I Thank God for a Thankless Church

When our children were growing up, Gary and I taught them how to be polite by saying “please” and “thank you.”  We taught them how to share with others and be thankful that they had enough food to eat, clothes to wear, and shelter over their heads.  We taught them how to be grateful and insisted that they write thank-you notes to their grandparents, aunts, and uncles for birthday and Christmas gifts.  But it was the church that taught our children the important spiritual gift of all: thanklessness.   

I thank God for a thankless church.  The United Methodist Church may seem like just one more declining mainstream denomination that is dismissed as irrelevant in a shifting world.  Yes, our local churches struggle to become vital and healthy.  We are slow learners when it comes to reinventing ourselves to reach a culture that seems to change by the minute.  We haven’t done so well in defining our mission and vision and creating strategic plans where all of our ministries align to fulfill that mission. Our worship can be dull, spiritual formation is often lacking in intentionality, and the training and equipping of our laity for leadership is spotty.  Yet there is one thing we do very well – we are thankless. 

  • A thankless church doesn’t care who gets the credit.   
  • A thankless church embraces those who have no energy to say thank you.
  • A thankless church persistently goes about its mission without fanfare.
  • A thankless church specializes in reaching out to those who have nothing to offer back.
  • A thankless church challenges its members to examine their motivation for serving.
  • A thankless church doesn’t sulk when it is not recognized.
  • A thankless church models quiet and humble service and is not concerned about image.
  • A thankless church puts no limits on what it can do.
  • A thankless church is motivated by the love of Jesus to make disciples and transform the world, nothing more, nothing less. 

CrossWind United Methodist Church is celebrating Thanksgiving by being a thankless church.   

This new church, chartered for just 2 years, is going to be at Dick’s Market in Dorr on Wednesday evening from 6:30-8:30 p.m.  They will be handing out coffee and snacks to last minute Thanksgiving food shoppers.

Did you know that Wednesday night is the biggest bar night of the year?  CrossWind members and friends will be serving as designated drivers at a local bar.

On Thanksgiving morning CrossWind will sponsor a free “Pre-demption Run” at 9 a.m.  You can run 2, 4, or 4.5 miles, and refreshments will be provided

On Thanksgiving night CrossWind disciples will show compassion for Black Friday shoppers by passing out hot chocolate to people waiting in line at the Big Box stores that open at midnight.

By focusing on others rather than reserving Thanksgiving exclusively for their families, Pastor Scott Otis and CrossWind disciples are modeling a cutting edge brand of thanklessness.

Temple UMC is celebrating Thanksgiving by being a thankless church.  For a number of years this inner city church in Muskegon Heights received a state grant to operate a mentoring program called Pathfinders for at risk youth.  The closure of the program because of state funding cuts several years ago plus a rise in violent crime and gang activity in Muskegon Heights prompted Pastor Rob Cook to embark on a mission to resurrect the program.  After bringing youth and church folks together to dialogue about the future of the program, Rob raised $21,000, which funded 8 staff members at Pathfinders to mentor 100 youth this past summer.  An additional $15,000 is enabling 60 youth to be mentored this fall in 3 locations. 

But that’s not all.  Muskegon Heights High School is right across the street from Temple UMC and is in the bottom 5% of Michigan high schools in terms of effectiveness.  In addition, the needs of the community have skyrocketed with drastic cutbacks in state aid.  More than 600 families in Muskegon County were cut off from cash assistance on November 1 because of recent state legislation capping assistance at four years.  The net effect?   Up to 220 people, including more young families, are flooding Temple UMC every night for a free dinner at Supper House.  The average had been around 100 people.  There has also been a sharp increase in the number of people coming to Temple UMC to receive food, medical, and clothing assistance from MAP, Mission for Area People, a United Methodist-related food pantry and social service agency. 

