, / And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
— Johnson Oatman Jr.
"Just to Say Thanks"
When our son Kendall was in the fifth grade, our bishop appointed me to serve as a district superintendent. This meant that we would have to move to a new community.
My wife and I sat down with our two children and informed them that I had been appointed to a new position and we would have to move to another community.
Our son Kendall folded his arms and said, "I am not going to move. My best friend in the whole world lives here. I like my school, my church, and my room. For the first time in my life, I have a girlfriend. I am not moving."
We explained that we were a family and we would all have to move together even though it would be hard for all of us. "Besides," I said, "we are selling this house."
Kendall was adamant: "Then I will rent my room from whoever buys it!" He was determined not to leave his home and friends, but ultimately we all moved together as a family.
When we arrived at the district parsonage, Kendall and I went to a large family room downstairs. There in the middle of the room was a large table and on it was an electric train and track set up and plugged in. All we had to do was turn it on and the electric train started travelling around the tracks.
On the table was a large hand-printed sign that read: "For Kendall, from the Rueben Job family." Bishop Rueben Job was the former district superintendent who had just moved out of the district parsonage. Bishop Job knew how hard it was for Kendall to move to a new home, so his family decided to give their grown son's electric train to Kendall to ease his pain of moving to a new community.
Kendall was shocked. He said, "I don't even know these people. Why are they being so nice to me?"
Later that day a local United Methodist pastor and his son, John, who was the same age as Kendall, came over to help us unpack. Kendall and John became immediate friends and they spent the day playing with the electric train and exploring the neighborhood.
The next day, Kendall came into my home office with his hands cupped and filled with coins. He plopped the coins down on my desk and said, "Here, Dad, give this to God." I was surprised because Kendall had never done anything like that before.
I asked him why he wanted to give his money to God. Kendall shrugged and said, "Just to say thanks."
I asked, "Thanks for what?" He said, "You know — the train, John, and my new room."
Kendall had experienced some unexpected gifts and was filled with gratitude. He suspected God was responsible for giving him these wonderful gifts, so he wanted to say thanks to God by giving some of his money to God.
I thanked him for expressing his gratitude to God with a generous gift to God. Then I asked him, "How did you decide how much you were going to give to God to say thanks?"
Kendall said he opened his bank and counted out all his money on his bed and then decided to give God half of it. I didn't tell him you only have to give 10 percent!
Our son realized that he had been given some unexpected generous gifts from God and he wanted to express his gratitude to God by giving some of his money to God, "just to say thanks."
The real motivation for giving some of our time, talent, and treasure to God is ultimately just to say thanks for all the gifts God has already given to us.
When we think about it, everything we are and have is a gift to us from the hands of our generous God.
We did not create the marvelous and miraculous body in which we live. Our bodies were created by God through our parents and given to us for our journey here on earth. We did not create the spark of God's spirit that God placed in each of us we call our soul or the image of God within us. Our eternal soul is a gift from God.
We did not create our spouses, partners, children, parents, grand-children, or friends. All the people we care for were created by God and given to us.
We did not create the ground we walk on; the air we breathe; the sun that gives us life; the birds, flowers, and animals; the food we eat; and every-thing that enables us to live on this earth. Everything in creation is a gift from the hands of our generous God.
We did not create Jesus Christ who came and lived among us to teach us how to trust God totally, surrender ourselves into God's loving hands, and discover an eternally meaningful life through his life, death, and resurrection.
The truth about life is that everything we are and everything we have is a loving gift from the hands of a kind and generous God.
We give some of our time, talent, and treasure back to God not out of obligation, guilt, or a need to meet a church budget. We give to God "just to say thanks" for all that God has first created and given to us.
Gratitude to God is the fundamental scriptural reason and our motivation for giving our time in worship, our talent in service, and our financial gifts to support God's ministry in the world.
From Stewardship Campaigns to Gratitude Campaigns
When we give out of gratitude we transform the annual local church stewardship campaign into a Gratitude Campaign. When gratitude becomes the focus of our campaign we change the pledge card or estimate of giving card into a Gratitude Card, and we transform Stewardship or Consecration Sunday into Gratitude Sunday. A stewardship campaign is usually based on the idea that God is the creator of all we are and have, and we are therefore obligated to be good stewards of God's creation. A Gratitude Campaign recognizes that all we are and have is a gift from God, but we give back to God out of gratitude not obligation.
