Like a marathon, pastoral work can be strenuous and exhausting—such that Paul described it as being “in the anguish of childbirth” until Christ is formed in people (Gal. 4:19). All of our time spent preaching, teaching, counseling, and planning has one goal and hope: to see people conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29).

In marathons, runners have access to many replenishing stations so they can make it to the end. If disciple-making is like a marathon, we need to set stations of refreshment and encouragement along our way. One way Paul does this is by taking time to be thankful for the people he is shepherding.

Thankfulness plays a pivotal role for both the pastor and the church he leads, and we need it at the beginning of January as much as the end of November. The start of a new year is a perfect time to initiate a habit of giving thanks.

Paul’s Thanksgiving

In nine out of his thirteen letters, Paul gives thanks to the recipients. As Kevin DeYoung points out, Paul even gives thanks to the Corinthian church plagued by pride, discord, sexual sin, and division. Kevin writes that Paul’s gratitude can be divided into six categories:

  1. Paul was thankful for the believers’ faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Philemon).
  2. He was thankful for their love for all the saints (Ephesians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Philemon).
  3. He was thankful for their steadfastness, especially in trials (1 & 2 Thessalonians).
  4. He was thankful for their spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians).
  5. He was thankful for their partnership in the gospel (Philippians).
  6. He was thankful for their history and mutual affection (2 Timothy). 

In the long race of pastoring, thankfulness is a great refreshment station for both pastors and the church. Giving thanks recalibrates the pastor to see his church through the eyes of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Click To Tweet

Thanksgiving Is Good for Pastors 

Giving thanks recalibrates the pastor to see his church through the eyes of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Thanksgiving saves the pastor from exasperation because, while you notice all the areas in which your flock needs to grow, you also notice where they’re making progress.

Thanksgiving helps you pause and see what God has been doing in his church. It’s akin to a gardener who works with thorny roses taking a step back to smell them and enjoy the garden itself. Taking a step back to see the good work God began and is continuing gives you enough fuel to get back into the work God has entrusted to you.

Pastor, ask yourself and your staff weekly where God is working and make it a practice to give thanks always (1 Thess. 5:16–18).

 Thanksgiving Is Good for the Church 

Thanksgiving is edifying for our people, too. They need to know that they’re not perpetual screw-ups—that their leaders see where they’re making progress. Paul affirmed where he saw God’s grace at work in the lives of these early believers countless times.

Faithful, long years of ministry are like a marathon, but so, too, is faithful church membership. In all their trials and joys, our people are also running hard to love and obey Jesus. Give your people the deep spiritual refreshment of hearing their pastor giving thanks for God’s work in them.

One of the benefits of giving thanks is that your people know they’re being seen, appreciated, and loved. It also redirects their (and our) gaze to Jesus—the One building his church and growing his people. Our faithful God will finish his work in all of us and, as we give thanks, we acknowledge his sufficiency. Giving thanks refreshes not just pastors but also their congregations with hope in the unfailing promises of God. As the new year begins, make it a practice, like Paul, to celebrate your people publicly and personally as you see God’s grace at work in them. Give your people the deep spiritual refreshment of hearing their pastor giving thanks for God’s work in them. Click To Tweet

Pastors, maintain a marathon mindset—even (especially) on the heels of another wearying year. As you face the unknowns of the coming months, build and protect the replenishing habit of thanksgiving that your eyes may be continually full of Christ and his good work. We finish the race well when we run gratefully, for our Savior’s glory, and in his sufficient strength.

Raphael Mnkandhla
Written by: Raphael Mnkandhla on January 4, 2022

Raphael Mnkandhla serves as the lead pastor of City Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. He was born and raised in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and is pursuing a PhD in Ministry at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Raphael is married to Heidi, and they have three sons and two daughters.

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