Despite all odds, Temple UMC is growing in numbers and in spiritual depth because church members have decided to be a thankless church.  Their mission is to serve their neighborhood.  Temple’s website says, “Many people have found a home at Temple because everyone is welcome here.  At our church, our differences don’t divide us, because we are much more inspired by serving our neighbor than debating church doctrine.”

Lowell UMC is celebrating Thanksgiving by being a thankless church.   Lowell is a small suburban town on the outskirts of Grand Rapids with a population of 4,000.  This past summer Pastor Rick Blunt and members of Lowell UMC, which is located downtown and has an average attendance of 175, decided to do something different with their annual mission trip.  They chose to stay home and be in mission to a nearby mobile home park called Key Heights.  Over the course of a week over 100 parishioners volunteered to complete 107 different projects in 36 homes as well as conduct Vacation Bible School in Key Heights.  They logged over 1,700 volunteer hours, provided an estimated $75,000 worth of home improvements, and had an equal representation of Lowell UMC and Key Heights children in Bible School. 

On the last night Lowell UMC hosted a program, pig roast, and games at the church for the congregation and residents of the Key Heights Mobile Home Park.  Participants called this one of the most thankless weeks in the life of Lowell church.  Thankless because they gave themselves away to their community without any need to be noticed or appreciated.  It’s funny how these things work, though.  In the process of learning how to be thankless, many more members of the church were able to participate in this local outreach, excitement was generated, and friendships were made with neighbors they would never have known otherwise.

The West Michigan Conference is celebrating Thanksgiving by becoming a thankless champion of our United Methodist Africa University.  On behalf of the Conference, the Grand Rapids District is sponsoring the building of a $500,000 Ubuntu Gathering Center, a guest house and gathering place where world leaders from across Africa, Volunteers in Missions teams, visiting professors, and conference attendees can live and dialogue together about the things that make for peace, justice, and hope. 

Just last week Africa University hosted the sixth annual Dag Hammarskjöld Commemorative Seminar, which celebrated the birth of the new nation of South Sudan in East Africa.  The over-arching theme for this annual event was Peace and Development in Africa, with leading experts from across the continent addressing the challenges and opportunities of this newest African country.  When I read of the conference, I wondered how much more effective Africa University will be in educating moral, ethical, and spiritual leaders when the Ubuntu Gathering Center can host such gatherings and participants will not have to be bused in every day from hotels in Mutare, which is a half hour away.

Dozens of churches have caught the vision, stretching themselves financially to extravagantly support a thankless project from which they will likely never receive direct benefit… except the opportunity to be part of making disciples of Jesus Christ and building God’s kingdom on earth. 

I thank God this week for a thankless church, for thankless churches produce thankless people, and it is thankless people who change our world.  When our children went on mission trips to Cuba and Nicaragua, fixed homes in West Virginia, and handed out Christmas stockings to the homeless and poor in Grand Rapids, they learned that our reward for serving is not praise or recognition.  Sometimes we’ll never even receive a thank you, unlike Jesus, who had at least one cleansed leper out of 10 return to give thanks. 

Thankless people are not burdened by being slighted, are free of regret, anger, and bitterness, and serve with a pure joy that is thanks enough.  Our reward as thankless disciples is the opportunity to grow spiritually, the privilege of helping other people experience fullness of life, and a dawning awareness that we serve a God who calls us to transform our world into a more just, compassionate, healthy, sustainable, and Christ-like planet. 

If you’re one of those standing in line at midnight on Thanksgiving night, it would be polite to say thank you to CrossWind members who hand you a cup of hot chocolate.  But if you forget just this once, don’t worry.  They are a thankless bunch. 


One thought on “I Thank God for a Thankless Church

  1. As always, I enjoy your “Leading From the Heart” essay’s. This last one was exceptional. Last week, the pastor at our UMC here in Florida asked the congregation a great question: “What if we had to close our doors, and simply ceased to exist? Who would notice? Ouch! Not sure I like the answer for us.

    Miss our occasional conversations. As a result of a computer hijacking, I lost your personal email, and would love to hear from you.

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