Stewardship campaigns are often based on Jesus's parable about the landlord who went away leaving his servants in charge of his property. In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus told a parable about a landlord who gave three of his servants different amounts of money (talents) to manage while he was gone. When the landlord returned, he rewarded or punished each servant according to how they used or failed to use the money he had given them. It is true that we are all given differing amounts of resources in this life and are ultimately accountable to God for how we use or misuse them.
However, the primary image of our relationship to God in the New Testament is not that we are hired servants responsible to an absent landlord but that we are children of a loving heavenly Father who is never absent but is always present with us.
In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), when the wayward son "came to his senses" he decided to return to his father to beg for a job as a servant on the family farm. However, when the loving father saw his disobedient son returning home, he was "moved with compassion ... [he] ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him." The father put a robe on his son's shoulders, a ring on his finger, and sandals on his feet as a sign that his son was welcomed home as his beloved son, not simply as a servant. Because of the father's unexpected loving actions, the parable is sometimes called the Parable of the Loving Father.
According to Jesus, our basic relationship to God is as beloved sons and daughters of God. Our function as God's beloved children is to be the faithful and loving servants of God. According to the Parable of the Loving Father, we are primarily beloved children who are always part of the family rather than simply hired servants.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus taught his followers to call God Father, not to indicate that God was male, but to indicate that God was a loving and compassionate parent to God's earthly children.
In fact, the Aramaic word Jesus used for God is the word Abba which means "Father." When Jesus prayed to God in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest he prayed: "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible. Take this cup of suffering away from me. However — not what I want but what you want" (Mark 14:36). Paul also used Jesus's word Abba to refer to God when he wrote: "You received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit we cry 'Abba, Father'" (Rom 8:15). In Galatians 4:6 Paul also wrote: "Because you are sons and daughters, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying 'Abba, Father.'" Undoubtedly, Jesus called God Abba himself and Paul carried on Jesus's tradition in some of his letters to the followers of Jesus.
The Aramaic word Abba is the word a young Jewish child would call his or her father. To call a father "Abba" indicates a very personal and intimate relationship — like a young child would have with a loving father. It would be like a child calling his or her father "Daddy" or "Papa" today.
The biblical scholar Marcus Borg writes: "Why would a first-century Jewish person address God as "Papa" when his tradition typically used much more formal terms of address for God? ... It also seems likely that this intimate term of address for God expressed the intimacy of Jesus' own experience of God." When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus said, "Pray like this: Our Father who is in heaven ..." (Matt 6:8-9). In fact, in Matthew 6:1-34 Jesus refers to God twelve times as "your father" or "your heavenly Father." Jesus wanted us to know God as he knew God, which is as loving "Abba" — a caring Father, which makes us all children of a loving God.
The primary image Jesus used for his relationship to God and for his followers' relationship to God is that of a loving Abba who cares deeply for all people.
Jesus also affirmed that all we are and have ultimately belongs to God, and we are temporary stewards of these gifts. Therefore, we are called to be good stewards of God's gifts while we have possession of them on earth. But our primary relationship to God is not that of hired servants of an absent landlord but as grateful children of a loving and ever- present Abba.
We are good stewards of all God has given us not out of fear of punishment but out of deep love and gratitude for all of the gifts of life our heavenly Abba has first given to us.
Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart
Musician Don Moen has recorded a beautiful contemporary chorus that expresses our gratitude to God for all God has already done for us.
Give thanks with a grateful heart,
give thanks to the Holy One
When followers of Jesus count all of the blessings God has already given to us, we want to "Give thanks with a grateful heart."
We give thanks that God gave us Jesus Christ to teach us what God is like, to demonstrate complete trust in God, to live a life of unconditional love, and to give his life on a cross and rise again for our salvation. When we realize the depth of God's everlasting lovefor us, our hearts are filled with thanksgiving and gratitude.
We give thanks not only for the gift of Jesus Christ but for everything God has given to us and done for us. When we think of everything God has already done for us, we want to give thanks with a grateful heart.
The only question is whether or not we have a "grateful heart."
Jesus said, "What fills the heart comes out of the mouth. Good people bring out good things from their good treasure" (Matt 12:3435).
