Mike Osler: A layperson's guide to practicing gratitude

Rock inscribed with the word "Gratitude"

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There’s no perfect church. So embrace what you have by practicing gratitude, writes a lay leader.

My wife and I recently relocated, which led us to visit a half-dozen churches in the past two months. Each seemed to have a downside.

The music wasn’t that great, or the message wasn’t what I wanted to hear, or the attendance left something to be desired. They didn’t take Communion by the method to which I’d grown accustomed. Their greeters seemed to have inauthentic smiles. They didn’t have small groups. They didn’t have much of a missions program.

After several weeks, I shared my frustration with a friend. She said, “Just remember, churches are made by man. Therefore, they will never be perfect. Embrace what they are.” Suddenly, my attitude changed.

There is plenty to complain about at church. But what if we stopped looking for what’s wrong? What if we looked for what’s right with our churches? What if we expressed gratitude for what we have? Most of us have much to be thankful for in our churches, but human nature has a way of eroding our appreciation.

In his book “Community and Growth,” Jean Vanier instructs us to “stop wasting time running after the perfect community. Live your life fully in your community today.”

That is wonderful advice. I’d like to expand on it by offering several concrete ways to practice gratitude and appreciate what we have in our church settings -- today.

Start with perspective. Why does a comment offend one church member and not another? The difference is perspective. It’s important to realize that we choose our own attitudes. We cannot control the actions of others or the events that take place. However, we can control our responses to those actions and events. Gratitude starts with us and our perspective.

Move from transactions to relationships. The business of church is complicated, and our interactions can become transactions: “Good morning, is the PowerPoint on this computer?” “How busy is the nursery?” “Who is doing the announcements?”

What if we asked different questions? “Could we grab coffee or lunch sometime in the next couple of weeks, at your convenience?” Then use that time to ask, “What led you into ministry? What are your biggest frustrations? What are your biggest fears for the church? What are your biggest victories? How do you feel about …?”

We were created to love other people. We do it best when we get to know others and appreciate who they are.

Be willing. Churches seem to be forever in need of volunteers and ideas. What if we as laypeople were the first to volunteer? We might offer to teach a Bible study or lead a small group. We might show up to serve meals to the homeless even if our assigned role is singing in the choir. Offer to do whatever the church needs most.

Often being willing to show up at events or being willing to listen to others is the best place to start. If we take the first step, the Holy Spirit has a way of showing us the next one.

Cast a wider net. Instead of putting expectations only on the senior leadership, how can we cultivate a community of leaders who share a common goal? Congregations and staff can easily become frustrated when the leadership doesn’t respond exactly the way they’d like.

But laypeople have opportunities to lead as well. We can reach out to the finance committee, the church council, other staff members and passionate church members. We can foster collaboration between children, youth and senior ministries. We can help our leaders maintain focus on the ultimate goal while casting a net around an ever-wider group of people who share that goal.

My wife and I still haven’t settled on a church. But my frustration has been replaced by genuine interest and appreciation. To be honest, I am looking forward to visiting more churches to see how they worship our great Creator.

I know that when we find our church, it will not be perfect. But just as Christ embraces me and my imperfections, the least I can do is live a life of gratitude and appreciate what’s right with my church.