Bishop Laurie Haller's Thanksgiving Message - Thankful to be "Thankless"

Bishop Laurie Haller's Thanksgiving Message - Thankful to be

November 23, 2022


#BeUMC honors the core values that connect the people of The United Methodist Church. No matter the challenges we face, God is with us, and we continue to have opportunities to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world! The campaign calls us to embrace our Wesleyan heritage and envision a promising future. Every day offers a chance to live into our mission and to strive to #BeUMC - to be the church our communities so desperately need.

“Let's not get tired of doing good,
because in time we'll have a harvest if we don’t give up.”

— Galatians 6:9 CEB

When our children were growing up, Gary and I taught them how to be polite by saying “please” and “thank you.” We modeled for 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 showed them how important it is 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 most important spiritual gift of all: selflessness. It is important for a mature Christian to be content with being “unthanked;” that is, to be motivated by love and being “thankless” and not being motivated by praise.     

Whereas many people may view the word “thankless” as meaning “unpleasant” or “unappreciated,” I see “thankless” in a different way. Over many years of ministry, I have come to find the greatest blessing in engaging tasks that others find uncomfortable or even distasteful.    

So, yes, I thank God for a selfless, 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 do 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 always done so well in defining our mission and vision and creating strategic plans where all of our ministries align to fulfill that mission. Add to that, our worship can be dull at times, 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 when we are at our best. We are selfless.  

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

One of the churches I know has handed out snacks to last-minute Thanksgiving food shoppers on the day before Thanksgiving. They have served as designated drivers at a local bar on this biggest bar night of the year. And they have sponsored a “Fun Run” on Thanksgiving morning. By focusing on others rather than reserving Thanksgiving exclusively for their families, these disciples are modeling a cutting-edge brand of thanklessness.

Another suburban church decided to do something selfless with their annual mission trip. Instead of spending a lot of money to travel across the country, they chose to stay home and be in mission to a nearby mobile home park. They conducted Vacation Bible School for children in the park, mowed lawns, completed home improvement projects for lower income families, and hosted a pig roast and games.

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.

Participants called this one of the most selfless weeks in the life of their congregation. Selfless because they gladly gave themselves away to their community without any need to be noticed or appreciated. 

But that’s not all. Across the street from another United Methodist Church was an inner-city high school that had ranked in the bottom 5% in terms of effectiveness. Many families experienced drastic cutbacks in state aid. Yet the United Methodist Church across the street welcomed several hundred people every night for a free dinner for several years.  

Selfless? Yes!! When we decide to follow a thankless Christ and worship in a thankless church, we are declaring our intention to give ourselves away to our 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 people are empowered to participate in local outreach, excitement is generated, and friendships are made with neighbors we would never have known otherwise. Over and over again and despite all odds, I have seen congregations grow in numbers and in spiritual depth because they have made a commitment to be a selfless church. 

On this Thanksgiving Day, I thank God for a selfless church, for selfless congregations produce selfless people, and it is selfless people who change our world. When children, youth, and adults go on mission trips to Cuba and Nicaragua, fix homes in West Virginia, and hand out Christmas stockings to the homeless and poor in the inner city, they learn 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 ten return to give thanks.  

Selfless people are not burdened by being slighted, are free of regret, anger, and bitterness, and serve with a pure joy that is thanks enough. Selfless people are not motivated by being thanked. They are “thankless.” Our reward as selfless 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. 

How might you and your church #BeUMC by becoming a selfless, thankless church?  

Bishop Laurie Haller