Our problem is that sometimes we have cold and hard hearts rather than grateful hearts.
When we go see a medical doctor for an examination, the doctor frequently begins the examination by putting a stethoscope to our chest and listens to our hearts. By listening to our heartbeat the doctor can determine a great deal about the health of our heart and indeed our whole body.
In a similar way, we need to examine our hearts frequently to determine if we are living with a "grateful heart" for all God has given us. However, sometimes we discover that we are not living with a "grateful heart" but with a "hard, judgmental, and condemning heart," which makes us unhealthy in body, mind, and soul.
A question we should ask ourselves frequently is: "Am I living with a grateful heart or an ungrateful, hard heart?"
In 1965 I participated in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s voting rights march in Selma, Alabama. On one occasion we marched to the courthouse in Selma and an African American person was denied the right to register and vote. We stood on the steps of the courthouse while angry people shouted ugly words at us. An African American pastor prayed for those shouting at us "that God would turn their hearts of hate to hearts of love." Forty years later, I spoke to a group of Alabama pastors and told them about my experience in Selma in 1965. Afterwards, one pastor came up to me and said: "I was in Selma at the same time you were, but I was on the other side. I did awful things to people then."
"What changed you?" I asked.
He said, "Jesus Christ. I got so filled with hatred I couldn't stand myself. My wife invited me to a Methodist revival meeting, and I went forward, knelt at the altar, confessed my sins, and Christ came into my heart and replaced my hatred and bitterness with love. I decided to become a United Methodist minister to share God's unconditional love for all people."
Then I remembered the prayer of an African American pastor forty years earlier: "Turn their hearts of hate to hearts of love," and realized his prayer request had been fulfilled in the life of this pastor.
The Good News is that Christ can turn all of our hearts from hearts filled with hate, anger, negativity, jealousy, resentment, or bitterness into hearts filled with love, compassion, faith, and gratitude. A Gratitude Campaign always begins with a heart filled with love and gratitude for God.
Count Your Blessings
"Count your blessings, name them one by one, / count your blessings, see what God has done."
An older hymn also reminds us to focus on the blessings God has given us. In 1897, Johnson Oatman Jr., a local Methodist pastor and businessman, wrote "Count Your Blessings" which has enabled millions to focus on their blessings from God so God can help them overcome the challenges in their lives.
When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
Johnson Oatman reminds us in the midst of the challenging times in our lives "when we are discouraged thinking all is lost" it is then that we most need to "count our many blessings." When we are overwhelmed with problems we need to refocus ourselves and count the blessings God has given us to regain hope and the ability to live victoriously in the midst of the challenges of life.
What we count, we increase. When we spend our time counting all of our problems, it seems as though we always have more problems to count. We all know people who are filled with complaints about their lives, the lives of those around them, and all the conditions of the world. When we ask people who focus their attention on their problems how they are, they always have more complaints to share with us.
Conversely, when we ask people who focus their attention on the blessings in their lives how they are, they always seem to have more blessings to share. The Gratitude path leads to generosity in our congregations when we count our many blessings and give time, talent, and treasure back to God, just to say thanks.
Where Are the Other Nine?
On one occasion, Jesus and his disciples went through a Samaritan village on their way from Galilee to Jerusalem. As they approached the village, ten lepers called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, show us mercy!" (Luke 17:13).
Leprosy is a painful disfiguring disease that often eats at our fingers, toes, ears, and nose. When a person was discovered to have leprosy in the time of Jesus, they were cast out of the village where they lived. They could no longer live with their families in their own homes, work at their jobs, or attend the synagogue or the market. Instead, they had to live outside the village away from everyone else. They survived by begging food from all those who entered or left their village. They also had to stay a stone's throw away from those who travelled along the road to insure that others would not be infected by their disease.
Excerpted from The Gratitude Path by Kent Millard. Copyright © 2015 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: The Gratitude Path ix
Chapter 1 "Just to Say Thanks" 1
Chapter 2 Give Thanks in Every Situation 13
Chapter 3 Give and It Will Be Given to You 23
Chapter 4 God Loves a Cheerful Giver 33
Chapter 5 Expect a Miracle 45
Chapter 6 Leading a Gratitude Campaign 57